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Receiving God’s refreshment

I shouldn’t feel like this. I’m a Christian.” “I feel so guilty.” “Do you think I am possessed?” Many times I have heard these, or similar statements, from those experiencing some form of mental or emotional distress or dis-ease. Sometimes this has been fuelled by a person’s engagement with scripture, the teaching they have received or the implicit ethos of the faith group they belong to. 

But is this how God wants us to think and feel? What is God’s response to His people when they are struggling with anxiety, depression, psychoses and a myriad of other mental health issues? It is true that His word tells us to ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ (Philippians 4:4) and ‘Do not be anxious about anything’ (Philippians 4:6). However, taken out of context, this can lead to the belief that our mental ailments are due to spiritual poverty.

We need to care for our bodies, as well as our minds and souls

It is important to understand that the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual parts of our beings all interact. And God knows this! Perhaps nowhere is this highlighted more than in the way God deals with Elijah. Why not pause and read 1 Kings chapters 18 and 19 and then we will look at how God met Elijah in his hour of need?
Elijah went from the heights of Mount Carmel to the depths of not wanting to be alive. He went from a place of great confidence in God, to a place of hopelessness. Elijah, who was a man just like us (James 5:17) must have been ecstatic at the top of Carmel. His God had shown Himself to be the ruler by decisively defeating the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:16-46). Elijah would have been on a real spiritual and emotional high. 

Yet a short while later we see the low of Beersheba: fear, running for his life, wishing he was dead, isolating himself and the loss of confidence in God. If he was not doubting God, he was certainly doubting His plans: depression, despondency, despair and self-pity.What a contrast to the bold, courageous Elijah who confronted King Ahab and the prophets of Baal! Perhaps when we see Elijah in this state, we more easily identify with him being human, just as we are. God knew exactly what Elijah needed. He dealt with him in a holistic way.

God cares for our bodies

God cared for Elijah physically, giving him the food, water and sleep that he needed (1 Kings 19:6-8). Sometimes we can ignore or lessen the importance of our physical well-being. After all, it is the spiritual part of us that matters, isn’t it? Elijah is emotionally and physically spent. He had just run 17 miles after all. But here God’s first approach to Elijah isn’t for the angel to tell him to believe more or have more faith. Elijah needs to sleep and eat. Twice the angel comes to him, telling him to fill himself with sustenance for the journey. It is important that we do what we can to care for our bodies, as well as our minds and souls.


God renews our minds

Elijah had an unbalanced view of things (1 Kings 19:10, 14). But God challenged his thinking by asking him the same question twice: ‘What are you doing here Elijah?’ (1 Kings 19:9,13). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy isn’t new!! The way we think really does affect the way we feel and behave: “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12: 1-2). We don’t all have the same intellectual capacity. But we should allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds and to think things through if we are able. We shouldn’t be afraid of this either. Truth is truth and it will prevail in Christ.

So, God demonstrated His power again, albeit in a different way: by meeting Elijah’s physical and emotional needs.  Then Elijah set off again, journeying for 40 days and 40 nights (1 Kings 19:8). He went to the same mountain where Moses met with God, Mount Horeb (Mount Sinai). God again asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?” Elijah once more answered rather grumpily and negatively, “I am the only one left and they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:10)

God refreshes our spirits

God refreshed Elijah’s spirit by displaying His power, glory and tenderness (1 Kings 19:11-15). Sometimes we need to have God speak to us in powerful ways that force us out of our comfort zones. In this instance, God was not ‘in’ the wind, the earthquake or fire. He was ‘passing by’. I must admit this is one of the most puzzling parts of this account. It perhaps reinforces the surprising nature of God. Where Elijah probably expects God to manifest Himself in the powerful displays of wind, earthquake or fire, He instead shows up in a gentle whisper, a still small voice. Elijah’s senses are likely still on high alert after the great victory on Carmel and then the descent into despair. So, God, lovingly, speaks to him in a gentle whisper, a still small voice. 

Elijah recognised the voice of God. Learning to discern God’s gentle nudges can take time and practice. But if we incline our spiritual ears and our hearts, we will hear Him. As we test out what we believe God is saying, checking it against scripture, perhaps talking with a trusted Christian friend, we will grow in confidence and trust. 

Despite Elijah’s wobble, God does not sideline him. Instead, He gives him fresh instructions and tasks. He is reminded he is not on his own. In fact, God gives Elijah a team to be part of: the kings and his successor, Elisha (1 Kings 19:15-21).

God is with us

As God was with Elijah, so He will be with us.

Christians are not immune to struggles with our mental health - why should we be? It is part of being a member of the fallen human race, in the same way that physical illness is. Those who experience same-sex attraction are no less likely to battle with mental health than anyone else. The internal conflict, the isolation, and the battle against sinful thoughts and behaviour, can all be a factor in destabilising the mental health of the person who seeks to follow Christ. 

But we have a gracious, compassionate, loving God who comes alongside us and will deal with us gently. He knows our needs. Through His word, His Spirit and our fellow believers, He will minister to our bodies, minds and souls.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2024 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.

Download the Spring 2024 edition of Ascend