As a pastor, the reality of practicality makes itself known -- this need to put into action what is real, relevant, and reasonable for service.
While seminary courses in "Practical Theology" (not an oxymoron) help prepare for this, when it comes to putting faith into action, I often find more accessible an insight offered in an essay entitled, "The Next Thing." Therein, author Andree Seu Peterson relays the focused faith of a busy mother who, when deluged with life's duties, does not panic, but instead calmly and consciously does "the next thing to be done."
Practically, this is something I can get my brain around -- an action that is not only sequential, but simple; one that takes one step of faith at a time, trusting God to provide and to guide, in his time, the larger scene and sequence.
Do the next thing.
This shorthand for practical theology seems to find itself of particular use when bad news bombards, when feelings flux, when calendar clutter conspires.
To illustrate, let's say that my plan for a day flows as follows: exercise, read, outline a sermon, visit a shut-in, pick up the kids, counsel with some soon-to-be-wedded, get home for a quick dinner, then head to the church for a meeting. Sometimes the plan actually goes as planned.
Sometimes it does not. After all, things break. Bodies break. Hearts break.
An email arrives revealing a cascade of need. A text chimes, detailing a change in tonight's meeting. The phone rings, announcing a delay in a doctor's diagnosis. The car makes a less-than-funny noise on the way to the visit.
Now what, Lord? Cry? Frown? Fret? Call a friend? Seek control of unknown events? All of the above? Or, might I do this: The Next Thing.
And the next thing need not be a big thing, like "take control," or "go back in time," or "fix that other person." Besides, actions like these often are not of faith anyway.
Instead, as my day derails, the next thing might well be something stunningly simple (for example, get the kids) -- neither grand nor gleaming; striving not so much to solve as to take a faith-step, then another.
Jesus describes active and fearless faith in terms of trusting for "daily bread" and seeking first God's kingdom, without worry (Matt. 6). The apostle Paul sketches a practical faith that calls Christians, as already empowered, to "keep in step with the Spirit" (Galatians 5; Romans 8; Acts 2). Indeed, within the bigger picture of practical living, it is precisely because Jesus did the necessary things, that I am set free to do the next thing (See Colossians. 2-3; Hebrews 12).
Nowadays, my wife knows what I mean when I memo that "I am off to do the next thing." And while practical theology cannot be completed in a classroom, nor reduced to a mere catchphrase, still, sometimes simplicity serves quite well: by God's grace, today, I can do the next thing.
-- The Rev. Dr. Craig Davis is minister at Grace United Reformed Church in Kennewick. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.