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

There is little doubt that Elijah the Prophet was experiencing a nervous breakdown and was even suicidal. As pastors and leaders, we are all subject, to a greater or lesser degree, to some or all the above-mentioned emotions or reactions. So how did Elijah fall into this depression that led to his breakdown?

  • He was mentally overworked. For those three and a half years, he had experienced terrific tension, culminating in the great victory on Mount Carmel and the slaughter of those false prophets.
  • He was physically exhausted. Not only had the experiences of the past years made heavy demands upon his body, but now he had just taken about a twenty-mile hike toward the Mediterranean Sea.
  • He was spiritually out of touch. “When he saw that his condition was depleted and began to cry out in his moment of despair.” We see a similar comparison in Matthew 14:30. Elijah the Prophet took his eyes off the Lord and looked at his circumstances and the threats of Jezebel. If you want to be depressed, fearful, filled with self-pity, etc., take your eyes off the Lord and look at your circumstances and the problems of this weary world. just take a good look at yourself!

So, the three basic reasons for Elijah’s collapse are that he was sick mentally, physically, and spiritually. These must be considered together, for the mental affects the spiritual, the physical affects the mental, and so forth. This leads to burn out, blow out, and cry out.

Now let’s look at what the Lord prescribed as a cure to set him back on the road to recovery. Consider that even today, God offers us the same support and help while serving in His kingdom.

Elijah the Prophet was physically exhausted, so the Lord attended to the needs of his body. Look up Psalm 103:14. God prescribed food, sleep, and plenty of fresh air. He gave His servant a month and a half off as a job recovery package! It is essential to pay attention to these three simple rules for bodily health: (1) daily nourishing food; (2) regular and sufficient sleep; (3) fresh air, exercise, and relaxation.

  1. Elijah was mentally overworked, so the Lord dealt with his mind. His mental outlook was distorted and unbalanced, so after a month and a half of rest and care, healthy food, and fresh air, the Lord came to him and repeated His question, “Elijah, what are you doing here?” God’s objective was to cause Elijah to face realities, face his fears, and face his problems, even as we should do today.
  2. Elijah was out of touch spiritually, so the Lord dealt with his soul. He gave him a wonderful vision of His power, glory, and 1 Kings 19:11–12 run parallel to Psalm 46:10. Elijah needed physical restoration and mental renewal, but most of all, he needed a spiritual revival. Even today, ministry can be taxing and overwhelming, and it is necessary to take a few days off from time to time for spiritual restoration and renewal.

Sometimes we forget the faithfulness of our Lord. God seems remote and far removed from our struggles. We ask, “Where is God in all this?” The Lord knows when we need Him the most and will send a provision to restore our mental and emotional well-being.

Life often seems so relentless, and there is no exception for those in ministry. We can all feel somewhat hopeless at times, and there appears to be an erosion of our stamina and strength in the struggle to carry on day after day. There seems so much more pain than pleasure in our everyday lives.

Sometimes forgetting the unremitting faithfulness of God to us in the past, we focus only on the futility and frustrations of our present-day experiences. Yes, there are times when one can see no hope or cheering prospects for the future. Let us further consider how God deals with Elijah’s depression and emotional well-being. Everyone needs time out every now and then.

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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.