Overcoming the Elijah Effect

November ushers in the commencement of the holiday season.  Billed as the “happiest weeks of the year” the weeks spanning November 1 to December 31 can be exhilarating or exhausting.  Statistics suggest that when exhaustion settles in, Satan’s fiery dart of discouragement embeds itself in our hearts.  Choosing to detonate discouragement during the holiday season poises us for a Christ-centered celebration!

When we speak of God answering our prayers, more than often what we really mean is that He said yes to our petition.  One of the most challenging lessons for believers to learn is that yes, no, and wait are all responses to our requests.  What is your reaction when you earnestly pray that a situation will have a specific outcome (such as a calm, pleasant holiday season), and the response from your heavenly Father is no or wait?  Do you believe that there is no good thing that He will withhold from you if you are walking uprightly (Ps 84:11) and focus on your responsibility of walking uprightly, or are you like Elijah when he fled from Jezebel to the wilderness, sat under a juniper tree, and wished to die (1 Kgs 19:4)?  The woman who chooses the response aligned with Psalm 84:11 embraces contentment, while the one who opts for an Elijah Effect is courting discouragement.

Discouragement, extracted from the Greek word athumeo, means to be disheartened, dispirited, and discouraged.[1]  It frequently occurs when there is a discrepancy between expectation and fulfillment.  As an emotion, discouragement’s roots are frequently planted in the soil of idealistic expectations such as holding perfectionist standards for yourself and others, embracing impractical outcomes for holiday celebrations, and anticipating unrealistic benefits from relationships.  The greater the discrepancy between hope and fulfillment, the greater the potential for discouragement—and in many instances the resulting emotion of discouragement is actually anger without enthusiasm.  You know from Scripture that anger for a selfish reason is sin (Ps 4:4; Eph 4:32).

A study of Scripture reveals that discouragement was a reaction of many of the individuals recorded in its pages.  As believers we should learn from both their positive and poor responses to cope with discouragement in our own life (1 Cor 10:6) and to offer encouragement to others (2 Cor 1:3-7).  Consider the following:

  • Hagar, after she was cast out of the household of Abraham because of Sarah’s jealousy (Gen 21:15-16).
  • Moses, when he was sent on his mission to the Israelites (Ex 4:1, 10, 13; 6:12), at the Red Sea (Ex 14:15), and when the Israelites lusted for flesh (Num 11:15).
  • The Israelites, because of the cruel oppression of the Egyptians (Ex 6:9).
  • Hannah, as she experienced infertility (1 Sm 1-2).
  • Job, following the devastation of his life (Job 3:1-26, 17:13-16).
  • David, through multiple difficulties (Ps 41 and 51).
  • Jonah, after he had preached to the Ninevites (Jonah 4:3, 8).

An analysis of Elijah’s life (1 Kgs 19:1-22; 2 Kgs 2:1-10) provides us with biblical guidelines for detonating discouragement. Elijah emerged from his experience at Mount Carmel a victor—the 450 false prophets of Baal were destroyed, and the calamity of drought and famine brought about by idol worship ended (1 Kgs 18:18-46).  Regrettably, Jezebel did not share his enthusiasm over the victory—in fact, she was very angry (1 Kgs 19:1-2)!  Instead of surrendering, as Elijah expected, she issued an ultimatum to him, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time” (1 Kgs 19:3).   Elijah’s response is similar to that of many Christians—they observe God perform repeated miracles in their lives—then a bit of minor turbulence occurs and the downward spiral of the Elijah Effect sets in:

  • The cycle of fear of others or specific circumstances begins (1 Kgs 19:1-2).
  • The logical reaction is to run from the problem (challenge), rather than facing it head-on (1 Kgs 19:3).
  • Rather than meditating on God’s faithfulness, faulty negative thinking begins (1 Kgs 19:4).
  • The faulty negative thinking is fanned by emotional and physical fatigue which frequently produces discouragement (1 Kgs 19:5-9).
  • Further faulty negative thinking yields false expectations and unrealistic attitudes regarding the responsibilities God calls one to assume (1 Kgs 19:10).
  • These false expectations and unrealistic attitudes can lead to the cultivation of self-pity (1 Kgs 19:14).

An intervention for the downward spiral of Elijah Effect must be applied for it to begin the reversal process—in Elijah’s case, as in ours, the intervention cycle to renew his spirit included:

  • Resting and relaxing—too many times when the Elijah Effect begins people increase their activity rather than reducing it (1 Kgs 19:5-9).
  • Seeking solitude to focus on communion with God (1 Kgs 19:9-13).
  • Using the Word of God as a sword to fight the source of discouragement, Satan (Eph 6:17).  Acquiring God’s truth and promises during times of refreshment enables us to engage confidently in battle. For example, Psalms 33, 42, 43, and 71 teach us the hope we are to have in God.  Lamentations 3:21-23 describes the downcast man who nevertheless relies on the steadfast love of the Lord. 1 Peter 1:13-21 challenges us to proclaim the faith and hope we can have in God through Jesus Christ while Romans 8:18-39 reminds us that nothing can separate us from God’s love.
  • Realizing that refreshment comes through resuming activity since it allows us to focus our vision outward rather than “soaking and souring.”  Balancing the quantity of time invested and the intensity of the activity will ensure that the Elijah Effect does not recur (1 Kgs 19:15-18).
  • Allowing friends to minister to us (Prov 17:17).  It is good to remember that it important to be a friend, as well as to find one and that we are to accept God’s provision for relationships, rather than imposing our expectations.  Consider studying some of the noteworthy soul relationships recorded in the Scriptures—Jonathan and David (1 Sm 18:1, 19, 20, 23:16), Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1-4), Paul and Timothy (1 Cor 4:17, 16:10; Phil 2:19-22), and of course, Elijah and Elisha (1 Kgs 19:19-21; 2 Kgs 2:1-18).

As you consider Elijah’s life, are you a woman who chooses the Elijah Effect or embraces contentment when faced with circumstances that could breed discouragement?  Remember that godliness with contentment is great gain (Ps 37:16; 1 Tim 6:6) while despair plus discouragement equals spiritual disaster!  As you enter this holiday season may I encourage you to choose to detonate discouragement so that you can savor it to its maximum potential?

Dr. Patricia Ennis is a Distinguished Professor of Homemaking at Southwestern Seminary. She has authored several works, including Precious in the Sight of God, The Art of Becoming a Godly Woman, Practicing Hospitality, the Joy of Serving Others (with Lisa Tatlock), and Becoming a Young Woman Who Pleases God, A Teen’s Guide to Developing Her Biblical Potential.

 [1]Vines Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, s.v. “athumeo.”