An athlete has to learn the basics of fundamentals of his sport, to spend time lifting weights, and running laps before the game can be played. Likewise it requires hours of practicing the game before an actual can be played so that both player and team can play well.
Practice is an universal law on how to improve a skill or a talent. With this being the case it is hard to imagine why we have overlooked it when it comes to our spiritual development. Perhaps it is because we don’t want to be accused of being focused on “works,” so we live our lives frustrated that we are not doing better while waiting for God to magically make us perfect. I am sorry, but I am afraid it doesn’t work like that.
C. E. Orr in his book How to Live a Holy Life wrote; “If you neglected to water your garden, you would not wonder for a moment why it was drying up. Then, when you are neglecting to water the soul in vigorous, spiritual exercises, why do you wonder at your being so spiritually dull?” (p.47). The problem with many Christians today isn’t that they lack love or faith, but they lack the understanding that they need to be involved in spiritual exercise in order to become mature followers of Jesus.
Reflect on what the apostle Paul told Timothy:
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Timothy 4:6-8; ESV).
It appears to me that Paul is trying to remind Timothy not to waste his life in doing things that are not eternally important. He could spend his life to argue against the silly myths of the day, which would take time but be ineffective and thus be a waste of his time. Timothy could devote his time to healthy living and exercise, which would benefit the body, but has little eternal value. Instead Paul says he should train for godliness. How does one do that?
If we follow the examples of a musician and an athlete that I gave earlier there are two facets of this train. First there are committing to the spiritual disciplines. These are activities that have historically proven to help people mature as Christians, and they are things that Jesus himself did while he was here on earth. These disciplines include activities such as Bible study, prayer, fasting, giving, and worship. These things are the equivalent of learning how to play a music scale or learning how to dribble a basketball. They are want teaches your mind, heart, soul, and body what to do when faced with the reality of life.
Second there are what I will call the Christian duties. Things like serving people, teaching, and taking a stand for what is right. These are things that don’t come naturally to us, and things we don’t always feel like doing, and that is why they become duties. When we do them, even when we don’t want to or have a great love in our heart for God, they teach us about humility and what it means to love those who may not love you back. These duties are much like practice. It is boring and becomes old hat to play the same piece of music a thousand different times or to go to basketball practice day after day and compete against the same people, but you do it, even when you don’t want to, because you know it will prepare you for the real thing. These duties are like that, they are not always fun, but they are preparing us so we can respond to the realities of life out of love, goodness, and self-control.
If we are going to be like Jesus we need to train to be like Him, it isn’t going to magically happen. It is going to take a lot of hard work on our part and a lot of grace on God’s part, but together it can happen!