How do you handle a person you love who is devastated by past failures?
You start with compassion, I’m sure. You can’t go wrong being compassionate. It is the express command of God:
“Be … tenderhearted” (Ephesians 4:32).
“Finally, all of you, have … a tender heart” (1 Peter 3:8).
But then what? Do you go easy on the person? Do you refrain from expecting much of him? Do you take away his jobs and give him lots of space to lick his wounds in private?
These are legitimate questions, because you don’t want to push the tensile strength of a wounded heart beyond what the freight will bear. Jesus was so careful with hearts that it was said of Him:
“… a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench …” (Isaiah 42:3).
His dealings with each of us are not one-size-fits-all but take into consideration all factors, including level of maturity, formative influences, personality, degree of available light, state of mind, motive, and weaknesses:
“… we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses …” (Hebrews 4:15).
Having said all that, I notice that God applies a certain consistent discipline on the dejected that at first seems uncompassionate and unsympathetic, but I know from experience is the most helpful nostrum, and therefore the most compassionate.
Imagine how the Apostle Paul felt on the day he discovered (Acts 9) all the things he had been doing in his life up to then were wrong. All the speeches he had given on the stump, all the planning meetings, all the extermination campaigns did not advance the kingdom of God at all. In one blazing epiphany on the way to Damascus, he realized he was going to have to start from square one.
Then God said the most compassionate thing He could have said to his newly claimed servant:
“… rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose,to appoint you as a servant and a witness. ... I am sending you to open their eyes …” (Acts 26:16-18).
It is the same with Elijah. The prophet is exhausted, discouraged, and blubbering in a fetal position, and God does not indulge this. If Elijah was expecting an apology, he got this instead:
“Arise and eat. … Go” (1 Kings 19:7,15).
God sends Elijah on a mission to anoint two kings and a prophet replacement. On the double. Keep busy. Or as Jesus said:
“… work … while it is day; night is coming when no man can work” (John 9:4).