But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.
—1 Kings 19:4-8
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
I have always loved this story about Elijah. On the heels of an incredible ministry, marked by one miracle after another—and shortly after calling down the fire of God on Mt. Carmel—the most powerful prophet of the Bible came to the end of his rope. In this passage Elijah finds himself in the wilderness, the same one so many others passed through before him, and can find no way forward. In despair, he asks God to end his life. Despite throngs of people witnessing God’s presence on Mt Carmel, he feels completely alone.
What does God do? Does God send judgment on the man who demonstrated both the power to call down fire from heaven and a complete lack of hope? No. Instead God tenderly ministers to Elijah. An angel cares for him until he’s rested. Then he feeds him again, before nudging him to his feet. The passage describes God’s voice: not the in wind or fire, but a gentle, loving whisper. Rather than condemnation, Elijah was reminded, You are not alone. God had preserved a remnant and within them, a helper. My child, just put one foot in front of the other, I’ve got something for you. That helper was Elisha, the only prophet in the Bible who’s ministry goes on to rival that of Elijah.
Depression can attack when we are worn down or at the heights. It can hide behind emptiness and fatigue or irritability and sadness. When a close friend of mine was struggling with depression, she was crippled by waves of doubt that if she was “a better Christian” or prayed enough, she would be set free. But the tender way God cares for Elijah in this passage shows us that those doubts did not come from God. The voice of God comes in a whisper without condemnation.
If you find yourself in the wilderness of depression right now, take heart. God is with you. The question asked of Elijah was not “What’s wrong with you?” but rather “What are you doing here?” God wanted to hear what was on Elijah’s heart. And then God provided a way forward.
You are precious and deeply loved by God. Depression does not mean there is something wrong with your faith. If the prophet Elijah can lose faith after being fed by birds and running faster than chariots, we too can be run down by the burdens we carry. God cared for Elijah’s physical needs first, then He cared for the emotional needs, allowing Elijah to speak his heart before God shared a solution. Then God provided someone Elijah could trust.
The enemy wants us to forget where our hope lies: in a God who is faithful, even when all seems lost.
Questions for reflection and discussion: Have you experienced depression? Why do we believe lies like “If only I was a better Christian” or “I just need to pray more”? Take some time today to rest in God’s nurturing presence, and if necessary, please seek professional help.