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.
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?
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