Posted by: Mike Willoughby | March 9, 2010

How Are You? (Part 2)

How are you?  How can such a simple question provoke such a complex response?  Perhaps the complexity of the answer is why we typically just say, “fine” even when that response clearly masks the truth.  A truthful answer would simply require more of an investment in time than you or your friend are willing to make.  After all, this common exchange is more of a courtesy than an honest inquiry into the well-being of the other individual, right?

This is probably true, but it’s still worthwhile to consider the reality behind the courtesy.  How are you really?  As I wrote last week, God created us with three fundamental states that can be described as emotional, physical and spiritual tanks.  Today, we are focusing on the physical tank.  It is the easiest tank for us to evaluate in others and in ourselves.  In some ways, it is the foundation for the other tanks.  If your physical tank is empty, it can be a real struggle to maintain your emotional and spiritual tanks.  I believe that is why Jesus frequently met his followers’ physical needs (feeding them and healing them) before he ministered to their spiritual and emotional needs.  I think you also see this same pattern as God ministered to Elijah in I Kings chapter 19.

After Elijah engaged in a spiritual showdown with 450 prophets of the false god Baal and defeated them through the power of God, Queen Jezebel passed a death sentence upon Elijah for killing the false prophets and she placed a bounty on Elijah’s head.  When Elijah heard about the death sentence, he turned and ran into the desert to escape the queen.  I Kings 19:3-4 recorded Elijah’s actions and his thoughts:

Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.  But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

Why did the mighty Elijah turn tail and run even though God had already made him victorious over the 450 false prophets?  Because Elijah was human just like you and me and in the battle of the previous day, he had run his three tanks empty.  Notice how God ministered to Elijah, first concentrating on his physical condition.  Remember, Elijah had battled the false prophets all day without any recorded meals and then he won a foot race with King Ahab (who was in a chariot) from Mt. Carmel to Jezreel.  Read I Kings 19:5-8:

And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.”  And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again.  And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.”  And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.

When Elijah got to Horeb, God ministered to Elijah spiritually and emotionally but first he helped Elijah refill his physical tank.  I believe Elijah needed to have a full physical tank before God could deal with him emotionally and spiritually.

I have found this to be true in my life as well.  Last year I found myself running consistently on a low physical tank.  I was able to get through an average day OK but if the day was challenging, I had a difficult time dealing with things emotionally and I found it more difficult to focus on my spiritual disciplines.  I also came down with several infections in the summer and fall.  It is rare for me to get sick more than once or twice per year.  One Sunday morning, I got up to preach a lesson to my church family and I became very light-headed on the way to the pulpit.  I was scared by that experience and so that week I went to the doctor to get a physical evaluation.  I found out my thyroid was underperforming and a little hormone pill taken once per day has refilled my physical tank.  Within a few weeks of starting the hormone regimen, I couldn’t believe the difference in my daily energy level and how much more stable I was emotionally.  I also found my spiritual life reinvigorated.  It was shortly after I began feeling better that I was motivated to begin Intersections.  I thank God for my diagnosis and a quick and easy fix.  I know many others struggle with physical tank problems without a quick or easy fix.

This experience helped me appreciate the lesson of Elijah first hand.  It is very difficult to maintain our emotional and spiritual tanks when our physical state is out-of-whack.  However, it is not impossible.  I have been impressed and humbled by the examples of so many who have struggled with chronic or even terminal health conditions, suffering through chemotherapy and radiation treatments that leave their physical tanks bone dry while they seem to have emotional and spiritual tanks that overflow with energy.  In the right circumstances, I believe God can overcome the drag of a failing physical tank, recharging the other two tanks with the power of his Spirit.  Ellis, one of my friends and a genuine hero of the faith to me is a perfect example of this effect.  By the grace of God, Ellis has lived with his cancer two years longer than any doctor predicted.  During this time, Ellis has taken his chemotherapy which saps his physical strength but he is extremely positive at all times and he is a spiritual rock.  I am energized every time I see him simply from being in his presence. 

I also think you see this effect in the example of Jesus as he entered the wilderness for 40 days of fasting after which he was called to a face-to-face spiritual battle with Satan himself.  Although his physical tank was surely on empty, Jesus was completely victorious over the temptations of Satan.  I believe we can tap into that same power through God’s Spirit even when our physical tank is running low.  Over the next two weeks, we will continue to look at the example of Elijah and see how God refilled his emotional and spiritual tanks.  I think there are great lessons for us in the conclusion of this Bible story.

In the meantime, do everything in your power to take care of your physical tank this week.  Eat right, get enough sleep, take your vitamins, exercise appropriately and get regular health check-ups.  Don’t underestimate the importance of maintaining your physical tank so you are prepared for physical, emotional or spiritual battle.  It pays to always be prepared, because we never know when the battle will be upon us.

Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!


  1. I appreciate you mentioning Ellis in your article. Ellis and Freeda have been friends of mine and my husband, Don for 35 years. I to am humbled by the deep faith Ellis and Freeda have and have maintained during all the treatments. We praise God for the Ellis and Freeda.

    • Amen and thank you for participating in Intersections. Please come back from time-to-time.

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