By Dr. James Rasbeary
Pastor, Lighthouse Baptist Church, Wylie, TX
1 Kings 19:3-8 And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. (4) But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. (5) And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. (6) And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. (7) And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. (8) And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.
If we did not know better, we might be tempted to wonder when we read 1 Kings 18 and 19 if these two chapters describe the same man. One day, Elijah is standing alone against hundreds of blood thirsty false prophets; the next, he is running from a threatening telegram. One day, he is praying down fire and rain; the next, he is trying to commit suicide by prayer. One day, he is standing tall on the mountaintop; the next, he is slumped over under a juniper tree. Certainly, Elijah was a man of like passions as the rest of us – and presents some practical lessons for us on the subject of ministerial discouragement, or even ministerial depression.
Statistics and studies reveal the reality of ministerial discouragement, and yet many continue to ignore it’s reality. I guess we need to be macho about things, but a macho facade won’t fix problems within. Personally, I would rather see preachers encouraged and helped up from the juniper tree experience and back into God’s business. Discouragement does not need to be the end; it can be a learning experience, a time of pruning and purging, and, in the end, it gives us an opportunity to help others based on our experiences. Here are some practical points from Elijah’s Juniper Tree Experience:
- Realize that discouragement is not a sign of personal weakness. Elijah was no weakling.
- Beware of the impulse to be alone. When people, especially men, get depressed, they tend to draw inward and isolate themselves. This isolation from the social interaction we need as human beings only feeds the depression and causes a terrible, downward cycle to begin. Elijah didn’t need to send his servant away. It did not help his situation. Phone a friend!
- Get some sleep. There is a good reason that the interrogators use sleep deprivation to break subjects down – it works. You do not function properly when you have not had the rest your body and mind need.
- Eat some good, healthy food. The angel gave him a meal. Your food may not be prepared by an angel, but it can help you get the nourishment that your body and brain need to function properly.
- Watch what you say. Negative speech leads to a deepening negativity which only feeds the feeling of discouragement. You can literally talk yourself into a depression. Notice what Elijah said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” Later, he said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” Negativity leads to further negativity. Constantly repeating to yourself that you are a failure or that you are not good enough only strengthens the error – remember Who called you, and why.
- You don’t get to decide when “It is enough.” That is God’s job. It is our job to endure hardness and to be faithful until death.
- Consider the cause of your discouragement. Is it because you are not “better” than your fathers? Is that your goal – to be better than someone else? To be accepted by your peers? To win some undeclared competition with the brethren?
- Avoid the “I, even I only” attitude. Elijah reached a point where he thought he was the only one left; possibly because no one else bothered to show up on Mount Carmel! God told him that he had 7000, but it may be that Elijah thought, “Well, where were they when we had our big day at church?” It is very dangerous to start thinking that you are the only one who is jealous for or faithful to the Lord. It not only breeds pride – it produces discouragement.
- Avoid paranoid thinking. “I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” This was true in Elijah’s life – but probably not in yours. Even if you have vocal critics, they are likely a tiny minority. Yet it is easy to magnify them to the majority – in our own minds.
- Avoid rumination. Elijah repeated his negative mantra again in verse 14, word for word. It is obvious that this is what was on his mind. Rumination is a destructive mental habit, whereby we focus all of our attention on something negative – working it over in our mind, over and over again. Rumination is like marinating your brain in negativity. On Sunday, you had some conflict or a disappointment, and all Sunday night you have been thinking about it. It kept you from sleep; and on Monday you are still thinking about it. In fact, now it is worse than before. When you sit down to prepare your sermon, this will probably still be on your mind – and you will find some way to work it into the sermon to “nail” that person who irritated you last Sunday! Ruminating is a bad mental habit that needs to be broken. 2 Corinthians 10:5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
- Quit looking for the spectacular and start listening to the still small voice. God wasn’t in the fire, wind or earthquake. We all love services like those – but we need to accept that much of God’s enduring work is through the still voice of God. I could argue that Elijah’s most lasting success was not on Mt. Carmel – where the fire and rain fell but no revival resulted – but in the development and training of Elisha, who was used of God to perform twice as many miracles as his predecessor. In the ministry, big days are fun and important – but the most lasting results will probably come through faithful preaching, week after week, in less spectaculor ways, which help to produce some sold-out, Spirit-filled disciples for God’s work.
- Get up and do God’s will, whether you feel like it or not. God basically told Elijah to get back to work. Elijah did so, passing by Elisha and, apparently without much enthusiasm, throwing his mantle over his shoulders and walking away without a word! Sometimes, you just have to get up and go another day until the feelings of discouragement pass. Go knock some doors whether you feel like it or not. Study and pray and do your work. Help someone. Get away from the juniper tree and the cave and get back to winning souls and helping people.
Thank you for reading. God bless.