It means that we acknowledge that people are spiritual and physical beings, all intertwined in a way that there is really no such thing as “spiritual problems” and “physical problems”. So called “physical problems” always affect both our body and our spirit, and our spiritual state impacts our physical reality in a constant feedback loop. Likewise, following Jesus means submitting every aspect of our lives to Him–not just having some kind of “spiritual” experience.
Even though I feel like a broken record (there’s an archaic analogy for you!), I feel like I should point out that we aren’t very unique or creative in this idea. Christians have been faithful to this core principle since the Apostles charged Paul to remember the poor, the very thing he was eager to do (Galatians 2:10).
A hundred years ago, Amy Carmichael, a UK-born Christian who lived and served in India for 55 years, responded to critics who wanted her to focus on ‘saving souls’ by saying, “Souls are more or less securely attached to bodies…and as you cannot get the souls out and deal with them separately, you have to take them both together.”
Fast forward to today, and we are surrounded by prophets and prophetesses calling us to remember that true Christianity cannot separate physical and spiritual–Tim Keller (Generous Justice), Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert (When Helping Hurts), and our friends at Disciple Nations Alliance (to name just a few).
It’s a powerful concept, and every person I’ve referenced above can explain it better than I can. So I won’t bother. I’d rather share stories, because, frankly, stories are sticky.
I want to tell you stories of from our partner churches in Asia. These spiritual juggernauts face down poverty, marginalization, and outright persecution as they learn to integrate physical and spiritual in obedience to the biblical command to love our neighbors. Here’s one story from a pastor in Nepal:
Here in our village, young people need to work, so we do not go to school much. I myself never got an education. I came to Christ when my daughter was healed 17 years back and felt called to start this church 3 years back. in the course of my Christian life I have attended many training and conferences, but no training taught me how to help my community. Through TCT training , I learned how to help others without using money, and by doing small things. Our church also was poor, but we started to help the community through small things that are very important to the community. We allowed everyone in the community to use our air pump to fill their bicycle tires. We provided a pull cart that anyone could use to carry big things or to take sick people to the hospital. We also provided a long pole with a hook for our neighbors to use to take out the bucket when it falls in the well. This is a common tool in our community, but not everyone has one, and most people do not want to share their personal property.
Then I started to teach our church to help the poorer people of the community. We realized there was a family with four children in the community who did not have a house, and the rainy season was coming soon. We felt that we needed to help in making a house for them. As we learned to involved people also outside the church, we invited other community people also to help and, together, 11 people helped to make a house for the family. While we were working on the house for them, the second son broke his hand in two places. Again the church helped. We took the son to the hospital three times for treatment.
During all of this, we told the family, “We love you because we have experienced God’s love and learned to love others.” Now they are open to the Gospel.
I love this church’s creativity, practicality, and responsiveness to the specific needs around them. There’s no cookie-cutter here–just genuine concern for the wellbeing of their neighbors. Not only does this kind of ministry soften the hearts of unbelievers so they can experience the love of God, it also deepens and enlivens the faith of those who are serving.
Here is one more glimpse of God’s people in Nepal caring for physical and spiritual needs in an integrated way:
A pregnant woman in the community was very poor. Her husband was a bad drunkard. He did not care about anything in the home. When time came for the woman to deliver the child, they had nothing in the home to eat nor any clothes for new baby. Everyone in the community knew about the situation, but no one took the initiative to help her. So with prayer, a few people from our church went to her house with food, clothes, and oil for massage for the baby and mother. It was a great help. The woman was so happy that she cried tears of joy. She was so thankful to us. The community’s attitude towards helping changed. This family has not yet come [to faith], but their hearts are much softer. The husband still drinks, so he fears coming to church. We continue to pray this family will come to the saving knowledge of Christ and the husband will stop drinking and beating his wife and start working and helping his family.
Could you take a moment right now to pray for this family too? And then, take just a few more seconds to ask the Father to show you someone you could show His love to today.