Posted by: Mike Willoughby | March 16, 2010

How Are You? (Part 3)


How are you?  As we all know, this is a simple question masking a complex condition.  I believe God created us with three fundamental states that can be described as emotional, physical and spiritual tanks.  Last week, we considered our physical tank which I believe can be 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 would frequently meet his followers’ physical needs before he would minister to their spiritual and emotional needs and I believe this is why God ministered to Elijah’s physical needs before moving on to deal with his spiritual and emotional tanks. 

Today, we are focusing on our spiritual tank.  For many of us, this may be the tank that is most often neglected which is ironic since I believe it is the tank over which we have the most control.  We all know from experience how fleeting our physical health can be as we are frequently reminded by the common ailments that plague us.  We also deal with unexpected changes in our emotional state that for many of us defy explanation.  Why do I feel blue today and ecstatic tomorrow?  The answer is complicated and involves physiological, environmental and even spiritual considerations.  I believe the bottom line is that God has not promised us good physical health nor has he promised us happiness.  However he has promised us that we can have consistent joy in this life. 

Many folks confuse happiness and joy.  Happiness is an emotion which comes and goes unpredictably as the events of life unfold.  Joy is a spiritual state that is a gift of God’s Spirit and reflects the condition of your spiritual tank.  God has given you the ability to keep your spiritual tank charged regardless of the state of your other tanks and as result you can experience joy even when you are physically or emotionally drained.  My friend, Ellis understands this truth and his example of perseverance through the trials of cancer over the past few years is a testimony to the power of a full spiritual tank.

Paul also understood the power of a full spiritual tank as evidenced by this statement he makes in Philippians 4:11-13:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

I believe Paul addresses all three tanks in this passage.  Paul may be emotionally brought low or he may be abounding in happiness.  He may be struggling with hunger and need or he may be blessed with abundance and plenty.  These conditions are situational and largely outside of Paul’s control.  However, he has learned to be content.  In other words, regardless of the situation, he has contentment and joy in his life.  How?  The secret is in the last sentence – “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  

I believe Paul is speaking spiritually when he says “I can do all things.”  There were certainly things Paul could not do physically as evidenced by the thorn in the flesh that reminded Paul of his physical weakness.  I also believe Paul struggled emotionally at times as his ministry weighed on him.  Many times Paul spoke of his grief over the actions of his brothers and sisters he cared for.  However, Paul knew he had access to a power that would sustain him spiritually regardless of his conditions.  Would you like to be able to “do all things?”  Let’s look at the example of Elijah to see how God re-filled Elijah’s spiritual tank so that he could continue to “do all things.”

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke 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 the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah needed to be reminded of God’s presence in his life.  Elijah needed to be able to say the same words Paul had said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  God demonstrates his power before Elijah as he commanded the elements on the mountain top.  As impressive as the demonstration was, the Lord was not present in the demonstration of power.  When God was ready to touch Elijah spiritually, he spoke to him in a low whisper.

It is good for us to consider the power and might of our magnificent creator God.  Look around at the creation and be prepared to be impressed at the grandeur found through the telescope and the microscope.  Consider the miracles recorded through-out the Bible and observe the providence of God as he works through human events to carry out his will.  However, as impressive as things are, they are the works of God and not his presence.  God’s presence is most often found in the low whisper of spiritual discipline.

David wrote in Psalm 46:8-11

 Come, behold the works of the LORD,
   how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
   he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
   he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
   I will be exalted among the nations,
   I will be exalted in the earth!”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
   the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Do you want your spiritual tank consistently full so you “can do all things?”  For a full tank, I must maintain my spiritual disciplines in addition to beholding his works.  I must read God’s Word and consider the truth found there.  I must pray to God frequently and ask, seek and knock and then I will find.  I must fast from time-to-time so that in my self-denial I can look to Him.  I must sing to the Lord and praise him with my lips.

Finally, I must meditate frequently and be open to God’s direction.  For me, the most difficult thing in the world is also the most important.  I must be still, and know that He is God.  I’m not very good at being still, but unless I am, how will I ever hear the low whisper?

Next week, we will conclude this series by looking at how God, having restored Elijah’s physical and spiritual tanks, gave Elijah a much needed emotional recharge.

Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!


  1. You mention fasting. I don’t believe I have ever heard a sermon on that topic. I have often wondered though, as well as anoiting with oil, how do we stand on those subjects?
    I am glad you wrote on that passage in Elijah because I have not understood it until now. Great. Thank you Mike. Yes, I have had that joy that Paul is talking about. I too have had joy and happiness mixed up. Now I know. Thank you so much. I love Intersections.

    • You’re right, Connie. Fasting is typically the least understood and least exercised spiritual discipline even though it is frequently mentioned in Old and New Testaments. Even in Jesus’ time, fasting was misunderstood and misused. Jesus spoke of the appropriate way to view fasting in Matthew 6:16-18. Take a look. For us today, I think self-denial is just not high on our priority lists. I know it’s not high on my list! Perhaps there is a sermon on fasting in my future.

      As for the oil annointing, I taught on this subject a couple of years ago when we were studying James. The relevant passage is James 5:14. The short answer is that your shepherds are obedient to this scripture and do respond to requests from the sick members within the church family for prayer and annointing with oil. We believe the healing power is in the prayer but there is also comfort to be found in the shepherd’s physical touch with the oil. Let me know if you want to discuss further and thanks for the great comment!

  2. Thank you for sharing your heart with us.
    There are seasons in our life when we have no where else to turn but to the Lord and long to hear the Spirit at work with in us. I have been listening to a lot of great music lately and find a great deal of comfort in the work of Chris Tomlin. “I Will Rise” is my current favorite and I love “How Great Is Our God.” May we all be still and allow the Lord to guide us. Thanks!

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