This is a summary of this morning's message, the audio of which was not available due to a technical glitch.
Despondency is not a new problem. The Greeks called it "melancholia", and the Puritans wrote about it extensively. There is despondency that is caused by physiclal illness; this should be addressed by a doctor. Various Bible characters suffered from spiritual despondency, often because of sin. Cain felt angry rebellion against God, which made him "downcast." Ahab coveted a neighbor's vineyard, and when he couldn't obtain it, he lay with his face to the wall. Judas took his own life because he felt full of self-condemnation, and yet would not go to God for forgiveness. These were cases of despondency that were caused by evil heart-attitudes.
In Elijah's case, he experienced extreme despondency in the course of serving the Lord. He became gripped with fear over Jezebel's death-threat, and fled to far southern Judah. He sat disconsolately underneath a broom tree, and asked God to take his life. He grieved over the spiritual disintegration of Israel into abject evil, and lamented his aloneness. It is also possible that Elijah was pridefully comparing himself to other servants of God from his past, and felt disgusted with himself because he did not out-do them.
What can we learn from how the Lord ministered to His man?
First, we should be aware of the possibility of a spiritual stumble, even in a strong believer's life, and show mercy. The Lord's goal was to get His servant back on his feet, but He did not descend in a cloud of flame and chastise His servant. He tenderly provided Elijah with food, water, and the chance to safely sleep.
We see gentleness in the way God worked with Elijah. The Lord initiated a conversation, and began with a leading question: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" Elijah was AWOL from his duty, but the Lord did not speak harshly to him. In the Bible, God often speaks truth through the asking of questions.
The Lord also challenged Elijah's thinking about where His power lay. God showed Elijah a storm, an earthquake, and a fire, but God was not "in" any of those forces. Elijah had just come from a great miracle (described dramatically in chapter 18), and yet that amazing miracle had not truly, thoroughly revived Israel. Miracles in themselves do not turn people to the Lord.
The Lord told Elijah to set out on a new course of action. Elijah's mission had changed. Elijah needed to mentally disengage from the original plan, and shift gears to this new agenda. Then the Lord gave Elijah hope, when He revealed that He had preserved 7,000 men in Israel who had never bowed the knee to Baal. Elijah's belief that he was the only believer left was untrue.
What can we draw from Elijah's tale of despondent woe?
1 -- Even the most dedicated believer can break.
2 -- We must not turn our hope-so's into will-be's.
3 -- We must be careful how we define "success."
4 -- We must not imagine ourselves to be alone.
5 -- God always has a new plan. Find it, and do it.