The Spiritual in the Practical – May 14, 2023
II Kings 2:6-12, Acts 1:1-11
May 14, 2023
The more I read this first chapter of Acts, the more I keep seeing an interplay between the Spiritual and the Practical. And the more I think about that, the more I believe each of us has that same interplay in our lives.
I know I do. As you may know, I’m the son of an engineer. And I’ve inherited (Or at least been raised in) some of my Dad’s practical mindset. I was taught how to figure things out, and how to move forward with projects. Yet I have a spiritual leadership position. But that interplay happens. Sometimes in meetings, when we’re trying to figure something out or we’re dealing with some kind of difficult issue, I’ll say, “Ok, this is the engineer father in me talking now.” You’ve heard me say that, haven’t you?
Think about these disciples. For the past three years with Jesus, they had gone through the most spiritual experience that they could ever have imagined. And maybe these rough-hewn fishermen weren’t all that spiritual to begin with! Did you ever think about that? Well, now in Acts, the following and learning from Jesus was over. Now, they had to think of the practical impact of all of that. Now it was time for them to “get down to business.” They were being called to take the message of Jesus to the world! The “spiritual” was now to become the “practical.”
I’m sure they were feeling that interplay. This chapter, this whole book of Acts, begins with the disciples being told to stay in Jerusalem and “wait for coming of the Holy Spirit.” That was the spiritual – in a big way! And again, we know what was coming! They could only imagine – or maybe they couldn’t!
But in the meantime, these disciples had some practical things on their minds. They were still focused on that “earthly kingdom” thing. Acts begins with this introduction to this man Theophilus. And then they ask, “Now Jesus? Now will you be king?” That’s the practical. And then Jesus again tries to get them to focus on the spiritual. He tells them, “It’s not for you to know God’s plans.” “But you shall receive power. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
There’s both the spiritual and the practical in that statement, isn’t there? “You will receive the spirit – you will go and tell.” And as they heard that, I’m sure the more practical side of them wondered what he meant about those last two things. “Samaria and to the ends of the earth!” Remember, the rest of the world, especially Samaria, were out of the Jewish concern. And you know what they felt about the Samaritans! Yet they watched Jesus reach out to those people. They heard him talk about his kingdom being “for all people.”
As it turns out, that statement about “Samaria and the ends of the earth,” were the last words Jesus spoke on earth to his disciples. With those words ringing in their ears, he was taken up, and vanished from their sight. “He ascended into heaven,” as our creed states.
And when we think about this story, I always try to have us think of the story of Elijah. Because Elijah, too, was taken up into heaven in a similar “ascension.” And even in his story we find that same interplay between the spiritual and the practical. Because part of that story was Elisha asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. He was about to “take over” for the great prophet, and he got very “practical” in his request for the kind of spirit he was going to need for the job!
So, why this is important? It’s important because we have that same interplay in our lives between the spiritual and the practical. And there are usually way more of the “practical” things in all of our lives. In fact, the many concerns of the physical world tend to dominate our lives, don’t they? We all have our “to do” lists, whether we call them that and write them down, or not. And it’s not easy to remember to bring the spiritual into the practical. We have to be intentional about that, or it simply won’t happen.
And we need to bring the spiritual and the practical together. And I do believe that’s how we are supposed to think about it. It’s not an “either or” switch. It isn’t a matter of concentrating on the spiritual or the practical. It’s two separate switches, and we need to have them both on at the same time!
Think again about these disciples. The angel at the ascension said to them, “Why are you standing gazing into heaven?” And I like that part of the story, because it reminds us that sometimes, some people can forget the practical. Sometimes some people are, as the old expression goes, “So heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good.” That does happen with some people. But I suspect that the opposite is more often the case. More often the “spiritual” often gets left out of things. Or at least it takes a subservient role.
And while we might think that the physical is more important, because it demands our attention most of our waking hours, remember the quote I heard only recently. (Though some of you had heard before!) I don’t know who said this first, but the statement is this. “We are not Physical beings having a Spiritual experience. We are Spiritual beings having a Physical experience.” We need to remember that, in the grand scheme of eternity, we are spiritual beings. And in our physical lives, we need to bring the two together. We need to bring the spiritual into the physical. We don’t just turn one switch off while we turn on the other.
You’ve all see the bumper stickers and wrist bands that say “WWJD.” Do you remember that? “What would Jesus do?” If you don’t know it, that phrase comes from a book entitled “In His Steps,” written in 1896 by a clergyman named Charles Sheldon – in Topeka Kansas! Yes, his Church, the Central Congregational Church, was right down the street from mine. (And right down the street from the Westboro Baptist Church, if you’re familiar with them!)
In that book, Sheldon proposed to his people – and to everybody in the city – that they should do nothing all day long, for a number of days, without first asking the question, “What would Jesus do?” And when people did that, it changed the life of that city for a time! And if you think about it, isn’t that what God’s people should be doing anyway? It shouldn’t just be a social experiment. As Paul said, “We are being changed into his likeness.” (II Corinthians 3:18) So “What Would Jesus Do?” is a great thought for all of us, isn’t it?
And I don’t mean that we should take on a “Holier than thou” attitude. This is not about being better than someone else. It is about promoting God’s kingdom. It’s about living out the words we say every week, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.” It’s about living out our Lord’s statement that “God so loved the world.”
Life was different when people did what Sheldon proposed. Life was different when people took no action without asking, “What would Jesus do?” And I ask you to think what would be different in your life if you did that? And that’s about bringing the spiritual into the practical. Again, our lives are flooded every day with the sights, the sounds, and the decisions of this physical, “practical” world. Unless we give thought to it, the “spiritual” will have very little influence on that “practical” world.
So I’m challenging you to give thought to it. And again, this is not turning off one switch and turning on another. This is not “either or.” This is bringing your spiritual life to bear on everything you do in this physical life. And that’s not easy! And, if the only time you think of the spiritual is one hour on Sunday morning, the task will be nearly impossible. But if you think about your faith, as a “walk with the Lord,” as some people do, you will be more likely to think, “What would Jesus do in this situation or that?” If you think of him beside you every day, it will be easier for you to ask, “How would he treat this person or that?”
God has chosen to come to this physical world. He came to save the world. And he came to show the world the kind of life he wants for each one of us as we follow him, like we talked about a couple of weeks ago. So then, as we follow, let us give thought to the kind of life he wants for us, and what he would do if he were in our place. Let us consider what it means to bring the spiritual into the practical. Let us give thought to what it means to be changed into the likeness of Jesus, “from one degree of glory to the next.”
Eternal God, we thank you that you have sent your Son so you could be here with us yourself. Help us indeed to follow and not just to believe. Help us to think about what he would do as we interact with the world around us. Help us indeed to love the world, as you did, when you sent your Son. For we pray in his name, Amen.