I was fortunate, early on, to become acquainted with the concept of practice and craft.
A musician in high school, I devoted a half hour a day to playing. It was, at times, boring: scales, arpeggios, that same stupid song. It was also, at times, deeply gratifying. More importantly, it was effective. I wanted to be a good musician, and for me a half hour a day was my investment in that identity and ability. I did, indeed, become a good musician: when I was accepted to college, I had to choose between music and the humanities.
I chose the second, but the concept of “practice” and “craft” stayed with me. Want to be a good writer? Write every day. Want to get better at crochet? Crochet more. Want to be a better spouse? Practice giving. Practice love. Practice laughter and gratitude.
The concept of practice and habit has gotten a lot of traction recently. You can buy habit trackers on Amazon now. I read a touching story recently of a seventy-year old man who decided he wanted to learn how to play guitar and decided it wasn’t too late: he practiced every day, and now he performs with a little local band. James Clear’s Atomic Habits has been a deeply valuable book to me as I consider how to “practice” the necessary behaviors to develop behaviors in my life.
But I suspect many find it unseemly to think about “practicing” the life of faith.
We feel like it should come more naturally, as though Christ-likeness should spontaneously spring out of us when we speak or act. We think of practice as being a little boring, a little stilted, a little staid. We think it betrays a lack of care and passion, a lack of desire. It feels, perhaps, a little too clinical to think about “practicing” our faith or our relationship with God, in the sense that we might be regimented in our approach.
And yet doing so can be so very valuable.
The truth is that the Christian life is full of droughts and lulls. This is natural. No long loving relationship is an all-the-time love-and-adrenaline high. But I fear that we sometimes don’t share this enough and that believers, when they enter fallow periods where God seems quiet or they don’t feel “on fire,” panic. Equating the awesomeness of God and a close relationship with Him to emotional surges and highs and the occurrence of blessing and evident intervention, they slump at the slightest sign of quiet or stillness. They feel abandoned. They ping-pong around trying to get “the fire” back.
But practice and craft prepares you for these times, and carries you through.
If you make a habit of showing up for God every day to pray and to listen, then when tumult or a dry time comes you will still show up. You show up and you keep on showing up, and when you can’t hear God speaking you still try to listen, and you pray, and you wait. You show up when you are tired and – if you are honest – on the days you don’t care, and sometimes on the days you don’t really want to. And what you find, over days and days and days of showing up, is that God meets you there in all of the moods, all of the circumstances. The relationship that grows out of these times is deep and rich and unshakable. You will be surprised at how the whole of it somehow surpasses the individual moments.
If you practice daily prayer with seriousness and consistency, you will find that you become a person who really does pray in all circumstances. Tired or not, sad or not, happy or not, worn out or busy, you will show up and you will pray. And this conversation with God will grow and change you.
You practice grace. You practice mercy. And maybe you don’t always succeed at it, but over time the act of giving grace, of being merciful, begins to alter you fundamentally. The practice of Christlike acts begins to change your soul in the same way that years of clarinet-playing left tiny alterations in my fingers and my mouth that still have not disappeared after all these years.
Recently, on a podcast, a woman discussed her goals for summer. She based her summer activities, she said, on those goals. So if she wanted to be, for example, a person who read more, she would write down a list of ten books to read. If she wanted to be a painter, she’d write down the necessary steps of practice to make it happen: one painting lesson every week. If she wanted to be a hiker, she’d sketch out the steps necessary to become one: walking x miles the first week, x miles the second week, and x miles the third week.
My question to you, then, is this:
What sort of a believer do you want to be? What sort of faith do you want to have? And having answered that, what practices and habits are necessary to guide you in the right direction? Consider: what might God be asking you to do regularly to shape your faith and your identity in Him?
Consistency of habit and practice over time develops behaviors in us that we desire to grow. And God will use our willingness to consistently and obediently engage with Him and the wisdom in His word to change us in surprising ways.
Let this be a summer of practice.