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.