Elijah and Discouragement

Through I Kings 18-19, Elijah experiences an emotional roller coaster. Elijah brings a drought to the land through God’s power, and, when he comes to see Ahab again, the king is very hostile toward Elijah. In turn, Elijah proposes a challenge: set up two alters, one to Baal and one to Jehovah, and Baal’s priests would pray for their God to consume their sacrifice in fire. Elijah would do the same. Baal’s priests cry out, dance, and cut themselves to no avail. Elijah then evokes God with a small, quiet prayer after having his alter deluged with water, and fire from God incinerates the sacrifice and alter.

The people enthusiastically turn to God, praising Him and killing the prophets of Baal. The drought ends. It is a monumental victory, but it is very short-lived. By chapter 19, Jezebel proclaims death on Elijah and promises his end within a day. Elijah flees beyond the political influence of Ahab and Jezebel, collapses by a juniper tree, and asks God to take his life.

Causes of Spiritual Discouragement

James 5 reminds us that Elijah is simply a man like you or me – subject to times of triumph and times of despair. He is no more a stranger to discouragement than any of us. We see him despairing his life, but God is there to provide the cure to Elijah’s discouragement, but how does a prophet as successful as Elijah go from such success into the depths of discouragement?

  • Emotional Stress. Elijah feels the stress and strain of trying to convert a godless nation. The king and queen are set against him. He feels alone as we might when we see those we know and love rejecting God, when we feel that our faith is rejected at every turn.
  • Exhaustion. Elijah does a great deal of traveling in I Kings 18 alone, before and after the strenuous events on Mount Carmel. He is also worn out from the constant pressure of resisting the pressures around him. Likewise, we are always over-booked and overextended. We don’t take time to be still, to pray, to feed on God’s word, and to meditate. Like Elijah, we just wear ourselves out.
  • Great Accomplishments. Think about what Elijah accomplishes by the end of I Kings 18. How does he maintain that momentum? How can he top that? Elijah feels personally responsible for keeping the tide turned, and, when he cannot maintain that success, he feels a failure. The highs in our lives can lead directly into lows when we realize the difficulty in maintaining that momentum.

How then does this discouragement manifest itself in Elijah? First, he isolates himself in I Kings 19:3-4. “I just want to be alone.” However, it is not good for us to be alone in our discouragement. Then, Elijah loses perspective in I Kings 19:10 when he expresses he is the only one seeking God in Israel. He knows otherwise, but he pushes that knowledge out of his own mind in despair. Finally, Elijah descends into self-pity, and, when we pity ourselves, we become self-centered and selfish.

Curing Discouragement

We can relate to the causes and effects of discouragement we see in Elijah’s lives. How do we move on, though? We can begin by looking at the way God brings Elijah out of his despair.

  • Get Up. In I Kings 19:5-8, the angel twice instructs Elijah to rise. Verses 11-15 record God twice giving Elijah direction to “go.” God tells the prophet to get up and take positive action. Sometimes a small shift in the right direction makes all the difference. When we are down in the depths of discouragement, the first thing we should do is get involved in positive service.
  • Grow Up. I Kings 19:11-13 records God drawing Elijah’s attention to His presence in the quiet things. He reminds Elijah to spiritually grow up and stop looking for God in his own way. Paul makes the same admonition in I Corinthians 3:1-3 when he calls for Christians to grow out of physical jealousies. Sometimes, we simply need to work to maturation.
  • Gird Up. Toward the end of I Kings 19, God reminds Elijah there is still work to be done, and he will need help to do it. We need to be able to accept help. We need our own Elisha to help us change our outlook at times. I Peter 1:13 calls on us to gird our minds for action in God’s service.

God has given us reason to trust and hope in Him. We are no strangers to discouragement and struggles, but we can always look up to Him who loves us and created us. As Romans 8:31-39 reminds us, nothing can separate us from God’s love. None can oppose us when God is with us. We can take confidence in our God and face our discouragements with the knowledge that He is with us.

lesson by Tim Smelser