Practice has come, thankfully, back into fashion. But what’s trending is more about how to practice self-discipline. There’s no shortage of books out there on this topic. An example is Jordan B. Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” that entices readers with the antidote for order in a chaotic world. The upside is clear: we move from the hopelessly incurvatus in se of ‘your truth/my truth’ and a destructively antagonistic attitude towards commitment, discipline, and obligation, back into a life actually going somewhere.
The downside is self-absorption: our tendency (as just recently uncommitted, anxious, guilty, often exhausted moderns) will be to practice life the same way we avoided practicing it. Namely, we will practice aimlessly and obsessively and self-consciously, ending up with discouragement and more anxiety, unrealized hopes and unrelieved fears. Worst of all is the gnawing lack of success of our chief desire – the victory of giving and receiving the love of Christ, who has given to us to expend our lives in.
The Basic Idea
Our culture is penduluming out of the unstructured morass of following the inner spinning compass, thank goodness, towards practice. But practicing can be just as counterproductive, just as detached and consumptive and distracting if done as ‘my schedule, my life, my world.’
Remember, practice is completely necessary for our job descriptions as those who lay down our lives for our friends (John 15:13) and enjoy God forever. To give up just because we struggle against self-absorption is to skip the race because we aren’t yet in shape. Take the Scottish philosopher, Alasdair MacIntyre’s reflection on practice. MacIntyre writes about one of the great philosophical defenses of faith, and he does it by talking about virtue, which does by talking about practice. In summary, MacIntyre’s reflection on practice from “After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory,” is this: A ‘practice’ is a beneficial and committed act that brings the goodness inherent in the action to fruition by doing the action excellently. In this, the goodness of the world is expanded.
The Bottom Line
How does someone proceed with excellence in practice? First, a jumping-off what we know practice to be; we have a tendency to make practice only about ourselves. But in fact, practice is really about discipleship – fixing our eyes on Jesus, of looking at Him more and more intently and more committedly and more lovingly and obediently. And since we are called to bear witness, would we not share the Good News with others? If not for looking to Him first, practice will merely accrue to whatever train we are riding on. Without a good reason, we have no shot at real hope. We have to want this Guy, and not just want Him. We have to choose Jesus: the one for whom we are all practicing (1 Timothy 4:15). Jesus has called Himself the Lord of the Harvest, the Bridegroom. It is He who is bountiful and gives us our daily bread.
Join us in giving thanks this season as we lean into committing ourselves to the ‘One from who everyone in Heaven and on earth derives their names’ with more of our heart and mind and body and strength. Lord let the good wind of devotion blow, and blow all over our lives and our land.
Want to know more about practice?
Revisit the November 2018 sermon series, “Practice” as a download or podcast with message titles such as “Honesty,” “Humility,” “Gratitude,” and “Wisdom.”