Many of God's greatest servants wrestled with discouragement, including Elijah. The portrait of Elijah in 1Kings 19 stands in stark contrast to the picture we saw in 1Kings 18. In chapter 18 we see Elijah at his best, but in chapter 19 we see him at his worst. In 1Kings 18, "The hand of the Lord was on Elijah" (v.46). Elijah was full of faith. Elijah bravely confronted 850 false prophets. Elijah prayed for God to glorify Himself. Elijah became the leader of the people. In 1Kings 19, "He was afraid and...ran for his life" (v.3). Elijah was full of fear. Elijah cowardly fled from one woman. Elijah prayed for God to take his life. Elijah abandoned the people.
Bad days are like a vacuum: they suck the joy out of life. Fortunately, for most of us, bad days consist of troubles that are manageable and then over. Bad days are certainly annoying and aggravating, but they quickly end. I refer to seasons in life when difficulties and disappointments linger and pile up-one after another until they become unbearable. These seasons of despair often start with unexpected and grim news, followed by troubles for many days afterward. These kinds of days sometimes come because of our own wrong choices and the consequences that follow. For example, someone who is sexually promiscuous might find out that he has contracted a sexually transmitted disease or AIDS. Sometimes bad days are not of our own making. Those who endure long-term illnesses, devastating physical disabilities, or mental instability due to chemical imbalances suffer at no fault of their own. And though it is not true, they sometimes conclude that God has cursed them. The same is often true about difficult seasons we experience. Because of your own wrong choices or because of living in a sin-infested world, you are going to experience bad seasons in life.
When bad days come, they are accompanied by three painful emotions: discouragement, restlessness, and foolishness.
When we become discouraged all we feel like doing is staying in beds and pulling the covers over our heads. Bad days can rob us of the courage needed to live an extraordinary life. If those days persist, then discouragement dissolves into depression. And if depression lingers long enough, we may come to believe that life has lost its meaning.
During a particular "bad day" in Elijah's life, he behaved as a practical atheist-acting as though God was nonexistent.
While some Israelites turned back to God and Elijah's triumph on Mount Carmel, the majority continued to worship Baal-and Elijah grew discouraged. He believed he had failed in his mission, so he prayed for the Lord to take his life. Elijah lamented, "I am not better than my fathers" (1Ki 19:4), meaning that his ministry was no more effective than that of the prophets who went before him. He could preach until his lungs collapsed and perform miraculous signs until his arms fell off, but the people's hearts remained unchanged. They continued in their rebellion against God and persisted in their worship of Baal.
Anyone who attempts to evaluate his life without God's perspective, like Elijah, will experience discouragement-the loss of courage to continue pursuing an extraordinary life.
When life does not turn out as envisioned, some people turn to nonstop activity-either to divert their minds from the pain or to fine a sense of purpose in life. On Valentine's Day, 1884, Theodore Roosevelt's mother died of typhoid fever, and his wife died from complications after giving birth to their daughter just two days earlier. Devastated, he deposited his infant daughter, Alice, with his sister and ran away to the badlands of the Dakotas to soothe his broken spirit. In the Dakotas, disheartened and depressed, Roosevelt engaged in an exhausting swirl of activities-breaking horses, rounding up and branding cattle, and hunting down cattle thieves. Roosevelt thought the cure for discouragement and depression was action.
Elijah also chose action as the remedy for his discouragement. Staring down a death threat from Queen Jezebel, Elijah ran from Jezreel in Israel to Beersheba, then to Mount Horeb in the Sinai wilderness, total 320 hundred miles.
When bad days come, we might not physically run away, as Roosevelt and Elijah did, but we might flee emotionally and spiritually. We might throw ourselves into our work, logging long hours at the office to avoid difficulties at home. We might spend more time and attention on hobbies so we do not have to work out the problems in our marriage or family. We might lose ourselves in watching television-mindlessly flipping thorough channels-or spend hours on social media to avoid having a conversation with a loved one.
But diversionary activity is not God's cure for bad days. When we find ourselves in adverse circumstances, the Lord encourages us to "be still"-to rest in the power of His provision and protection-and to "know that He is God" (Ps 46:10). Nevertheless, when faced with difficult and discouraging days, being still is the last thing on our minds. Often, we are more interested in running from our problems than working out a solution to them.
Unfortunately, running from rather than confronting our problems can lead to unwise decisions. I have seen people make foolish decisions because of the wrong response to a bad day or bad season of life. Running from our dad days can cause us to foolishly abandon our jobs, our friendships, or even our families. Do not think that sweeping your bad days under the rug or running from the real source of your problem is doing anything constructive. All you have done is postponed facing your bad day.
That's precisely what Roosevelt did when he ran away to the Dakotas. As a wealthy New Yorker with a bright political future, he was foolish to think he would be content living apart from his infant daughter and becoming a rancher. Roosevelt would have to deal with the death of his mother and wife in a more constructive way. So he returned to New York, resumed his political career, remarried, and reared a family.
Elijah made a similar foolish choice when he fled into the desert to escape Jezebel. God had not told Elijah to pack his bags and skip town. What did Elijah think he was going to do on the desert-preach to lizards and snakes? As a prophet called to declare the reality and power of God to an unbelieving world, what message was Elijah communicating by tucking tail and running from one disgruntled queen?
Contrary to his prayer for death (1Ki 19:4), Elijah did not really want to die; he wanted to escape. When bad days accumulate and press in on us, we sometimes say things we really do not mean. Like a frightened and wounded animal, we lash out, often at those closest to us. We tell friends we are sick of them. We tell loved ones we hate them. And we tell God we want to die. Bad days-if not confronted and handled wisely-can lead to foolish words and foolish decisions.