SPIRITUAL PRACTICALITY OR PRACTICAL SPIRITUALITY? A QUESTION OF BALANCE
Many years ago several members of our church were returning from a service on the other side of town. There were maybe eight or ten of us, all young adults.
It was kind of funny because we were in one of those standard yellow school buses that had a former life transporting kids all over creation and we could probably fit our entire congregation within its cavernous confines. It was an old bus. Someone had probably bought it for a song after it was retired and then donated it. Most of us were brand new born again believers.
Anyway, here we were, fresh from praising the Lord in a small black Pentecostal church that never failed to be a blessing. We visited many such churches back then and it was always a great experience. My first time in one of those churches allowed me to see two things immediately—those believers didn’t mess around. When it came to praising the Lord they gave it everything they had. The preacher, the singers, even the worshipers in the pews—no one held back. The second thing was that we all had the same intentions and love for the Lord. When you meet another real Christian for the first time, even if on the other side of a very large city or cultural divide, you instantly meet another brother or sister. Such divides do not matter. Having the Lord Jesus in common and loving Him with all your heart does that. We are all part of His family.
We were almost back to our church that night. Then our fun time in our big yellow school bus that became a church bus suddenly stopped. The engine died. It wouldn’t start. Now, though I was in my early twenties, I had already been completely immersed in the practical side of life and had many an untold number of such experiences with cars. I was used to having a car break down and was also used to finding a way to get it back on the road. If that didn’t work you dragged it off to a garage somewhere to get it fixed.
It’s funny how I look back at those times now. We couldn’t afford wreckers. That was far too much a luxury. If your car broke down, you and a friend got a towing chain and set off on an adventure. If you didn’t have a chain you used a rope. It was not at all as easy as it may sound. A LOT could go wrong when you’re out on the road or a highway linked together like that. But it was cheap. In fact it was free. And that was a good thing, of course, because any other alternative meant doing nothing since it involved too much money already dedicated to other things.
I say all that to set the scene for what was about to happen. Again, I was very familiar with the right way to go about doing whatever must be done to get a dead bus back on the road. But that night was different. It was different because I was different. I had recently become a born again believer and was fired up. I had just been in a powerful church service where the place was rocking. The preacher wasn’t some laid back drone going through the motions like you see in some churches, but an anointed minister of the Gospel who took the Lord seriously and believed in the miraculous. (You know, like a baby being born in a manger who happens to be God.)
So when the engine died and my natural inclination to go help fix what was wrong was supposed to kick in it didn’t kick in. I had a completely different mindset. I thought it was wrong to immediately respond in a practical manner with no regard for a spiritual effort. I felt it was time to be serious about the Lord! Didn’t He tell us to seek Him? I told the others we needed to pray about it. We needed to pray right away and ask the Lord to fix whatever was wrong. Silence… Crickets… Nobody said anything. I think they all knew they had to honor the sentiment of what I was expressing. They knew I was right but they also knew they better get out there and find the problem. I was having none of it. We were going to pray and the Lord was going to fix the old bus!
It never happened. What I said was acknowledged somewhat but then ignored. A couple of guys quietly went outside to raise the hood. I couldn’t believe it. I got really angry. I got off the bus and began walking away. In the growing distance I heard it start up. They got the old yellow church bus running again pretty quickly. Maybe the Lord actually did do something. But by that time I was walking home. I wasn’t waiting for a ride back with my friend. While I’m out there not too far away on the highway still as angry as I could be my friend drove by to pick me up. I said forget it. Then he got angry. He drove on and I was left to my thoughts on a long walk back to my apartment. What in the world was I thinking? It’s pretty funny as I reflect back on it. I think the Lord enjoyed it all and probably got a good laugh. He understood, and He knew this was all part of the discipleship learning curve. I also think He was proud of me for thinking of Him first and taking a stand though the application left much to be desired.
My behavior obviously was not the greatest, but I was serious about my new found faith. We see that same kind of behavior among the Lord’s own chosen ones in the gospels. It’s hilarious when it seems Peter wanted to fight everybody, for example. Those guys were always letting their unbridled masculinity run free. The cool thing about it all was that the Lord supported it. He made them that way. Sure, we must learn to channel it all correctly and He did jump their case on occasion, but Christian men should never allow for even a second the slightest effort toward religious emasculation. And if you want to know the one giant problem with organized Christianity, that’s it.
I certainly could have helped find the problem with that bus. You learn to do a lot regarding the fixing of cars when you’re young and you don’t have a lot of money. There are some of you reading this right now who have a practical need but no money to fix it. I understand. Sometimes, even though we are all so incredibly blessed as children of the Lord, we don’t have all that we need and must improvise or simply do without. But if we really believe in the Lord and what He can do, is there really a problem?
Miracles are not practical. They also don’t happen automatically. They require faith. We must be serious. The Lord says this repeatedly in His Word and demonstrates it for us and proves it to be true. With Him, ALL things are possible. This is just fact. As a young man I was all gung ho for the Lord. I wanted us to pray about that old bus. I wanted to give the Lord the first opportunity to fix it. I knew He could. It would have been a great spiritual ending to a great spiritual night. But even though everybody there believed just as I did, no one agreed with what I felt we should do.
Why is that? Why didn’t anyone else agree with me that we should at least pray first? I think we all know the answer. We must be practical when it is called for. There are times, though, when practical knowledge won’t work. Though we may be great at fixing things, there are times when it is beyond our ability and know-how to fix something. None of us are Superman. But the Lord is. And if the only way any particular follower of the Lord will actually engage in spiritual things is when all other practical possibilities are exhausted, I guess that’s okay. But wouldn’t it be best to be wise and seek Him first?
This is the time of year when Christians the world over return to the beginning of the greatest story ever told—the one historical event that changes the spiritual direction and eternal destination of any person anywhere. The Lord Jesus can do anything. Anytime, anywhere, any place, under any conditions—there is nothing He cannot do. He has achieved mythological proportions for those few who actually see His life for what it is, yet most Christians can’t quite get there. This nonsense must stop. There is no such thing as practical-only Christianity. Real Christianity always requires the miraculous. The Lord will often put us in impossible situations just to prove it. Maybe you messed up or maybe someone else messed up or maybe no one messed up. Maybe it is simply the case that the Lord wants to bless you with a miracle. If you have a great need this Christmas and have no other way to make it happen, He can make it happen for you.
It’s who He is. It’s what He does.
And the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. [Matthew 2:9-11] 
© 2017 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.
 Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Posted on December 16, 2017, in Teaching and tagged Christianity, Christmas, Church, Discipleship, Lord Jesus, Mary, Mary Did You Know?, Merry Christmas, Miracles, The Spirit of Christmas. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.
Hi RJ, been there and have the T-Shirt. Even tried that with fishing (didn’t get any) but you’re right, when we least expect it….. I just wanted to take the time to thank you for your patience with me this year, I do learn from you and there are times when I don’t agree but I know you are alright with that. We serve a wonderful God that is continually teaching us and it is the way it is supposed to be. I sincerely wish you and yours a joyous and blessed Christmas and thank you for your friendship which I highly value.
Thanks Bruce. Ditto from over here on that. You provide a valuable service with your blog and I know it’s a lot of work. I was a member of a particular church for several years and after a short time there I told the pastor we pretty much agree on everything and he looked at me and kinda laughed and said “That’s scary!” As it turned out we didn’t agree on as much as I thought but it was a great place, it was exactly where the Lord wanted us, and we were really blessed.
Complete agreement is not a condition of fellowship or spiritual brotherhood. In fact, it is actually probably closer to the opposite. Not only do believers disagree on things, we also have different motivations, different gifts, different purposes, and etc. As I mentioned in the article about the Lord’s respect for the way He made us, I believe He allows us to be different in these ways so we can be the best we can be for Him. He will not restrict that process. It is up to us, therefore, to let love rule and try our best to work things out and get along. It is why I believe so strongly in proper dialogue. It is better to sit down and discuss stuff than to be broken up and divided into non-relational camps with no interaction.
Have a very Merry Christmas and be blessed.
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Your story reminded me of when I was a young wife and our cars would break down all the time. My husband kept a tool kit in the trunk and would usually get it going again. He would stop when people were by the side of the road and fix their cars. He was very good at it. We were very poor, so yes, towing was unimaginable. Lol Things are different today with all the computerized parts. But also, I don’t see them breaking down as much.
As for praying first, yes, that is always best. I’m surprised no one wanted to pray with you. We would pray before he tried to fix a car. I wish I could remember to pray before everything I do!
Thank you Belle, for a wonderful comment. Good for your husband to be thinking of others. The owner of the garage I trade with does the same. His wife, who works there also, said he always stops to help whenever he sees someone in need on the road. There’s a scriptural quality to that.
As for praying first, I have always tried to do this. To me, it answers the directive of the Lord Jesus to put Him first in all things. In the interest of seeing His will be done, which is always the best, I always want Him to be involved and have the first opportunity to take care of whatever situation that may arise and for Him to direct my steps.
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I have so many stories of things that happened when prayer was the first go-to. Wonderful stories of God’s provision. I learned as just a little girl that God was even stronger than my dad 🙂
That is truly both high praise for the Lord and His ever-present ability to provide and answer prayer when we allow Him the opportunity, and a wonderful and humble example set by your father in that little girls often come to that conclusion later on. Thanks Linda, and Merry Christmas!
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Merry Christmas to you as well, RJ.
Ahh… the balance here… understanding our dependence upon God, acknowledging Him and then allowing Him to use our gifts and the gifts of others in a practical way to meet needs. Such an important lesson, RJ. Thank you! Your honesty and authenticity are so refreshing and God uses both to challenge all of us. God bless you!
Thank you Lynn. Great blessings to you as well and Merry Christmas!