We might not always think of ourselves in terms of “spiritual depression”, but the signs are often all too clear. Each of us are different, but normally the signs of spiritual depression include some combination of the following.
- emotional discouragement
- feeling generally unmotivated or even lazy
- thought patterns that go around in circles instead of bringing clarity
- withdrawing from Christian fellowship
- justifying personal opinions and convictions or lack thereof
- no longer investing preparation in serving others
- more aware of our own troubles than the goodness of God
- seeing worship as something that in theory is to be joy-filled but in reality barely lifts the countenance
- wanting help and comfort but not really seeking it, at least not from those who can really help
- neglecting Bible reading and prayer, or engaging all the more in it, but still only for one’s own concerns
- blaming others (close friends, family, or even the Church) for every perceived lack of love shown
- wallowing in self-pity that longs for compassion and care, but subtly hoping nobody shows compassion and care so the self-pity can continue
- neglecting personal care, life responsibilities, or service opportunities
- dwelling on one’s fears and fearing the worst
- reducing communication by seeking the least personal forms of interaction
- rehearsing past or potential situations in one’s mind without ever reaching a conclusion
- being indecisive
- sleeping, eating, and drinking too much, or too little, or too erratically
You might even be able to add some symptoms of spiritual depression to this list! The reality is that the slide into spiritual depression is always smooth and subtle. The results though, are not so subtle. In a matter of days and week, you can become so self-absorbed that even the wisest and godliest of God-appointed friends are subjected to your own understanding and your own ways.
This is exactly what happened to one of the most famous of prophets, the prophet Elijah. In 1 Kings 19:3-4 Elijah, somewhat understandable, spirals quickly into typical spiritual depression. The rest of the chapter details how God lifted him up again and restored to him full spiritual service again. First, the Lord provided physical rest, a warm meal, and water (1 Kings 19:5-7). Then the Lord brought him to a place known historically for being a place where God’s Word is revealed in the most striking of ways (1 Kings 19:8). Then the Lord starts counselling Elijah (1 Kings 19:9). Elijah pours out to the Lord all his frustrations—it is a mixture of affirming his own faithfulness, acknowledging the sad spiritual state of the nation, and exaggeration of his own circumstances (1 Kings 19:10). We are like that too, are we not, complaining with a mixture of truth and exaggeration!
The Lord calls him to get up and engage with the Word of God in a more active and intentional way (1 Kings 19:11) and then speaks to Elijah in ways Elijah would not have expecting considering the venue (1 Kings 19:11-13)! When downcast, we often hope that time and prayer will fix things, all the while the Lord has ordained our godly friends, church elders, and fellow saints admonishing us with His Word to be the means of counsel. Well, Elijah re-explains his troubles to the Lord as though it were a complaint so justified that he didn’t even refine it to be more accurate (1 Kings 19:14).
The Lord doesn’t immediate correct the exaggeration, but first simply reminds Elijah of His ordinary responsibilities (1 Kings 19:15-16). That simple readjustment is a very practical way for us all to get out of the world of self-understanding, self-justification, and self-pity that we often get ourselves into. Go and do the next right thing. The Lord promised that through Elijah’s fulfilment of his responsibilities, the Lord will continue the prophetic ministry that Elijah wished indirectly to go extinct (1 Kings 19:16-17). Then the Lord corrects Elijah’s incorrect exaggeration of reality and affirms that the Lord is all too faithful for Elijah to feel so discouraged (1 Kings 19:18).
The Lord’s counsel is a great model for us to counsel ourselves and one another accordingly. When we are showing any of the signs of spiritual depression in whatever degree, let us remember “God and Elijah”. Let us acknowledge our troubles, but not exaggerate them. Let us listen to God’s Word even if it comes in ways we might not at first expect—especially when tempted to simply “read the Bible for myself” and not seek counsel from the mature whom the Lord has put over us. Let us get up and do the next right thing, expending some energy, money, and time for the benefit of another. Let us also rest, eat, and drink well, not too much or too little in either of them! Let us not neglect the spiritual responsibilities that the Lord has assigned for us in our church fellowship, our community outreach, and our social ‘light and salt’ effect on this world.
We live in a time where we are taking extraordinary health precautions, and therefore we also need to protect ourselves against an introverted spiritual self-depression. We will need to remember “God and Elijah” and keep ourselves purposeful in our thoughts and actions. May the Lord then use us mightily for the remainder of this time!