I am not a very athletic or competitive person by nature. So it’s even harder for me to imagine doing Olympic sports. However, I have worked at activities and projects where I was committed to excellence, and practice was required. I took piano lessons for about seven years and distinctly remember practicing the pieces that my teacher assigned. I had to practice learning to read and write, type, second language, make a pie crust, crochet, drive a car, etc. Achieving those life skills will never receive a medal; however, they did take effort. Likewise, when I have rarely used a skill, I notice the diminished ability to do it well. Brain neurons (connections) are pruned that don’t get used.
Habits and Distractions
We all have practices or habits that create our lives. These practices usually involve mental and physical effort. Just like physical therapy, corrections are often needed in order to pursue our callings. Sometimes habits need to be replaced with better or healthier practices for greater strength and results.
Like a lot of Christians, I can get pretty lazy or distracted from my Christian practices. Some of the practices have been used by Christians for centuries, such as prayer, solitude, fasting, scripture study, community, and service to others—all facets of interacting with God. These disciplines can lead to a more profound and more enriching experience in this life, yet it’s so easy to let go of spiritual practices. Then my Christian life can become flabby and weak—nothing special here. I also miss opportunities to bless others through the love that God has gifted to me.
Just as young athletes arrive with a fresh, healthy body, they still need to practice skills to perform. Christians are gifted with God’s strength and love yet need practice to grow in the Kingdom of God. And change is often slow, hard work, getting the mind and body to function in partnership with the spiritual heart. The Apostle Paul said, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air” (I Corinthians 9:25-26, NIV).
I like watching the faces and fist bumps of the Olympians when they have completed what they were trained to do. Practices are expressions of intent and a life. “Discipline, strictly speaking, is activity carried on to prepare us indirectly for some activity other than itself.” *
As theologian Dallas Willard might have said, I didn’t practice the piano so I could practice well, but to play well.
Questions for personal journaling or group discussion:
1. What practice has made you a more competent or skillful person?
2. Is there a spiritual practice of which you would like to learn or engage with on a regular basis?
*Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines; Understanding How God Changes Lives. HarperCollins.
If you like this, you might like Change Takes Practice
Karen Spruill writes from Florida.