A juniper tree, like the one Elijah sat down under to ask God to kill him
My Old Testament hero Elijah became so depressed that he prayed to die. God had recently granted him a miraculous victory over the prophets of Baal (1 Ki 18). But then Jezebel threatens him, and he runs (1 Ki 19). He was frightened (v3). He had had enough (v4). He was exhausted (v5). And he felt alone in his struggle (v10).
This is the same Elijah whose name means the Lord is my God. He was prophet to Israel and a miracle worker. He received direct revelation from God. He would later appear with Jesus on the mountain where He was transfigured. He would, like Jesus, fast for forty days and be ministered to by angels. And he never died. He wanted to. But God said no. The man who would never die, in the dark days of his life, prayed for death (v4).
I say this to remind the depressed that this dark season of yours ought not be the end. God acts on behalf of the hurting. God was always with Elijah, even through depression and anger. He fed him by the hand of angels, twice. He strengthened him in his exhaustion. He raised people up, like Elisha, to minister to him. He let him know that he was not alone. He didn't kill him when asked to. That's mercy. God told him by an angel, the journey is too great for you (v7). Then in v9, the word of the LORD came to Elijah. At this point Elijah had taken refuge in a cave, but God knew where he was and what frame of mind he was in. He gave him something to do (v11). That seems a little strange. In Elijah's most difficult moments, after meeting his physical needs, God gave him an assignment: Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD. Not much of an assignment. But it got him out of the cave. Precious to Father are His hurting children. When Elijah obeys and is standing in the entrance to the cave, God asks him, What are you doing here Elijah? I think this is an opportunity for Elijah to confess sin, not an opportunity for God to get new information. God can't learn. He's too smart for that. This is like when God comes to Adam in Eden and asks, where are you Adam?
Notice with me the irrationality of Elijah's fear. He has just witnessed God work for him in wiping out hundreds of Baal prophets. God has been answering his prayers and speaking to him. And now, he's running from Jezebel? Really? I know she's mean and the queen and all, but still. His fear is an unreasonable fear, counter to faith. Like ours.
You can read the whole story for yourself. I just wanted to point out some of this super saint's serious weaknesses and vulnerabilities. God provides a tender but firm response. He dealt gently with him, giving him the physical and emotional lifts he needed. He didn't write him off or discard him. God made us. He knows our brains and bodies and hearts do not always perform properly. At those times He does not abandon us, though He sometimes allows us to feel like He has.
I realize there are some supernatural components to this story that are wholly in the hands of God. He will act in mercy according to His purposes and perform that which we cannot. But there are also some interesting aspects of this story that are, to some degree, within our control. I hope they prove helpful.
1. Elijah felt lowest when he isolated himself (v3f); and a part of God's solution was to get him in the company of others that could help him (v15-21). See Pr 18:1.
2. He needed quality sleep (v5 & 7).
3. He needed quality food and drink (v5-8).
4. He needed to get out of the house. In this case it was a cave (v9 & 13-15).
5. He needed the therapy of physical exercise. He did a lot of walking (v3 & 8 & 15).
6. He kept a prayer life (v4 & 10 & 14). His prayers were not altogether in line with God's will, and at times were sinfully selfish. But they were honest. He did pour out his heart to his God even if that heart was a sinful one. That's really the only kind of praying hearts there are.
7. He obeyed God as he received clear direction (v7f & 11ff & 15ff). He did what he knew to do. Elijah was enjoying a great victory over God's enemies when his life was threatened. He became fearful and that led to despair. The rest of the story is born out of that desperation. I think this means we must be honest with ourselves about what we fear. Fear is an enemy, unless it's the fear of God. So let's ask what we're afraid of; who has the power to hurt us; what am I dreading; from what am I running/hiding?
A person is one unit. Our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual capacities are inter-connected. What touches one touches them all. So it makes sense that a restful sleep and a healthy and tasty meal mixed with a prayer walk would make us feel better. But this means you will need to trust God enough to get out of the cave; to come out of hiding; to cowboy up, as they say. Remember, God resists the proud; but He gives grace to the humble (Ja 4:6).