Out of the Cave: Even Prophets Get Depressed

After getting all fired up, it was almost inevitable that Elijah would cave in. Depression often comes on the heels of a spiritual and emotional high.

Welcome

No matter how strong your faith may be, you likely experience times when frantic thoughts keep you awake at night. Times when your emotions overwhelm you and leave you feeling pulled by their undertow. Moments when you don’t know how you will keep going. As you struggle to get through another day, you wonder, “Why do I feel this way?”

You’re not alone. Regardless of how long you’ve followed Jesus, how accomplished you are, or how much money you have, you can still experience times of fear, doubt, anxiety, and depression that rob you of your purpose, peace, and passion. Just like God’s prophet Elijah, you may be strong in your faith and suddenly feel like you’ve fallen into a deep cave of despair. In fact, depression often occurs right after a major spiritual or emotional high point.

Depression is not something you can ignore — and understanding it can help you overcome the stigma often attached to it and other mental illnesses. While many variables are often involved, and biological contributors may require medication as part of treatment, depression also sends a distress signal that your life is out of balance. You must consider all areas of your life as you seek to move forward out of depression.

In this study, we will look at the depression the prophet Elijah faced after he came off the spiritual high point of defeating the prophets of Baal. His story will reveal that we never have to remain in a cave of despair. God is always with us and always willing to lead us out of our personal darkness and into his eternal light.

Share

If you or any of your group members are just getting to know one another, take a few minutes to introduce yourselves. Then, to get things started, discuss one of the following questions:

  • What keeps you awake at night? Too much caffeine? Scary movies? Worrying about family? Something else?

— or —

  • When you can’t sleep at night, what do you do instead? Count sheep? Drink warm milk? Read a book? Get up and eat a snack? Pray? Something else?

Read

Ask one person to read the following passage, and then discuss the questions that follow.

1 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” 3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night. — 1 Kings 19:1-9

What do you identify with most in this description of Elijah’s descent into depression?

What word, phrase, or image stands out or resonates for you in this passage? Why do you think it strikes a chord right now?

Watch

Play the video segment for session 1. As you watch, use the following outline to record any thoughts that stand out to you.

God called Elijah to warn Israel of impending doom if they continued to reject him and worship idols. Consequently, Elijah arranged a showdown on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal, in which God’s fire descended and consumed the water-soaked altar.

Ahab, the king of Israel, and his wicked wife, Jezebel, hated Elijah and vowed revenge. Jezebel sent a messenger to tell Elijah that she would kill him within twenty-four hours. This sent the panicked prophet running away into the wilderness.

There are two key observations we can make based on Elijah’s experience:

  1. Depression often comes on the heels of a spiritual/emotional high.
  2. Depression often comes when our minds take over.

Depression can be defined as a mood disorder characterized by anhedonia, extreme sadness, poor concentration, sleep problems, loss of appetite, and feelings of guilt, helplessness, and hopelessness.

There are biological, physical, and neurological factors that contribute to depression and anxiety. Medication may be required as part of treatment. However, if we only focus on these biological factors, we can miss the whole picture.

Many times, we are just afraid to talk about depression because there is a stigma associated with it. It’s okay not to be okay.

When we battle depression, we must remember that God wants to reveal Himself in a very special way and make us whole again (see Psalm 46:10, Psalm 16:11, and Isaiah 61:3).

Discuss

Take a few minutes with your group members to discuss what you just heard and explore these concepts in Scripture.

  1. Are you surprised that Elijah experienced depression on the heels of such a major spiritual victory? Why or why not?
  2. Why do you think Jezebel’s threat on his life triggered Elijah’s flight impulse? How did her threat get in his head and contribute to his downward spiral?
  3. When have circumstances caused you to encounter thoughts and feelings similar to those of Elijah? If you have battled depression and/or anxiety, were there specific events that led up to that struggle?
  4. How would you define depression? Explain your answer.
  5. Do you agree that experiencing depression may be a distress signal indicating your life is out of balance? Why or why not?
  6. What are some of the ways depression and mental illness continue to be stigmatized even by people who follow Jesus? How can we overcome these stigmas in order to help more people experience healing, wholeness, and freedom?

Respond

Briefly review the video teaching outline and any notes you took. Also reflect for a moment on the group discussion you just had. In the space below, write down the most significant point you are taking away from this session — including the teaching, activities, and discussions.

Pray

Go around the room and share any prayer requests you have. Pray for those requests together silently, out loud, or both. Thank God for bringing you all together to study the life of Elijah and to learn more about depression and how to move through it. Ask God to give you wisdom, compassion, and strength as you consider painful chapters in your life and reflect on tough times. Trust that the Lord will protect each of you and guide you in His truth.

*  *  *

Your Turn

Let us know your thoughts on Out of the Cave. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Leave a Reply