When we talk about Practical Christianity, we’re talking about knowing how God works in our lives in ways in which we can cooperate with Him on a day-to-day basis in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Practical Christianity is about our relationship with God, with the Holy Spirit, with Jesus and with the Father. We want to know how to relate, and then do it.
Practical Christianity is Not Just Theory
Oftentimes we hear teachings about faith and doctrine, about knowing God, in such religious terms that our relationship with God becomes separate from our day-to-day lives. But God wants us to know Him in reality, acting on, testing and proving the teachings and doctrines we are exposed to. If it doesn’t “work,” we are to pursue God until we find something that does. God wants us to understand Him and His ways. What is from Him will stand up to scrutiny, and will bring us into a dependent relationship with Him.
Practical Christianity is Practicable
There are things we can do objectively, not depending on others’ approval or direction, that will bring measurable results. God doesn’t want us to be wondering how we’re doing, what He thinks about us, or if we’re pleasing Him. He wants us to know — in reality — what to do and how to be. And since we’re free to make mistakes, we can practice what He’s teaching us as much as is necessary. In a way, we will be “practicing” our relationship with God for as long as we are here on this earth, in much the same way as doctors “practice” medicine. Though we attain certain skills (covered in Knowing God), there will always be another area to explore, since God Himself is never-ending, and is always creating new experiences for us to share with Him.
God also wants us to know where He’s taking us. He wants us to have personal goals, worked out between us and Him. And He wants us to know when we’ve achieved them. Along with this, He wants us to know what our limitations are, and abide by them until He changes them. What God has purposed for someone else may not be something He wants us to be concerned with.
Practical Christianity is Customized
Practical Christianity is clear and specific for each of us as individuals at a particular time and place. One of the ways we can recognize religious manipulation is when we are instructed, whether by something we read, hear or think, to do something that does not have clear boundaries. Here are some “Red Flags” that signal that something deserves greater questioning:
- Vague: “you need more faith,” or “just be in the will of God and you’ll never be in the dark.”
- Unending: “you’re just not trying hard enough.”
- Religious: “Pursue your sanctification with righteous justification and humility and wisdom will be yours with the fear of the Lord.” We don’t have to learn a whole new language to live the Christian life.
- The burden of the doing is on the individual: “You can’t steer a parked car”; “God is waiting for you to tithe before He can bless you financially.”
- Dependent on something that can’t be changed (age, gender, nationality): “God is doing something special with the youth…”
- Motivated by idolatry of the will: “If you really wanted to, you could accomplish great things for God.”
- Rigid: “only those who speak in tongues are truly baptized by the Holy Spirit”; “there is only one way to serve God.” Practical Christianity is flexible.
- Motivated by fear or pressure of any kind: “If you don’t do this, believe this, feel this way, God won’t ___________.”
- Speaking for God / authoritarianism; “Because I said so”; “I’m the leader, so God is holding me accountable for your growth”; “God has given me the vision for this church.”
- Over-generalization: This is especially prevalent in our own thinking. Look out for terms like everyone, always, should, must. For instance, “God always blesses us when we give out of our need.” “Since this works for everyone else, if it’s not working for me I must be doing something wrong, or there’s something wrong with me.”
When we recognize that check from Him, how do we respond? Simply, “Lord, is this true? What does this mean for me? Is this something you want me to be paying attention to? How do You want me to respond?” He is faithful to answer these questions, often by bringing some circumstance to our mind and showing us how it fits, if the teaching is indeed grace-based. The more we depend on Him for His leading and direction, the more rest we will enjoy and the more flesh He will consume. If He doesn’t respond, it probably wasn’t from Him, it wasn’t for you, or the timing wasn’t right.
For Christians, What is Success?
For many of us this is a pivotal question, since our motivation is often based on how we think we’re doing in terms of how successful we are. We want to know how we compare, if we’re meeting some standard. Worldly success is measured in terms of what is produced or accomplished: achieving great things, like the Nobel Peace Prize or earning great wealth or letters after our name. Worldly success can also be measured in terms of recognition; such as climbing Mount Everest or winning gold in the Olympics. Or even achieving and maintaining certain personal goals, such as being a good parent, spouse, or even a good Christian, according to whatever standards are accepted.
But as in so many areas, true Christian success is measured in radically different terms. For Christians, success is simply actively depending on God to live His life in and through us, on His terms. Success is our true nature working its way out into our soul and body in His time. Success is not about our spiritual relationship with God, which is completed already, but about our soulical and natural walk for our time here on earth. It is not about spiritual attainment, but about soulical and physical dependence and wholeness.
What Does Success Look Like?
For the world, success will be outwardly measurable. For the Christian, it will be more subtle. In some ways, it will be a very private thing, between each individual and God. In familiar terms, the outward evidence of a successful Christian walk will be love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. But what these look like will vary from person to person, often depending on what particular circumstance God has placed a person in at a particular time, and what is being dealt with. So a person could appear to be depressed, anxious, angry or may have just failed at a job and yet be successful — because he is not relying on his own strength to deal with these things, but on the Lord. This is an incredible mind-shift for many of us, but one that needs to be made, since our basis for success often drives us away from the very thing that provides true success, thus making us vulnerable to manipulation from leaders, vulnerable to attack from the enemy, and at the mercy of our flesh. We need to be careful when judging either ourselves or others as to what success looks like.
Having said this, we can look at the example of Jesus Himself to see what His success looked like to others. Somehow He stirred an entire nation with His words and His actions. What did it look like? Jesus said that if they had seen Him, they had seen His Father. What did it sound like? Jesus said that He spoke only those things that He had received of His Father. So what is the standard of success we want to look for? Do our actions and words reflect our Father, His Nature? Do our actions and words reflect contentment, wholeness and dependence on our Father alone? What this specifically will look like will need to be determined on a case-by-case basis, but as our soulical senses are tuned, we will learn to recognize those who are walking in this dependence, as well as recognize it in ourselves. Those that have eyes and ears quickened by the Lord Himself will see and hear.
How Can I Recognize Success?
Because of the nature of Christian success, it is often hard to recognize. So our motivation should not be derived from how we’re doing, how we’re measuring up. But measuring our success IS one way God encourages us; we just need to know what His standards are (again, His standards will be based on bringing us into dependence on Himself).
First of all, the Kingdom of God is entered, not built. His work is complete. Our spiritual walk and work is complete in Him. So where is the activity and change? In the soulical realm, with the physical following after. Our goal is to enter into His rest, not to become more productive, build His Kingdom, or even to make disciples of all nations (remember Jesus didn’t send out everyone, only those who had first come to Him, and had learned dependence on His Father).
So recognizing success will be a private thing, centering around a restful dependence. That’s not to say that a successful Christian walk is passive; far from it. It’s just active in a different way. Jesus’s walk on earth was the perfect example of a dependent life, yet the last thing we would say was that He was passive. But His motivation to act, His ability, His power all came through His depending on His Father.
This dependence must be experienced to be truly understood, and as we cooperate with the Lord we can be confident that He is working it into us, but a common example of dependence is the vine and the branch. All the branch has to do is be still and receive the life coming through the vine. In its season, fruit is borne, effortlessly, though through the branch. It is the vine that produces the fruit, the branch simply receives the life. As the life passes through its being, what was already there is enlivened and creates after its own kind. So we as the branches needn’t be concerned with how, or how much is being produced through us by His life flowing through us, unless the Lord specifically brings it to our attention.
Here’s an example the Lord gave me to remind me to rest on a regular basis: On my sliding glass door I’ve got a birdfeeder that’s held on by a couple of suction cups. The birdfeeder keeps the birds from hitting the glass, as well as feeding them up-close and personal so I can enjoy them. But what makes it work is the suction between the glass and the suction cup. All the suction cup needs to do is nothing; its purposes are being fulfilled without it doing a thing but being what it was meant to be. It just hangs in there! (You may want to ask the Lord to make this concept real to you; He’s a personal God, and knows what has meaning for you!)
Where Are the Role Models of Success?
One of the ways we are motivated is by wanting to be like someone we admire. We recognize someone’s positive traits or that they have achieved certain goals that are appealing to us. So we reason that if we can do what they do we can also achieve similar goals or traits. This is a normal expectation; Christians should be able to identify role models that exemplify dependence on the Father. This is one of the reasons Jesus came in the flesh, and dwelt among us. And Paul encouraged his readers to follow him as he followed Christ; to examine his life, to see where he was depending on his God.
Unfortunately, in many, if not most cases, Christian role models in leadership positions or public ministry are either not exemplifying dependence on the Father, or they have isolated themselves from the people in such a way that we really don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors. It’s interesting that it took Jesus 30 years to learn and practice being dependent on His Father in private in order to minister publicly for three and a half years.
As we truly learn how to depend on the Father, we want to also be aware that there will likely come a time when we will be used as a role model in some capacity. We just don’t want a public ministry to be our measure of success.
When you recognize the peace, rest and confidence that comes from dependence on the Father, don’t be shy about asking how to do it. If a person is truly depending on God, His nature is flowing to and through him. Since God’s nature is, basically, to give, anyone depending on Him will be willing to mentor and instruct on how to enjoy the freedom that comes with this relationship.
Another way to test true character, especially of those in public positions of religious authority, is to check with those closest to them. Do their family, friends and co-workers feel unconditionally accepted? Loved? Valued by that person? The successfully dependent Christian will be freely giving of him or herself to those around them, and allow them the freedom to be who and where God has them at any given moment. (This does not mean all behavior is accepted.)
Remember though that only Jesus can live the Christian life, so it is only Jesus living His life through that person that is to be emulated. Remembering this keeps us from putting others on a pedestal, and frees them to make mistakes as well.
How Can I Judge How I’m Doing? If I’m Successful? If I’m On the Right Track?
God doesn’t want us to wait until we die to find out if He’s going to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I mean, it’d be a little late, wouldn’t it? So how can we know how we’re doing now?
Well, ask the Judge. Unlike in the Olympics, our Judge is also our Coach, Teammate and Biggest Fan. He has walked this way before, and knows what it’s like. Most often we will find that we are much harder on ourselves than He is.
God does want us to know how we are doing, so He will often give us tokens of accomplishment or graduation appropriate to what we have overcome. He knows we need encouragement, and does what He needs to in order to keep us coming to Him for that encouragement. But be aware that His affirmations are not like ours… His score card is much simpler!
For many years I was very afraid of dealing with anything demonic. But there came a point in time when I knew that if I continued in the direction the Lord was taking me I would have to face and overcome this fear. So I told the Lord I was willing to be taught in this area, even though I was still afraid of my reaction. Well, without going into details, a few weeks later the Lord orchestrated a situation where a demon manifested itself into the room where I was working. When this happened all I felt was curiosity, then surprise that I wasn’t afraid. From that time on I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that even these things are all completely under His authority and control. To me, this was not only an encouragement to continue to proceed in the direction I was heading, but a reward for allowing Him His choice and method of teaching.
While we are here on this earth our battlefields consist of overcoming the world, the flesh and the devil. You know you’ve overcome in an area, or achieved a goal, not because it’s finished or a deadline met, but because you can rest in dependence in that area.
Adapted from Practical Christianity by Dianne Thomas