“But Elijah 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.’” 1 Kings 19:4
Good theology is not always filled with Latin terms and German names. Karl Barth, a true star of 20th century theology, was once asked about his greatest theological insight. He replied, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Because God is very practical, good theology is simple.
With this standard I want to look at a familiar story in the Bible that illustrates God’s practicality and simple theology. But first I want to share with you an acronym that will help you through any day. It is HALT: Don’t get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. The story of Elijah after his victory at Mt. Carmel illustrates this wisdom.
Elijah had just won a contest against the prophets of Ba’al. In the rush of excitement, he had run ahead of King Ahab’s chariot for a distance of about 17 miles. Queen Jezebel was not impressed. In fact, she vowed to kill Elijah for destroying her favorite pagan priests. She had a bit of a temper.
Upon hearing this sentence, Elijah ran for his life to Beersheba, a distance of about 130 miles. God’s prophets were apparently very fit in those days. While in Beersheba we see Elijah make four basic mistakes, and using the HALT acrostic we’ll see a very practical God correct those mistakes.
HUNGRY. Twice, God sent His angel to tell Elijah to “rise and eat” (19:5 and 7). The meal was a cake baked on hot stones and some water. Nothing fancy. But apparently Elijah had neglected to eat properly. God agrees with the Snickers commercials: “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry.”
Depression is a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom, and Elijah shows all the symptoms of depression. He lost his appetite and didn’t even think to eat. God took care of his dangerous oversight. Our practical God wants us to eat regularly. Three meals a day, even simple meals, are needed to keep this important part of our balance intact. Don’t get too hungry.
ANGRY. Elijah was not necessarily angry, but he had let his emotions run riot. He wanted to die, thought he was no better than his fathers, and even believed he was the only one in Israel to still believe in God. None of this was true, but Elijah was not thinking clearly and became emotionally unstable. God corrected him by saying that over 7,000 people still believed in Him, and then told him to get back to work.
Self-pity is a dangerous and damnable emotional state. When we feel sorry for ourselves we’re likely to manufacture and multiply every real or supposed slight. No one likes to be told they are feeling sorry for themselves, which illustrates the very problem. I want you to affirm my misery, not call me out of it! Anger is even worse, and is a corrosive emotion. Most people will claim they have a right to be angry. Perhaps. But hanging on to it and nurturing it is dangerous! God wants us to keep our emotions in check, properly feeling them, and even expressing them, but never allowing them to overrule His wisdom or the brains He gave us. Don’t get too emotional.
LONELY. Elijah made a fundamental error of running into the wilderness by himself. Solitude is good and necessary experience sometimes. Loneliness is never good. In his self-pitying, exhausted loneliness, Elijah had no one to encourage him and correct his thinking. Fortunately for Elijah, God intervened directly.
When we’re overwhelmed we often retreat. Usually this is the exact opposite of what we need to do. God created us to be social creatures. We need one another, especially when we’re faced with trying times. A good exercise when very stressed is to ask a wise friend if you’re thinking or acting wisely. God will send people into your life to help you, but you must be open to them. Don’t get too lonely.
TIRED. With all that running, Elijah was exhausted. And all those self-pitying emotions only magnified his exhaustion. When he finally arrived at Beersheba he slept. After God fed him the first time, he slept again. The man needed rest.
God created us with a rhythm. We need regular and extended rest. As one who struggled with sleep for twenty years, I can attest personally to the frustrations of feeling like bed time was the beginning of a night-long struggle. I can also attest that working with a doctor and therapist, I sleep well now. More importantly, when I do have trouble, I don’t worry about it. I trust the rhythm. When I’m tired enough I will sleep. So will you. Don’t get too tired.
When someone suggested the HALT acronym to me it simply made sense, and it brought Elijah’s story into a clearer focus. Good ideas are simple. We make life much more difficult by ignoring some very basic personal care. Chances are our practical God is trying to help you in some very practical ways. So HALT!
Dr. Terry Ellis
September 1, 2014