Elijah the Prophet: What We Can Learn From His Mental Health

Elijah the Prophet

Many spiritual leaders in the Bible struggled to obtain victory while serving faithfully. The story of Elijah the Prophet is just one case study model for ministry. Many pastors and church leaders can learn a valuable lesson on self-care and God’s provision to take care of His own.

We will discover from Elijah’s story that mental health was not uncommon then nor is it uncommon in our day now. We are all called to serve in the capacity of the Father’s will for our lives. Elijah the Prophet was a powerful man of God, and God used him mightily, but ultimately, we find Elijah depleted, mentally, physically, and emotionally drained. I feel that way at times.

Many pastors today suffer in silence with mental health issues. It is crystal clear that the Bible speaks of servants like Elijah the prophet and King David, a man after God’s own heart. And the list goes on of many others who have served the Lord. We can learn and share their transparent stories around mental health-related issues.

The Lord lifted them all up and their stories are recorded to educate us. We don’t have to give up on our ministry; we just need to be ministered to for a season, like God did for the prophet Elijah. Yes, we may be depleted but never disconnected from God and His love for us.

It is necessary for twenty-first-century pastors and church leaders to consider the case study on the life and ministry of Elijah the Prophet. Elijah was overwhelmed by mental health even though he lived in the days of the Old Testament.

In James 5:17, James, a New Testament writer, declares that Elijah the Prophet is just like us. We are no different than he was—we have all experienced similar symptoms, and we all have stress-related issues, even if it is nothing more than member depression or depression over assignments.

Elijah’s story is about his mental health condition while serving God in a Spirit-filled ministry and operating under a great anointing. This is nothing new; the suffering of mental illness has always been present in some form of anxiety or depression from the beginning of time, and even now as we serve God. But God does care and provide for His own.

Now in the twenty-first century in which we live, this commonality with Elijah the Prophet is devastating for us to believe when we encounter the dramatic events of his life story that took place so long ago yet is relevant today. Elijah’s story is found in 1 Kings chapters 17 and 19. The same God who took care of Elijah is still the one who cares today for His pastors and leaders. He still STOPS to hear us, and He is still asking the same question today, “What can I do for you?”

In the New Testament, if we would just follow the STOPS of Jesus, we would learn how Jesus showed compassion and healed those in His presence. He loved them so. Today, like our Master, we should STOP and show a more compassionate spirit toward those suffering mental illness. God stopped to restore Elijah’s health and replenish his spiritual well-being.

Elijah’s story is about the God in him, which made him so powerful in his moments of weakness, and how God provided for His own. The Bible reveals the mighty acts of God in the prophet Elijah’s life; it is a story about how God uses His people for His glory regardless of one’s mental condition or status. With God, no one is disqualified from service. Not even the pastor He calls today will be given a different task—the requirements for ministry have not changed. Pastors and leaders are not exempt from God’s calling, no matter what we are experiencing in life.

The prophet Elijah’s call was not based on ability, but rather his availability. Our inability or insufficiency has never mattered to God; that should be encouraging to us. The Lord told the Apostle Paul in the New Testament that His grace is sufficient in all things. It has always been, and always will be, about God’s greatness and mighty acts done through His people. God is so compassionate to those who serve Him. Jesus truly is a burden lifter, a lover of our souls, and a restorer of failing health.

James says that Elijah was just like us. He suffered from anxiety, despair, unbelief, weakness, loneliness, and lack of human ability. But by living a life of persevering faith and dependence on God’s grace, mercy, power, and presence, God used him to confront the wayward sinful nations while displaying God’s glory and truth.

In Elijah’s day, and now in our day, God still delights to pour His glory into weak vessels of clay like us. It’s not what is happening to us, but rather what God is doing through us for His glory. It’s never about how much God can do for us, but always about how much God can do through us.

As loyal followers of Christ, we must be willing to live for Jesus through times of tribulation as well as times of loneliness (see Acts 14:22, John 16:32, 1 Kings 17:2–7). As followers of Christ, there will be days when we feel depleted and depraved, have dark moments, and even feel worthless at times, when our souls are crying out for immediate help and we, too, need a compassionate, caring spirit to minister to our needs.

Preachers need to be ministered to like all other people. We have our moments of despair and weakness and often cry for help silently through prayer for the strength to overcome frustrations and anxieties. Often, it is difficult to express our emotions and disdained condition while serving at church, because no one wants to be perceived as a weak and inadequate leader; we feel we must be strong among the people of God.

Pastors and church leaders at times find themselves experiencing the same symptoms as Elijah at the brook—the place where God restores our failing health and revives us for the next level of ministry. As Elijah the Prophet spent time by that drying brook, he felt depleted, lonely, and miserable, but at the same time, God was preparing him for greater works.

The Bible doesn’t cover up or have a hidden agenda about those great women and men who lived during the Bible days. Like us, they experienced both physical and mental conditions while being instructed by God to serve as His servant leaders.

The Bible provides for us a clear picture of those whom the Lord called and chose to use. It gives us the whole story, both the failures and achievements of their life stories. When the Bible describes the great cloud of witnesses of the Old Testament and the New Testament, it tells the unvarnished truth of their struggles in real life ministry, their temptations, their difficulties. We too in ministry have experienced the same struggles and hardships, and we are not exempt from moments of anxiety and depression.

For our benefit, God used them and raised them up during their moments of depression and anxiety. Even today as we fall in ministry because of mental illness, member depression, or anxiety, God will still raise us up to serve Him again despite our previous conditions. God will never leave us nor forsake us. Elijah did not know God was preparing him for his next great adventure.

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Bill Reese
Author and Pastor Dr. Bill Reese’s extensive professional ministry pairs exhaustive theological studies with intensive community initiatives focused on behavioral health and disabilities. He has dedicated most of his time and energy to helping in behavioral health organizations and faith-based organizations. After attending Southwestern Baptist Seminary School of Theology earned his doctorate at Evangel Christian University. He is married with twelve children (nine adopted) and thirty-five grandchildren.