The old joke asks the question, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer is, “Practice, practice, practice.” Of course, that answer isn’t what most of us want to hear. We want there to be some kind of magical answer. We want to become a great musician, capable of moving audiences to tears, but we don’t want to practice for years and years. In fact, we don’t want to practice at all.
We just want to be good at things as soon as we start.
Life quickly reminds you that nothing — let me emphasize that — nothing comes easy. Anything worth having requires work. Anything worth keeping requires more work.
Want to learn to hit a golf ball? Then you will spend hours swinging your club, going through the motions of hitting a golf ball without ever hitting a golf ball. You will push the club back, extending your arms and cocking your wrists to pull the club through and extending your arms through the follow-through. And you will do it hundreds, even thousands of times. You will do it so many times, you’ll be able to swing a golf club in your sleep. You’ll be able to swing a club without thinking about it.
Want to learn to paint? You spend hours studying a blank canvas. When you work up the courage, you’ll finally draw one line. That’s it. You will draw one line. You will draw that line again and again until you can draw a perfect line without thinking about it.
Karate? Dance? Running? Singing? The same rules apply. If you’re going to get good at something, you’ll have to practice until you can do the task without thinking about it.
We want to become so good at our craft that it becomes second nature.
Guess what? We face the same dilemma in our spiritual practices. All of us desire a deeper walk with Christ. We want to be better Christians and better disciples. We just think it should be easy. We should be able to follow Jesus, we think, and it shouldn’t be that hard. We think we should just close our eyes and be able to pray. We should be able to read our Bibles and immediately have a deep and meaningful understanding of the passage. We shouldn’t have to spend hours thinking about prayer or years studying the depths of Scripture. Things should just come naturally.
They don’t. Being a faithful disciple of Christ takes work. Let me correct that. It takes a lot of work. Prayer means having to discipline your own mind in order to focus on the things of Christ and not the day-to-day garbage that constantly clutters our brains. We have to learn to sit quietly for minutes and then, learn to sit quietly for hours. This is a learned behavior. It doesn’t come naturally.
Turning the other cheek doesn’t come naturally. It takes discipline to control our natural instincts to fight back.
Like the golfer and tennis pro, followers of Christ have to practice, practice, practice our praying, our Bible reading, our love of our neighbors, forgiveness and grace, our care for each other, and we have to practice them until they become second nature. Until we can do them without thinking. These practices have to become second nature to us.
We have to practice, practice, practice until the nature of Jesus becomes our own.