Practice is a word that has come up a lot for me in the past few weeks. Now, it’s certainly not a new thing, being a musician and all, but the contexts of practice have so much greater application than we might imagine. I feel like the pendulum swing in this is either that we don’t do the hard work of practice and expect to slide by, or we give ourselves no room for error and expect perfection immediately. Both fail to recognize that we need to practice.
So, perhaps the questions we ask ourselves are, “How come I have to keep doing this?” or “Why can’t I do this yet?” Both lead to frustration. And in the context of living by faith, as we have been studying in Hebrews 11, what are we to do in those tough times? Practice. Look at Philippians 4:4-13:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
There’s a recipe contained in the first part of this passage.
-Rejoice in the Lord, always
-Let your reasonableness be known to all
-Do not worry, but in prayer with thanksgiving cast your cares on God
And what comes from this recipe? The peace of God, which passes all understanding. Paul further elaborates on our thought life, aligning our minds to think on this list of qualities rather than being concerned with the circumstances we are facing. At the end of the passage, he reveals this truth that not only has played out in his own life but also is currently his situation, as he is writing from jail!
But the easy part to miss is what is sandwiched in between there. Paul calls us to practice what he’s been teaching. And practice is a beautiful word, because it means that we can increase our skill level in those areas. So when we say, “How come I have to keep doing this?” Because we are called to practice our faith. And when we say “Why can’t I do this yet?” Because practice is not a means to an end, but a way of life. And there’s so much we can practice.
Practicing dependence instead of worry.
Practicing thankfulness instead of complaining.
Practicing reasonableness instead of reacting.
Because remember, circumstances do not lead to joy. Philippians 4:13 is not a magic phrase that means that whatever we set our mind to, God will accomplish for us or through us. It means that we can face any circumstances and remain content in Christ.
Whatever. Wherever. Our circumstances don’t control our reactions. We, in our free-will, have the opportunity in every moment to make choices. Sometimes it means we have to learn how to adapt to our good bad brains in order to make the best choice. And it also helps us see why self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. But ultimately, we don’t get better at it without practice.
So, practice. The things that you aren’t good at? Practice. You want to be more patient with your kids? Practice. You want to be better at being on time? Practice. You’re tired of beating yourself up? Practice. And give yourself the room to make mistakes, to learn, to grow, not giving up when it gets hard, and not over-expecting that change happens instantly. It takes time. And remember that for those who believe, God works in us as we work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13).
And also, I’m saying this to myself, too.
Love in Christ,