Surviving the Darkness

(1 Kings 19:1-16)

I think it's safe to say we've all experienced bad days from time to time. Well for some folks those bad days have stretched into bad weeks, bad months or even bad years. Some find themselves in kind of a personal funk, saying things like, "whatever can go wrong will go wrong, my life is worthless, I can't go on." They have a pessimistic view of life, and suddenly find they we can't sleep, lost (or gained) weight, and in some cases just don't want to get out of bed.

The characteristics I've just mentioned describe what could be symptoms of depression. The fact is there are many people who suffer from varying levels of depression. So today I want us to consider the topic of depression and what we can do about it.

Well what is depression? Some who have experienced depression say that it feels like a dark cloud hanging over their lives. They feel as if they have no energy and can't concentrate. Others feel irritable all the time for no apparent reason. Now symptoms of depression vary from person to person, but if you feel "down" for more than two weeks, and these feelings are interfering with your daily life, you may be clinically depressed and ought to seek help.

For your later reading and reference I've included in your bulletin this morning some of the symptoms that help medical professionals identify depression.

From my reading on depression this week I've come to understand that most people who have gone through one episode of depression, sooner or later, will have another one. So learning to recognize the triggers or symptoms of ones depression and working with a counselor or health professional will help to keep the depression from worsening.

The truth is most people with depression never seek help, even though the majority of folks would respond well to treatment. And recognizing and treating depression appropriately is especially important because it not only affects us personally but also those around us.

So let's consider some causes of depression. Well depression has no single cause; often, it results from a combination of things. We may have no idea why depression has struck us. But whatever its cause, depression is not just a "state of mind," it's very real.

Some of the more common factors involved in depression are:

  • Family history. Our genetics play an important part in depression. It can run in families for generations.
  • Trauma and stress. Things like financial problems, the breakup of a relationship, or the death of a loved one can bring on depression. We can become depressed after changes in our life, like starting a new job or losing a job, graduating from school, or getting married.
  • Pessimistic personality. People who have low self-esteem and a negative outlook on life are at higher risk of becoming depressed.
  • Physical conditions. Serious medical conditions like heart disease, cancer, and HIV can contribute to depression, partly because of the physical weakness and stress they bring on. Also, depression can make medical conditions worse, since it weakens the immune system and can make pain harder to bear. And in some cases, depression can be caused by medications that are used to treat other medical conditions.
  • Other psychological disorders. Anxiety disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and substance abuse can often appear along with depression.

Depression affects millions of people every year. 16% of Americans will experience depression during their lifetime, that's about 35 million people. And while depression can affect anyone, its effect may vary depending on our age and gender. " Women are almost twice as likely to become depressed as men. The higher risk may be due partly to hormonal changes brought on by puberty, menstruation, menopause, and pregnancy. " Men. Although their risk for depression is lower, men are more likely to go undiagnosed and are less likely to seek help, because depression is often times seen as a weakness and men do not want to be perceived as weak. Men may show the typical symptoms of depression, but are more likely to get angry and hostile or want to mask their condition with alcohol or drug abuse. Suicide is an especially serious risk for men with depression, who are four times more likely than women to kill themselves. " Elderly Folks. Older people may lose loved ones and have to adjust to living alone. They may become physically ill and unable to be as active as they once were. These changes can all contribute to depression. Loved ones may attribute the signs of depression to the normal results of aging, and many older people are reluctant to talk about their symptoms. As a result, older people may not receive treatment they need for their depression.

Now I'm not an expert on depression, but I think it's important that we know some of the basics about an illness that will affect everyone of us in one way or another. We may not experience depression directly, but odds are someone in our family will.

Some folks want those who experience depression to just "get over it," but often times this isn't possible. Working through depression can take time, requiring patience and perseverance. And as the medical profession has learned more about depression we've come to know there is help available through counseling and drug therapy, and I encourage those who suffer from depression to seek out the appropriate help.

After experiencing my stroke, although a physical issue, I found it fruitful to consider what God might tell me through the experience, spiritually. You might remember I shared with you what God revealed to me several weeks ago in my "Reflections from the Lounge Chair" write-up that appeared in the bulletin.

Well this morning I want us to consider depression from a spiritual perspective as well, and consider what God's Word might have to say to help us survive the darkness that depression can create.

It's important to realize that as we read the Bible we can see signs of depression in several biblical characters like: Moses, Job, Jonah, Paul, and Jesus. Now their condition isn't specifically called depression, but they sure exhibit symptoms of depression.

Now depression is not a curse or a sin as some have suggested in the past. Depression is very real and not something to just "get over." And as I read the Bible I don't ever recall God saying to anyone, "Get over it."

Again, we don't know if our biblical brothers and sisters were "clinically depressed," but what we do know, at least as it's recorded in the Bible, is that they exhibited symptoms of some level of depression.

The biblical survivor of depression I want to speak about specifically this morning is Elijah. Elijah is a prophet, a man of prayer, and an advisor to the king. Elijah was a godly man, and perhaps the only other man mentioned in the Old Testament that could give Moses a run for his money when it comes to his legacy.

In our scripture reading Elijah has just experienced a very intense confrontation with evil. He was in a spiritual battle of the ultimate kind.

And we can surmise by what Joe read this morning, that throughout his ordeal Elijah became absolutely exhausted. He was wiped out and ready to throw in the towel. This great prophet of God, a hero too many of the faithful over the centuries, was basically tired and depressed.

Elijah collapses under a broom tree and prays "that he might die." Imagine one of the greatest prophets of God, a man we lift up and admire, wanting to die because "he's had enough."

Later on Elijah starts talking to God again after God asks, "What he's doing there." Elijah replies, "I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I'm the only one left, and now they're trying to kill me too." Elijah felt like he was the only one left that was standing for truth. He felt as if everyone else was against him.

You see Elijah was filled with determination and drive to serve God. But sometimes Elijah didn't take good care of himself. And when that happened, Elijah hit a wall, an emotional and spiritual bottom. As with Elijah, I suggest that sometimes the depression we're experiencing is actually a sign of something else going on in our lives that we really need to pay attention to.

Perhaps there are physical, emotional or mental health issues we need to tend to that are leading to the bouts of depression we may experience.

Or, perhaps there are spiritual issues we need to address. And it's the spiritual issues I want to focus on this morning by suggesting we consider questions like:

  • Have I been keeping the Sabbath?
  • Am I harboring bitterness towards another person? "
  • Have I addressed the sin in my life?
  • Am I feeling guilty about something?
  • Have I turned away from God?
  • Am I being a faithful disciple?
  • So on and so forth

Elijah's depression was a sign of something else going on in his life. Elijah was worn out physically and spiritually. God provided Elijah some food, and he got some sleep, and then he was ready to address the spiritual wilderness he felt he was trapped in.

God took care of Elijah's physical needs, but God wasn't through with him yet. God then reached down through the darkness and took Elijah by the hand, if you will, and led him on a spiritual retreat of sorts. God led Elijah to a quiet place where he sought spiritual renewal, a place hoped to hear the voice of God.

As the scriptures tell us a great and powerful wind swept across the mountain where Elijah was on retreat, but the Lord didn't speak through the wind. Then there was a great earthquake, but God didn't speak through that either. After the earthquake a fire came along, but God didn't speak through the fire either.

Well after all this extreme drama, there came a gentle whisper, and Elijah knew he was hearing the voice of God. And through his words God gave Elijah a task to do. Now I don't want us to miss two points here. First, God can speak to us in many different ways. I'm sure most of us would prefer that God speak to us in a thunderous unmistaken way so we don't miss what he has to say, but often God doesn't. And God didn't speak to Elijah that way either. God spoke in a whisper.

This reminds us that when we want to receive a word from God, we have to listen very carefully because if we don't we may miss what God is telling us. We have to be open to his desires, and the only way I know to do this is to be still be restful in the presence of God and just listen.

The other important point is God spoke to Elijah in the midst of Elijah's depression. If we are experiencing depression we must remember that God hasn't abandoned us, God is walking with us. We must remain aware of his presence, listen for him, and be prepared to respond to his voice.

I believe that depression can be a means through which God speaks and calls us to serve him, just like he did with Elijah. Even in times of extreme darkness we can listen for God's gentle whisper. We can communicate with the Lord by asking: " is their something you want me to do? You see often times serving others helps us move through our depression. " is their a new direction you want my life to take? Perhaps we're off course and need a new way. " what do you want me to learn from this experience? God uses the experiences in our life to help us learn and grow. " Or perhaps, Lord, just help me to hear your voice through the clouds of depression that darken my life si I know you're with me.

Depression is serious and it's more common than perhaps we like to admit. Depression is also very curable if we're proactive about addressing the cause. We can survive the darkness depression can bring; depression does not have to have the final word.

Many people will experience depression at one time or another during their life and I hope folks will seek the appropriate intervention, which includes seeking out that gentle whisper of God.

So let me suggest five steps to deal with depression in a healthy way.

1. Acknowledge the depression, claim it, and identify the severity of it. When we recognize the onset of depression, we need to determine just how severe it is. We all have or will experience a period of depression. The question is, is it mild depression, you know having "the blues," experiencing sadness, or having a gloomy feeling?

Or is it Moderate depression; meaning along with the sadness comes a feeling of helplessness. Do we have trouble making decisions, uncontrolled crying, dramatic change in appetite and sleep patterns. If that's the case, we ought to seek help from a trained Christian counselor.

When depression gets severe, we add to all of the symptoms I mentioned, an inability to function. We stop going to work or school. We sometimes don't get out of bed. Thoughts of suicide can creep in to our thinking. In these cases, immediate care is necessary, and further steps must be taken with a health professional.

2. Share the concern with God. Prayer is a powerful tool when dealing with depression. We need to let God know what's going on in our heart and mind. When Jesus was in His depressed state, He went right to God, and cried out, "Please God, deliver me from this!" Elijah told God he wanted to die! But you know what God did in those cases, he ministered to them, He provided for them, He loved them, and embraced them.

For Elijah, God came and made him some bread, brought him drink, and allowed him to rest. Folks, God wants us to be honest with Him - He wants us to share our deepest hurts, disappointments, needs - even our anger! God loves us - He won't punish us for our honesty. So we must take our issues to Him.

3. Ask yourself, "What is this Depression telling me?" Depression doesn't have to be seen as a weakness or something to be avoided, it can be seen as a message from God that something needs to be addressed. We can turn depression from a tool of Satan designed to derail us, into a tool of God to get us on track! Again, depression is a symptom that warns us that we are in need of help.

4. Identify the Causes. Am I getting enough rest? Am I taking care of myself physically? What changes have taken place in my life? Have I started taking some new medication that's causing this? Am I depressed because I haven't dealt with some past loss or conflict? Am I telling myself the truth about life, or telling myself lies? Is there sin in my life? Ask, do I know what God wants me to do? Is there something in my life I need to straighten up?

5. Make the necessary changes and get help. Once the cause has been identified, then we can better understand what needs to be done, perhaps with the help of someone else. The next steps may include addressing the need for: rest, better diet, help from medication, anger management counseling, relief from pain, help with grief, addressing negative thoughts or unrealistic expectations, addressing sin or something else.

But no matter what, I encourage anyone battling depression to seek help, from God and a trained professional. No one needs to be held captive to depression, there is a way out.

Elijah found a way out, by turning to God. And by the grace of God we can survive the darkness too, if we turn to God and seek his healing power. Amen.

Read other messages by Pastor Wade