Jesus said, "Here on the earth you will have many trials and sorrows" (Jn 16:33). Though Jesus has "overcome the world," we must learn how to manage challenging seasons.
Elijah's experience after Mount Carmel illustrates foure practical ways to handle bad days.
Expect Bad Days
There are some events in your life that almost always will trigger bad days. First, the death or desertion of a loved one. For many people, divorce produces the same sensation of loss as death.
Second, a devastating loss. Termination from a job, an unexpected financial setback, the destruction of one's home, or a criminal assault can cause people to question whether God is really watching over them or if they are simply victims of random forces in nature. Such questioning can often result in despair, just as it did for the patriarch Job. Job initially worshiped God after losing his possessions, his children, and his health, but he eventually questioned God's sovereignty and wisdom.
Third, an exhilarating success. If you return home after an out of town trip with a long distance driving, and returning to your world of everyday responsibilities, you can barely function for the next day or few days. After coming home from an overseas trip that involves time zone changes, you are going to experience a few bad days of shaking off the jet lag. While you cannot afford to stay in bed, you can schedule less challenging tasks. You are simply physically and emotionally tired.
Refresh Yourself Physically
Fleeing from Jezebel to Beersheba and to Mount Horeb, 320 miles long trek in the wilderness, Elijah prayed, "Lord, taky my life" (1Ki 19:4). The physical and emotional exhaustion that Elijah experienced distorted his perspective. It can do the same to us as well. If you have been terminated from your job, you may fear you will never be employed again. If you have lost your mate, you may fear you will be lonely the rest of your life. If you have suffered a financial setback, you may fear you will never recover.
God knew what Elijah needed more than anything to regain his emotional and spiritual equilibrium: rest. So the prophet "lay down and slept under a juniper tree" (1Ki 19:5). Often sleep is the sure cure for a bad days. Conversely, the lack of sleep can be the sure cause of a bad day. Experts say the average adult needs between seven and eight hours of sleep a night.
I assume Elijah had sufficient rest because God sent an angelic wake-up call: "An angel touched him, and he said to him, 'Arise, eat.' Then he looked and there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank" (1Ki 19:5-6). Depression suppresses our desire to eat. Nothing looks enticing, and frankly, most things look nauseating. But eating a simple meal and staying properly hydrated is one of the most important things we can do during bad days. After his arrest in Jerusalem, Paul was placed on a ship to Rome to stand trial before Nero. Caught in a violent storm, passengers and crew had not eaten in fourteen days. So Paul encouraged everyone to eat. "He took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all two hundred and seventy-six people, and he broke it and began to eat. All of them were encouraged and they themselves also took food" (Acts 27:35-36). Food not only provides for their physical needs but it also encourages them that life goes on-that God and others care for them and that the darkness of the moment will not last forever.
When you are depressed, some of the most helpful things you can do are the simplest things-like getting some sleep and a good meal. When you do not get enough rest or take in enough nutrition, bad days turn into horrible days. That is one extreme. The other extreme is sleeping and eating too much. Moving from the sofa to the refrigerator to the bed in an endless cycle will only cause your depression to deepen.
Strengthen Yourself Spiritually
When the angel came to Elijah and encouraged him to eat, Elijah had traveled a long journey to Mount Horeb. The next morning, the angel stirred Elijah again and fed him breakfast. "So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food 40 days and 40 nights to Horeb, the mountain of God" (1Ki 19:8). God commanded Elijah to come out of the cave. "Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice" (vv.11-12).
When bad days come, most of us want God to show up and do big things: miraculous healings, the sudden and unexpected return of a prodigal, addictions broken overnight, or a mountain of financial debt magically erased. But God usually answers in less dramatic ways. He offers us courage to face our illnesses, wisdom to handle our finances, and grace in our struggle with sin. It is with a "still small voice" that God calls us out of our caves in which we have hidden. And with a gentle whisper, God urges us to cry for help during the storm. But to hear and heed Him, especially when the wind is howling and the waves are crashing, we must learn how to discern and listen to God's voice. Everyone who wants to experience an extraordinary life must learn how to strengthen themselves in God by listening to the voice of Him.
Here are some practical things you can do to strengthen yourself in the Lord when you experience a bad day. First, dedicate a time and place where you get alone with God. There needs to be a time when you; have a regular appointment to meet with God. You may try to pray by kneeling beside the couch, ten or fifteen minutes a day is a great way to start. Second, select a portion of the Bible to read and meditate on. God's primary means of communication to us is through His Word. When you read scripture, you know you are listening to the voice of God. Or you might want to read through an entire book of the Bible. Third, choose one or two verses to memorize. Any verse or two that grabs your attention or brings comfort in your trial is fine. When bad days come your way in the future, God loves to bring those verses back to your memory-to encourage you. Fourth, after reading, spend time in prayer. Your prayers do not have to be eloquent or lengthy. God does not pay attention to long, drawn-out prayers. God does not weigh your words; He weighs your heart. This is a time to be honest with God, telling Him what is in your heart. Transparency with God in prayer begins with confessing any sin in your life. When you acknowledge your wrong actions or wrong attitudes, you are not giving God any new information.
Encourage Yourself Emotionally
When you become discouraged, the first thing we want to do is find a place to hide, to be alone. Elijah "left his servant" at Beersheba, and "he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness" (1Ki 19:3-4). There, all alone, he threw himself under a juniper tree. And then he went farther into the desolate desert and hid in a cave.
One of the most common reactions in those who are experiencing bad days is physical and emotional withdrawal from other people. The more we isolate ourselves from others, the more vulnerable we become to despair. Our very real adversary, Satan, has a three-pronged, effective strategy: isolate, attack, and destroy. If the enemy can pry us away from the emotional support and perspective other Christians can offer us, then he is free to relentlessly pummel and eventually destroy us.
But God did not design us to live as hermits in caves. He designed us to live in community with other people. Many Christians isolate themselves from the church during a bad season at the time they most need the support of other believers. Heb 10:24-25 gives us encouragement, "Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together...but encouraging one another."
That is what Elijah needed-what everyone needs during bad days-the encouragement that comes from other people, especially other believers. Refreshed and restored, Elijah left his cave and connected with other people, including the person who would eventually succeed him in ministry. Bad days are inevitable, but they do not have to last forever. Those who experience an extraordinary life have learned how to navigate through times of discouragement by strengthening themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Experiencing a bad season of life is like traveling through a dark tunnel. The bad news is that while you are in the tunnel, you cannot see anything in front of you. The good news is that once you have entered the tunnel, you are already on your way out of it.