Practice? We're Talking About Practice?
An Introduction to Spiritual Practice
“Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is.” – C.S. Lewis
Do you find that quote to be relatively true? I do.
Actually, I not only find it to be true, it cuts me deep. As I think about that line it has me wondering, “How can I become the kind of person that does well when he's taken of guard?”
The Christian is meant to be like Jesus. Our lives are supposed to look like his. We are to be an honorable, kind, loving, self-sacrificial kind of people. Those who claim to follow Christ are to live lives that transcend the average. The word “christian” means, “Little Christ.” This designation is much more than just the religion that we embrace. It is to go beyond systems of dogma and belief and theology. To be designated as “Christian,” is to designate oneself as a person who is intentionally seeking to love God with all of who they are, love their neighbor as oneself, and love their enemy.
“Christian” is no small task. It's not a calling to escapism or eternal insurance for the “age to come.” It is an identity that shapes all of life in every minute of everyday. It is a commitment to take up one's cross daily and follow Christ to the place self-sacrifice and love that brings grace, mercy, justice, redemption, and reconciling to all things.
If you're anything like me, you're left with one simple question, “How?”
Dallas Willard in his marvelous little book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, illustrates the “how” question by talking about a child and their sports hero. Indulge me for a moment as I share the same illustration.
When I was younger I played hockey. I loved the game. It was fast, fun, and exciting. I watched hockey as much as I could on TV. I read about in the library. Newspapers and Sports Illustrateds would be shredded as I cut out pictures and articles about games and players. My favorite player was Ray Bourque. I wore his number and tried to emulate his style of play as best I could. When we hit the ponds near our home I would always “be” Bourque. This men was a Boston Bruins legend and would eventually win a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche.
I stopped playing hockey during my 8th grade year.
Even though I emulated Bourque's style, I never became Ray Bourque. Why? What was the difference? 1000s of hours of practice, drive, commitment, and natural ability. But, mostly the practice.
During games I could pretend to be Bourque. I could mimic his skating style and wear his number. But I never put in the behind the scenes work to become a great hockey player.
We as Christians can pretend to be like Jesus in many settings. We can act like Jesus without ever becoming like Jesus.
This is where that Lewis quote hits home. When we are taken off our guard we won't act. We will simply be. Who we truly are is exposed. This when we are in the game, so to speak.
The question remains, how do we become like Jesus? What does it look like to practice in our spiritual lives so that when it comes time for the game we are ready?
In my life, I have found that pursuing a personal practice of certain spiritual disciplines has helped me tremendously. In those moments where I have failed during the “game,” I can almost always trace it back to a season of neglecting my practice.
Over the next few posts I am going to share some of the “how” for our spiritual growth and development. Hopefully at the end you will be able to craft your personal spiritual practice.