Friday, October 3, 2014

Practice: Not a Spectator Sport

Brady's first time pitching.
I like to go to Brady’s baseball practices.  (Which is a good, since they account for many hours of a parent’s life during the season.)  I watch intently as the coaches lead the players through pitching, hitting, and fielding drills for about two hours.  At one practice recently, the kids were warming up their arms.  I was standing near the dugout, and the coach asked me to throw him a ball.  It wasn’t pretty—a wounded duck if ever there was one.   

After my stupendous throw, it occurred to me that while watching many hours practice may have taught me a thing or two about baseball, it has obviously not “taught” my body how to throw a baseball correctly.  No, for that to happen, I would have to actually get out on the field with the kids and participate in the practice.  It would be pretty humbling to get out there as a nearly 44-year-old man and practice with kids, but since I didn’t play baseball growing up, that’s really where I would need to begin.

There’s no getting around the fact that if I want my ability to play baseball to improve, I would have to put in the practice.  No one can do it for me.

Just like baseball, church is not intended to be a spectator sport.  While we can gain something simply by showing up on Sunday and “watching” the worship service, there’s a limit to how far that can take us.   Unless we actively participate in worship and in prayer, fasting, service, etc., on a regular basis, we shouldn’t expect to see tremendous transformation in our lives.  Just as in baseball, even if we do practice, our progress will be slow, which may not seem all that encouraging. 

But then life unexpectedly “throws you a curveball” and all you can do is “react to the pitch”.  There isn’t time to think about your response, you can only let whatever is in you flow out of you.  When, in that moment, you “step to the plate” and “smack it out of the park” spiritually, you start to realize the value of all those hours of practice.  The drills seemed pointless at the time, but they actually served a purpose!   They trained you to respond “as you should,” almost without conscious thought.

Animate: Practices
This fall, the Adult Sunday School at my church is doing a study called Animate: Practices.  Essentially it’s an opportunity for us to practice seven different spiritual activities: Prayer, food, worship, sacraments, money, service, and community.  There is an accompanying DVD and journal.  The DVD speakers are well-known Christian pastors, authors, activists, etc., so we can think of these as “coaches” who share what they’ve learned on their journey in hopes that it helps us as we seek to practice.  

Just as my baseball game hasn’t improved that much sitting watching my son’s practices, our ability to pray, worship, serve, and so forth, won’t substantially improve just by watching a DVD.  We have roll up our sleeves and practice what we’ve discussed and seen demonstrated on Sunday.
God’s grace is free but our growth requires effort (practice)
So while the class gatherings are important and the fellowship and discussion is great, I would say the journal is the most critical part.  Each week, there are six exercises related to the activity being studied.  These provide opportunities to practice what we talked about on Sunday during the week. Of course, the exercises are optional, but it’s been said that, “we get out of something what we put in”.  I can’t say I do them all, but I’ll share a few of my experiences in the next few posts.

Next: My experience Practicing Prayer.

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