How God responds when we're running on empty


In church we're not always that open about depression, but the Bible doesn't shy away from the topic. Maybe that'swhy Elijah's story has always been one of my favourites; there's a raw honesty about the prophet that I love.

Elijah's great depression came after his great victory. He had correctly prophesied to the king and queen (Ahab and Jezebel) that there would be no more rain in the land until he commanded it. Then he spent three years in a desert of sorts, with no human contact and only the ravens bringing food to remind him that God had not forgotten him. From that place Elijah went back to Ahab and there followed the infamous showdown between the man of God and Baal's prophets on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). The prophets of Baal called on their god to set fire to a sacrifice they had set up but nothing happened. When Elijah took his turn, God's fire fell and consumed the offering. What a victory! Elijah ordered that the prophets of Baal be put to death and knew the rain would now come.

Surely Elijah thought this was it. Job done. God had proven himself. But Jezebel threatened to kill him – probably not the ending to the story Elijah was expecting. I can't imagine the overwhelming fear and disappointment he encountered. He came face to face with a truth that we all have to deal with at some point: just because God is with us doesn't mean that life always goes smoothly. Things don't always work out the way we want them to and our prayers don't always get answered with a 'yes'. People get ill, relationships break down, accidents happen, redundancies are made, test results come back with terrifying news.

For Elijah it was all too much. He ran for his life and found himself in another desert (1 Kings 19:4). His desperation is clear in his prayer: "He... prayed that he might die. 'I have had enough, Lord,' he said. 'Take my life.'" Let's take note of how God responded: He didn't tell Elijah to cheer up, or berate him for losing faith. He didn't remind him of the great victory that had just been won and question why that wasn't enough. He didn't make him recall previous miracles and find inspiration there. He didn't tell him better days were ahead if he would just persevere.

Instead, he sent an angel to care for him, providing him with food so that he would have the strength for the rest of his journey. Elijah was exhausted. He didn't need a pep talk, he needed compassion. When he had regained his strength God spoke in a gentle whisper, one of the most intimate encounters that we read about in the whole of the Bible. Only then did God challenge Elijah's false assumptions and remind him that though he felt alone, there were actually 7,000 others who hadn't bowed down to Baal.

Life is full of disappointments that can leave us worn-out. Many of us have had moments like Elijah where we wonder if we can carry on anymore. These aren't the times to beat ourselves up for not having a better attitude; we have to be kind to ourselves and recognise that God doesn't demand anything from us. He loves us and wants to take care of us as he did Elijah. He commands us to rest because he is kind. We need to stop seeing rest as a luxury to be squeezed in when we can but an essential part of life that fuels everything else.

Resting means we can work to our full potential without killing ourselves. If we look after ourselves we will be better able to look after others. This isn't about being selfish; we're called to love and help one another but we can't do that if we're running on empty. Ultimately we allow ourselves to rest when we accept that we can't earn God's love. He doesn't love us because of what we do for him; he loves us because he loves us and nothing will change that. Sometimes the only way we can know that for sure is when we let go of our need to achieve every minute of every day.

Patrick Regan is the chief executive of youth charity XLP. His book, When Faith Gets Shaken (Lion Hudson), is out now.