In John 12, Jesus was praying to his Father in public at a festival. In response, God audibly responded from heaven.
While some heard the voice, the crowd largely mistook it for thunder.
In the Western world this side of the Enlightenment, it’s natural to try to explain spiritual realities in physical terms. Willful sin can be psychologized away. Answered prayers can be chalked up as coincidence. Spiritual experiences can be explained away as runaway emotions.
It is common for Westerners not to acknowledge a spiritual realm beyond the physical world. The spiritual world has largely been divorced from its original conjugal alliance with the secular. This combination of both worlds once defined humans—a being made up of the physical and the spiritual, the secular and the sacred. Part of having a biblical worldview, however, is acknowledging the spiritual world as being just as real (or more real) than the physical.
As Christians, it’s time to ask if we too have fallen asleep to the spiritual reality around us. Here are three questions that can help awaken us to the spiritual realm.
1. How Much Do I Care for My Soul?
It’s commonly assumed that we need to take good care of our bodies, but what if we humans are more than physical bodies? If, as Christianity teaches, we also have a soul/spirit, how should we take care of it—knowing that it outlasts the body?
As Christians, it only makes sense that we should nurture not only our physical bodies but also the immaterial part of us. Unfortunately, there is often a practical lack of awareness that humans have a spirit, a spiritual side, and that humans are an amalgamation of body and spirit. And even if a vague awareness is there, there is often a disregard of all matters spiritual, with such a magnitude of concentration on the physical, on the body, on the material, that reference to the spirit of man seems superficial at the most and absurd at the least.
“It only makes sense that we should nurture not only our physical bodies but also the immaterial part of us.”
In the Western world, we find ourselves in a contradictory place: On the one hand, we find a swell of interest in the media, especially the movie world, in the negative and fearsome and particularly occult happenings, some of which stretch the imagination to wild proportions. Is this an indication of a hidden or intuitive prompting of the spirit in man? Yet, on the other hand, there also abounds an indifference in caring for the spiritual side in humans or in preparing for eternity.
2. How Awake Am I to God’s Activity?
Indifference to the spiritual side of reality fuels our lack of awareness when it comes to God’s involvement in our world today. “That’s just not the way our world works” is often the general assumption. The successes of science and technology can lure us into taking a philosophical leap: into assuming that the physical world is all that exists and that science is the only reliable way to truth. Yet this “scientism” is actually self-contradictory, because “science is the only reliable way to truth” isn’t itself a conclusion that can follow from scientific discovery. There is indeed an order and lawfulness to the physical world which undergirds science, but this fascinating lawfulness about the universe actually points us beyond it.
This apparent lack of awareness, or lack of concern, or lack of emphasis when it comes to the spiritual realm feeds the attitude that nothing happens beyond nature without our intervention. It’s all about predictability and the obvious. It’s about humans in control and not humans in the hands of God. Yes, Christians believe in God, but seeing him as Lord of the Universe, God of all creation, Controller of nature, and God of improbabilities? When it comes to the “real world,” we often see God as the deity of Deism, who wound up the “clock” and now leaves it alone.
Look at our usual prayers for someone with cancer or any such terminal illness. Let’s be honest: We pray for God’s healing, but timidly. “I am not a faith healer,” is the usual response. Fair enough. But why not pray bold prayers and let God be God and let him decide whether it’s time for an improbable healing? Who are we to limit God to the predictable and obvious?
“Why not pray bold prayers and let God be God and let him decide whether it’s time for an improbable healing?”
Nobody will want to admit that, underlying their faith in God, there is any kind of doubt that God can do the improbable. But a serious evaluation of our faith might reveal that we do, at least in particular times, exercise reservations of what God would do, or of how God would act in given situations.
Mike Cosper, writing in the April 2022 issue of Christianity Today, in an article titled “Don’t Make the Church Leadership Crisis Worse,” quotes the philosopher Charles Taylor: “Modernity has fundamentally transformed the moral and spiritual imagination, introducing a steady undercurrent of doubt.” Cosper goes on to write, “We’re haunted by doubt, but even more so immersed in it—surrounded by stories and ideas that orient us to a world where it’s straining and uncomfortable to imagine God at work in invisible ways around us, even if we yearn to believe it.”
Do we really believe that God is at work in our world today? Do we really pray like it? Are our eyes open for it?
3. How Much Have I Been Listening to the Serpent?
A final point we must not ignore is our enemy’s role in trying to dull us to the reality of the spiritual realm. Satan’s main tactic seems to be the creation of doubt. (For more, see the book I co-wrote with Knofel Staton, Angels-Demons, available through College Press). Satan’s Garden of Eden modus operandi was to do just that, stating to Eve, “Did God really say…?” The seed of doubt was planted, her clear sense of God’s words was diluted, and what followed was the dramatic fall of humanity.
But again and again, in the Old and New Testaments, we see the improbable take place, clearly demonstrating the supremacy and dominion of the Creator God over His creation. It is totally improbable for ocean waters to rise up as walls on each side to create a highway through them, but that is exactly what happened at the Red Sea. In violation of common natural activity, Elijah called for fire to “lick” up the water at the altar at Mt. Carmel, and so did it happen. For Daniel, God has shut the mouths of lions. Need we go further? Water quenches fire, not the reverse. Lions, and especially hungry lions, feast on flesh thrown to them. Yet God did the impossible.
“Again and again, in the Old and New Testaments, we see the improbable take place, clearly demonstrating the supremacy and dominion of the Creator God over His creation.”
We need to fill up on God’s Word and allow it to sharpen our senses and drown out the dulling voice of the serpent.
Walking by Faith
God’s ability to do the unexpected and even impossible should inform our lifestyle. We can live in this high-tech world, enjoying the benefits from the modern advances that God has allowed man to both discover and utilize, and yet still having a constant, demonstrable belief that over all of what is around and will be, there is a sovereign God. He indeed is in total control of all that happens and will happen, no matter how mundane it is or how fantastic it might become.
That kind of living, which is the life of faith the Word of God advises us to develop (II Cor. 5:7, Heb. 11:6), will provide for us a confidence and assurance that, regardless of what happens, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37, NIV). As Hebrews 11:1 reminds us, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1, KJV). Walking by faith leads us to be confident and courageous, expecting God to do great things in unexpected ways.
“Walking by faith leads us to be confident and courageous, expecting God to do great things in unexpected ways.”
It’s by walking in faith that our life changes. It’s by opening our eyes to the importance of the soul and the activity of God that our mustard seed faith soars. The surge of excitement brightens our boring, predictable world. God isn’t just the God of one generation way back when. He is the God of generation after generation. Jesus explained that God is “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob….God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 22:32).
For some of us, it’s time to wake up to the reality of God’s greatness and recommit to walking by faith in him.