Years ago, I asked a college student friend of mine how she was doing and got this response: “My mom is a heroin addict, and I just want to kill myself. How do you think I’m doing?”
That was a pivotal point in a journey I’d been on for a long time. All around me, fellow students were going through various trials and life difficulties. While some of my friends worked things out in a healthy manner, many others were unable to do so, experiencing feelings of isolation and desperation. Depression was also a constant reality. It was during that stage that I really began to ask myself: How can I help my friends? I’m not a therapist or a counselor. I want to do something, but what?
Most likely there are people you minister to every day who are going through difficult times. They need encouragement, support, love, and compassion—and you want to be there to help. Good news: You can offer consolation in real and tangible ways.
Interestingly, a story in Scripture teaches us just how to do this. It’s the account of Elijah the prophet, describing a time when he battled depression and suicide and how the Lord intervened.
- Meet basic needs.Elijah was like you and me—he went through emotional ups and downs. One of his greatest downs came in the aftermath of being used by God in a supernatural way to defeat the prophets of Baal (see 1 Kings 18:1-40). After Queen Jezebel threatened his life, Elijah went a day’s journey into the desert and sat down under a broom tree alone to die. In 1 Kings 19:4, he said: “I have had enough! LORD, take my life, for I’m no better than my fathers.”Elijah fell asleep, and the next thing he knew, an angel of the Lord woke him up. The angel had baked bread for Elijah and supplied him with a jar of water. Twice, as Elijah slept, the angel encouraged Elijah in this manner.
From this scenario, we learn the importance of caring for the physical needs of those around us. Sometimes, if we’re not sure how to help, a good place to start is with bodily provision. When someone is going through a very difficult time, normal sleeping and/or eating patterns can be disrupted. When you notice such changes in someone’s lifestyle, pick him up and take him out to eat, or bring him a hot meal. A good meal strengthened Elijah.
- Nurture with gentleness.After he’d eaten, the angel directed Elijah to Mt. Horeb where God was about to pass by. I find it fascinating how God chose to reveal Himself—indicating what Elijah needed most at that moment. God could have displayed His power, His majesty, or His holiness. He could have revealed His strength through a powerful wind, earthquake, or fire. Instead, God revealed Himself to Elijah through a gentle whisper.Clearly, what Elijah needed most was gentle, nurturing encouragement in the midst of encountering God and worshiping Him. The prophet didn’t need to experience the power or the strength of God, but a gentle reminder that, “I am with you, I have been with you, and I will be with you.”
The second thing we can do for those who are hurting is nurture and encourage them with God’s gentleness. Gentleness builds up and affirms. It does not minimize the situation. Practically, you can reflect God’s nurture in a very real way by becoming what I call a “prayer listener.” Provide a refuge where that person can share her feelings with safety and security, not worried about what you might think or say. While listening to her, be in a continual state of prayer. Use what she says as a foundation for specific prayers.
Scripture is clear about prayer’s healing nature. James 5:15 says, “The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up.” Interestingly, Elijah is mentioned in this very same passage as not only being a man like us, but one whose prayers were powerful and effective.
- Restore God’s perspective.When Elijah cried out to God, feeling alone and threatened, God gave him a new perspective, reminding him that he was not alone, that there were others to protect and fight alongside him. Often when a person is hurting, he may lose perspective on his circumstances and feel abandoned and hopeless. In those moments, it’s hard to hear the “voice” of God reminding him of His promises of hope and faithfulness, healing and future strength. But you can help people hear that voice.Make sure you’ve first earned the right to speak the promises of God into others’ lives by being there for them, caring for their physical needs, and listening to them. Then gently restore their perspectives, letting them know that their enemies will be defeated and they will find hope and restoration. Become a reminder of the promises of God.
The story of Elijah’s encouragement is a testament that despite painful struggles, God heals people, enabling them to move forward with life and eventually become healthy again. What’s more, you don’t have to be a professional therapist to meet them at their lowest points. No matter what people are going through, with time and persistence on your part, you can play a significant role in their physical and spiritual healing.
Jerome Stockert is a husband, father, and campus minister at Arkansas State University. Keep up with Jerome via Twitter.