This past week in our Christian Ministry class, the concept of practice in the Christian life really hit home to me. We are studying Donald Whitney’s book, the Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, and this need for practicing each of the disciplines and all as a whole comes up time and over time. I think we often assume that knowing God and having a close relationship with Him will come easily (at least we wish or act like it will). When it does not, we blame it on God not realizing that He has given us the way to gain the blessing. But God gives us good things most often by means of being habitually in his Word and prayer. Because we are unwilling to practice spiritual discipline, unwilling to practice godliness, we end up missing out on the riches and freedom which come from living in the Word.
But further to clarify, what I have greatly appreciated about the book is how Whitney stresses the point that Christian disciplines are not a way to earn favor in God’s sight rather they are the means by which we reach the true goal of becoming more conformed to Christ. Reading God’s Word, meditating, and praying do not give us grace, rather they are the conduit pipes that Christ has chosen by which he fills us with Himself and makes us more like Him. That being said, Christ desires and often commands us to practice and work at the means he has given us.
I think it is a safe generalization to say that Christians want to be Christlike at least in getting the benefits of salvation, but we do not want to take the trouble of practicing. We essentially expect something without using the tools we have been given to get there. The irony is we think that we are fine neglecting God’s Word and prayer, but we still expect that we are going to grow anyway. In any other discipline practice is an obvious and essential component. Even the most gifted musicians will spend hours daily practicing their instrument to perfect it.
The hard part comes not with the idea of practicing, but actually doing it – applying it personally. But another problem for me is that I like things to come immediately, without looking foolish or messing up. But I have realized I cannot expect to get something perfectly the first time without practicing it. It is also not a performance. This past week’s reading was a chapter about prayer. Prayer has to be learned, and it is learned by meditating on God’s word and by practicing it. We do not have to perform for God or for other people, rather we are supposed to pour out our hearts to Him, and we will only grow better at it if we do it over and over again. Chances are it will look like a baby’s first steps, feeble and wobbly, but a milestone at the same time. The amazing thing is that God is pleased when His children come to Him as those who in and through God’s grace are taking baby steps in conformity to Christ. The book has really been challenging me and convicting me of the need for practice, to habitually work at the spiritual disciplines by His grace. I am learning the goal is not covering up my own inadequacies but rather turning to Him when I see those inadequacies and seek more grace.