What is the purpose of practice? Practice means you haven’t mastered something yet, but are working on it. Here’s a simple definition from the dictionary,Practice- repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency.
It’s the work we do so it doesn’t look like it took any effort at all to do it. It’s mastery of a skill. Archers shoot hundreds of arrows at a target until they are able to hit the center with precision. Gymnasts practice hours each day to make impossible feats of gymnastics seem effortless.
Practice makes a hack at the piano a master musician who draws thousands to hear him play. When we say, “I wish I could do that.” He would reply, “You can if you practice eight hours a day for about 20 years.” Practice. It’s the disciple we use to master something and become proficient at it.
My wife recently had surgery. She didn’t look for a doctor who was new to this type of surgery. She looked for someone who had done thousands of them. Why? His practice had made him a master at this difficult procedure.
You get the idea, don’t you, but I’m sure you’re wondering where I’m going with all this. I’m setting the stage for these amazing and often overlooked words from Jesus,
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” -Jesus, Matthew 6
What he didn’t say is “don’t practice…” He said be careful how and where you practice. Then, for the rest of the chapter he deals with the things he wants any disciple to master by practice- prayer, giving, fasting, etc. What we often miss in the words of Jesus is this- you will be practicing these things to master them, just be careful where and how you do it.
Today some are revisiting the very idea of practice and it has many confused. What this whole discussion is about is simply this- sanctification. All of these things Jesus talks about in Matthew 6 are simply the disciplines of sanctification. They are things we do to grow into Christlikeness. And, clearly Jesus knew we needed practice so he gives us guidance to perfect our practice.
What’s the goal? Hebrews 10:14- “He has made perfect forever those who are becoming holy.” The goal of practice is to become like the one who has saved us. It’s the practice of perfecting godliness (2 Cor. 7:1) and doing it intentionally that produces Christlikeness.* Then, one day, after all your practice, you will hear these words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
*A comment that will arise is this- “But what about the Holy Spirit’s work in us. You left that out.” Yes, I left it out for brevity. I am very aware that godliness and Christlikeness must happen as the Holy Spirit works in us and with us, but for brevity and focus on the topic I left this portion of sanctification for another day.
In my study of Matthew 6 in preparation for a message I came to a passage I have read hundreds of times before and always missed what Jesus was saying. Then it hit me….suddenly I began to weep as I saw it. Here’s the passage and then let’s talk,
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.…
The portion of this passage that had eluded me were these words,“For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Then, this week for the first time, I saw it. The pagans don’t have a heavenly Father! They are orphans! Orphans have to be worried about food, clothing and a place to stay because they have no one to watch out for them. They are responsible, but the Christian has a Father. We have someone who is taking care of us. We have someone who loves us and like a child in a home with a dad we don’t even think about the house payment, the electric bill, will we have food…those are the things that Father takes care of. As his child I run into his house and take whatever I want from the fridge without a worry. Father takes cares of all those things so I can focus my attention on seeking HIM and his rule in my life. He has the rest taken care of. He cares for me. I have a father, I’m not an orphan. When I saw this the whole passage came alive for me. I wept over this amazing truth. Even as I tried to share it with my wife the next day I couldn’t get through it without tears…..we are not orphans on our own, caring for ourselves, worried about how we will get food, clothing and somewhere to stay. We have a father. He loves us and is fully able and willing to care for us.
So, today you can resign as general manager of the universe, you don’t need to worry about all the things that take up your thoughts. You are not an orphan, you have a father and he loves to care for his children who will trust him.
Visit Mike at Finishing Well.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.
God’s grace is a big deal to me. It’s the most important thing to understand in all that God has provided in Christ. Many, by not understanding it, have resorted to works to please God and frankly God is not at all pleased by that response.
He has provided grace and wants us to live in it, but few understand its implications, even fewer are comfortable with how that is lived out. If you want to know a bit about what God has done and what it means in your life here are Paul’s words in Romans 5 about that grace,
15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
Abounding grace. That very phrase should make you want to know what that means, what’s the implications, why did it need to abound? Grace is one of God’s most profound works, and one that few are comfortable with. It means that in Christ God has done all that needs to be done for us to please him. There’s nothing more to do to find favor with God. If you have trusted Christ as savior you are his child, his son or daughter and you DO please him. He not only loves you he actually likes you just as you are right now. His grace has abounded above all your need and provided everything required to bring us into relationship with God, to provide forgiveness of sin, to give us security for eternity, to do all that needed to be done so there is nothing left for us to do.
Books have been written on this topic. I know in these few paragraphs I will not satisfy many hearts and minds with answers, there’s simply too much to discuss, but there is a reality in our Christian world that needs to be resolved- Do you believe it’s all been done or do you believe there’s more that you must do? It’s one or the other.
I know, as I write this, that many are saying, “Yeah, but….” And here begins the discussion about what I must do. Frankly, to please God there is nothing you can do. All that was needed to please God was done by Christ at the cross. The harsh reality of grace is this- there is NOTHING you can do to please God other than to say “yes” to the grace he has already provided.
Justice says I get what I deserve. Mercy says I don’t get what I deserve, but grace says in Christ I get what I don’t deserve. In this abounding grace I come to God and find that by simply trusting Christ I please God! That’s it. Nothing more to do. Grace says it’s all been done already. My response? Worship. Praise. A life that obeys him, but these are all just responses. They merit nothing for my salvation. That’s been done. Now, all that I do is respond to grace and in that response I find God’s joy.
Many in our culture call this simple idea “cheap grace,” but what they don’t understand is that it must be this way. If any of my works, my deeds, my performance for God are part of grace it’s a statement to the world that what Christ did on the cross wasn’t enough. When he said, “it’s finished” he just didn’t understand. You can’t have it both ways. Either he did it all or he didn’t. And if he did it all then your only response it to simply say “yes” to his gift and bask in that grace.
Abounding grace….abounding far above my need, abounding far above my understanding, grace to do for each of us what we could never do on our own.
Today I joyfully rejoice in God’s abounding grace to me!
Visit Mike at Finishing Well.
We seek happiness, love, peace, companionship, friendship, security.
We are born seekers.
But it’s easy to get confused about what is really important to seek after. Our search for the things that satisfy the heart and meet our real needs is often unfulfilled. Our search for meaning and happiness often ends in frustration.
As I read this morning I came to these words in the book of Zephaniah, “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, Seek humility;” I was struck by the invitation to seek and the direction in which way to look. It’s natural to be a seeker, but we don’t always know where to look.
As children we all played “hide and seek”. We are seekers by nature. There is a natural thrill in the hunt, the quest, as we seek out that hidden treasure.
It was interesting to notice that God is not only inviting us to seek, but he helps us with where to look. And so I thought, is this seeker invitation in other places? Does God invite our search and does he help us with clues to the quest? If seeking is part of who we are and invited by the God who made us, does he also help us with our quest? Here are just a few of the clues that I found,
God looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
As I went on my own quest for this theme of a seeker it was all through the bible! To be a seeker is natural, to be invited by God to be a seeker fits well with how we are made, but to help us he gave us clues about what to seek.
We are, by nature, seekers of things. God invites us to be seekers of relationship. We search out external happiness. God invites us to seek internal happiness. We make our search about US.
God invites us to seek HIM.
Seek Him. In our quest for happiness, peace, comfort, joy, and a hundred other things we find ourselves exhausted with our quest. It’s simply not enough to fill our empty hearts, but God invites a much simpler search…a search for him, and in that quest for him we find everything else we were seeking after. It is, finally and ultimately, all about him.
Seek Him, and in that quest you will find everything else as well.
Visit Mike at Finishing Well.
2 Timothy 2:20-22 Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. Therefore flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
This passage has always given me encouragement and direction. It gives clarity to usefulness. It describes my part in being a vessel the master can use. I admit that I’m still, even at 60, in process…being molded, making choices that determine my usefulness. It’s a lifetime project to become a vessel for honor, sanctified (set apart), useful to the Master, prepared for EVERY good work. It’s my goal to be a vessel God can use. I know he’s doing his part, but he also challenges me to be part of the process as well.
The last verse of this passage is my part. In it Paul turns from what God wants to see in my life, my choices and my actions. It begins with this admonition, “Therefore flee _______, and pursue ________. After both verbs are things to make decisions about. How do I participate in becoming a vessel, a person, God can use? I make some simple choices, 1. flee certain things and, 2. pursue other things. The bible calls this sanctification. It’s my intentional decisions to agree with God’s desire for me and make choices that conform me to what he wants me to be.
Flee some things, pursue others. Pretty simple, isn’t it? Yes and no. First, I need to know what God wants me to be. I need to know what the good and bad choices are. I need to know a few basic things and from those things I am invited, I’m challenged to make some choices. They are choices to follow and obey God or follow and obey the flesh and the enemy. I know, this all sounds really complicated, but it’s not. It’s so simple children get it. How do so many of us adults miss it?
Here are some things I have heard from adults that tell me they don’t understand what God wants or is trying to do in their lives. They don’t want to be vessels the Lord can use. From their mouths you will hear, “I know God wants me to be happy, so….” or, “It may be wrong, but I know he will forgive me.” You have heard things like this as well. It’s a way to give us permission to pursue the wrong things and flee the right things. We have gotten it completely backwards when we choose to do it our way. One thing is clear, if we choose our way we will be of little or no use to God.
I wonder, as I encounter people and their choices, what do they really want? Do they want to please God or themselves? If, and I think some would be so honest, if they want to please themselves they have just declared themselves god of their lives and dismissed the God who saved them. It’s a dangerous path. There is no happy ending when we choose our own way.
But, I watch others who want to be that “vessel of honor”, that person God can use. They are amazing! I’m thinking of several of them now, both men and women, who are intentionally working with God to become a vessel of honor, someone God can use. They are fleeing the wrong things and pursuing the right things. They are choosing wisely and it shows. They are becoming what God designed them to be and the glow of that, the impact of their life is changing lives around them.
God, the master potter, is making vessels of honor, but each one of us must be part of the process if we are to be what God designed us to be. We make the right choices for a reason….choices because we want to please God. Choices because we were called to be people God can use to change the world around us. Choices that have eternal rewards.
Make your own list. What is on your “flee list” and what is on your “pursue list”? These two lists will tell you a lot about the vessel you are becoming. It may mean you have some choices to make. It may, and I hope it does for many, encourage you that you are becoming what God designed you to be. Either way we are challenged to be part of what God is making us. What kind of vessel are you becoming?
Visit Mike at http://mikemesserli.blogspot.com/