The Practical Side of Faith

While researching the topic for this week’s newsletter, a verse jumped out at me. I decided to read it in context, and the context stood out in my mind—mainly because I personally need to work more on this area in my life.

The passage I will highlight for us in this issue is James 2:14-26. The original verses that stood out to me are verses 15 and 16, which say:

Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

How many times in my life do I look at a situation, and only jump to the mental element? More times than I should.

I am reminded in this passage that there is a holistic element to our humanity—a God given blend of spiritual, physical, and mental elements. If we, as I am guilty of doing, work to help people in their spiritual or mental lives, but neglect to help their physical needs—especially if their physical needs are the greatest—then I am guilty of failing to meet the standard that was given in this passage.

I am also reminded, in looking at our human condition, of a hierarchy of needs chart that is well known, but instead of repeating it here, I will instead apply the three elements we have been discussing here:

The lowest and most basic level of the pyramid is our physical needs. There is a saying: “A man with a toothache cannot be in love.” This is true, at least in outward appearance. The physical pain of the tooth hurting will trump the feeling of closeness and love he has for those around him, and while his brain may be churning, “You should have brushed/flossed more,” or “Now we need to go to the dentist,” nothing but a dentist actually working in our mouth and fixing the tooth will solve the problem.

In other words, lack of physical wholeness will hinder our mental and spiritual pursuits; similar to being hungry distracts us from paying attention to a lecture.

The next level up, once our physical needs are satisfied, is our mental needs. This includes stress, anxiety, and feelings of security/safety/trust. The stress/rest balance is a key element in this level, because, as we’ve said in earlier newsletters, we must have regular periods of stress and rest mixed in our lives. If our lives are primarily filled with rest, we need to step out of the our comfort zones and introduce some controlled stress. However and more likely, if our lives are full of stress/anxiety then we must work in regular periods of rest so we can reprioritize and refocus on the things that really matter.

In other words, like being hungry can distract us from paying attention to a lecture, so can fear (am I in a safe location), stress (is this the best use of my time when I have 50+ more things on my to-do list), and anxiety (what am I going to do if [insert something I am worried about] happens) keep us from paying attention to the same lecture.

The top level, when our mental needs are content, is our spiritual needs. These include love for others, love for God, and our desire to better ourselves. This is where Bible study, religion, self-improvement, and surprisingly money habits and patterns fits. (Worry over money is a mental need, but if there is no anxiety about money, then the topic falls in our spiritual needs.)

When the other two levels have been satisfied, we can pay attention to the lecture we are attending, and learn what it is we desire to know.

So why are we talking about our physical, mental, and spiritual needs? Too often we (and this is me too) fall into the trap of thinking that, since I am content with my physical and mental needs and have reached the level of thinking about what my spiritual needs are, then that must be where others are too. This is contrary to what our verses are saying—that true faith has action involved.

When I assume that others only need help with their spiritual lives (and I am guilty of this), then I am short-changing the whole person—and in reality I am short changing true spiritual growth, because there is another phase of three levels that we reach once we begin to understand the holistic viewpoint of humanity.

When I begin to understand that others may be stuck with physical or mental issues, what we read here in James is a call to practical action. We must help others, where they are, because their area of need is not the same as our area of need, however, because we are able to see their area of need, it means we are higher up the pyramid, and are able to help.

Next week, we’ll look at the higher phases of this viewpoint, and see what comes next when our spiritual needs are satisfied.


P.S. Did I miss something, or would you like to respond on this topic? Join the conversation below!