Part of the reason the old saying; “Practice makes perfect” has stuck around is because it is true . If we are going to do anything well we have to take the time to practice. A musician needs to learn the basics of how to read music, play scales, and keep time before any music can be played. Even then hours of practice are required to play a piece of music well.
An athlete has to learn the basics fundamentals of his sport, lift weights, and run laps before the game can be played. Not only does the athlete have to be in shape, but hours of practice needs to be put in so both the player and his team can play well.
Practice is an universal law on how to improve a skill or a talent. Since this is the case it is hard to imagine why we have overlooked practice when it comes to our spiritual development. Most likely it has to do with avoiding even the appearance of “works” as we follow Jesus.
C. E. Orr in his book How to Live a Holy Life wrote; “If you neglected to water your garden, you would not wonder for a moment why it was drying up. Then, when you are neglecting to water the soul in vigorous, spiritual exercises, why do you wonder at your being so spiritually dull?” (p.47). Many of us feel stunted in our spiritual growth, not because we lack knowledge, commitment, or even faith, but because we have not understood the importance of training to be like Jesus.
Reflect on what the apostle Paul told Timothy:
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Timothy 4:6-8; ESV).
Paul reminded Timothy that he needed to spend time training for godliness. In other words, Timothy was to do what he could to be like Jesus. While it is true that transformation begins and ends with God, it is also true that God has given us a responsibility in the process of transformation.
What does our responsibility in spiritual formation look like? I think there are two parts that make up our responsibility.
- We need to commit to the spiritual disciplines. There are activities that have historically proven to help people mature as Christians. Not only that but they are also the things that Jesus did himself while he was here on earth. These disciplines include activities such as Bible study, prayer, fasting, giving, and worship. These things are the equivalent of learning the fundamentals like how to play a music scale or learning how to dribble a basketball. The fundamentals are not all that glamorous but they are essential to performing well. The disciplines are not glamorous and are often overlooked, but they teach our minds, hearts, souls, and bodies how to respond to the realities of life.
- We need to commit to Christian duties. Christian duties are things like sacrificial service, genuine fellowship, showing hospitality, and extending forgiveness. These are things don’t come naturally to us, but they help us mirror the type of life that Jesus lived. By doing these types of things we begin to experience the life Jesus wants us to live. These duties are much like practice. It can be boring to play the same piece of music a thousand different times, but you do it because you know it will prepare you for the concert. It gets boring going to basketball practice day after day, but you do it because you know it will prepare you for the game. Christian duties are are not always fun, but they prepare us so we can be the “lights of the world” that God wants us to be.
Living the life of Jesus doesn’t just happen, it takes intentional commitment on our part. We need to go into strict training. This training includes spiritual disciplines which provide us with the fundamentals we need to live a holy and godly life. The training also includes Christian duties which provide us with the practice we need to loving, forgiving, gracious, and thankful. It won’t happen overnight and it will take a lot of hard work on our part, but with the grace of God it can be done. We can live the life Jesus wants us to live!
Questions to Consider:
- Do you think it is possible to live like Jesus?
- On your path towards spiritual maturity what disciplines have you found helpful?
- What Christian duties do you think are essential?