Pastor’s Perspective – October 2015
In the 1980s I was an aspiring drummer. Even as I went to college to prepare for “real life” there was a part of me that dreamed about touring the nation as one of the giants of rock. During that time in my life I did whatever I could to get an edge or to learn something new. Every month I read a magazine called Modern Drummer, which catered to “wannabe” musicians like me. I read the magazine for years, but there was one interview that I will never forget.
Phil Collins was one of my drum heroes. For those who don’t remember that far back, he was a singer, song writer, pop star, rock star, and the most indemand drummer of his time. He performed as the lead singer and drummer in the band Genesis, he had a thriving solo career, and he produced and played drums for Eric Clapton. He was the drummer who proved that we could also be real musicians and I eagerly awaited what wisdom he might share with this bright-eyed young drummer. I will never forget what he said.
He was asked how much time he spent practicing his drumming. His response floored me. He said that he no longer practiced. He PLAYED so much during a typical day that practicing was no longer necessary or practical. I wasn’t sure what to think. On the one hand this was the statement of a man who did indeed play each and every day, often for hours at a time. It was understandable that he would no longer “practice.” Who needs to practice when you are doing it every night? How many hours of the day was he supposed to sit behind a drum kit when there were so many other things that he could do?
But something clawed at me as I read his words. Was he getting lazy? Had he lost the fire in the belly to be the best? The sad truth is that my hero had plateaued as a drummer. Never again would he reach the heights of percussive genius that he had accomplished in his younger years. From then on it
was all downhill.
The message of that article still haunts me. Once we cease to practice, we cease to improve. Once we stop trying to learn new things and push the boundaries of our abilities, we begin to decline. Mastery presents us with a particular dilemma. If practice is meant to perfect our performance, what happens once we meet our own expectations? Over the years I have continued to consider that scenario. What happens when we stop trying to learn and grow? What happens when all we do is perform and we cease to learn and grow?
I have learned some valuable lessons that have helped me to reframe what practice is about. We do not practice so that we can do what we have already done, we practice so that we might stretch ourselves. We practice so that we can do what we have never done before. So that we can learn something about our abilities or about ourselves.
Practice is not meant to improve the music. Practice is intended to improve the musician.
As a pastor, my job description includes basic Christian practices like praying and studying the scriptures, but as time has gone on, these basic disciplines (things that I used to devote myself to with daily rigor) can slip by the wayside. As the work of the Church presses in, the easiest thing to ignore and eliminate is practice time. It happens so subtly. Pastors around the world have each found themselves thinking, “I no longer have time to read the Bible or devote myself to prayer.” Well that’s alright we might claim, because we are in the Word so frequently and are called upon to pray so often that we don’t really need to carve out the time to practice and hone these foundational activities. Who needs to practice when we are doing it all day every day?
In Christian living, practice is not just important, it is essential. We are never good enough to abandon the disciplines that help us to grow. Furthermore practice, spiritually thinking, is not just a time to sharpen a skill. Christian practice, or spiritual discipline, is actually time spent with God. A disciple of Jesus Christ should never assume that we have enough knowledge, or enough wisdom to act in the name of God, without first spending time at the feet of our Lord Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit in prayer.
We should never stop striving to get better and climb higher. If you believe that you may have stopped growing, let me provide you with a seemingly odd warning. Don’t become trapped in analysis. Many times we explore our lives in order to discern whether we have done something wrong, when we would be better served spending our time doing something RIGHT.
Beware of the trap of regret. Regret can stop you from moving forward into redemption and healing. Regret and guilt cause us to spend more time exploring the past than navigating the future. Worrying about what I did yesterday will not help me to grow tomorrow. So instead of focusing on what I did wrong yesterday, it better to ask forgiveness then turn my face toward Jesus and do what is necessary to follow him today.
This is one of the important lessons that I have learned during my time away. I am now attending to my soul by engaging in time honored spiritual disciplines for the sake of following Jesus as His faithful disciple. And I am inviting you to join me in this worthy and life changing endeavor.
I want to make sure that you understand something about why God is calling us to do this. God is not calling us to follow Him so that we can get more work done and I am not calling you to follow Jesus so that we can build a bigger Church or accomplish more tasks. Jesus is calling you to discipleship because it heals your soul. Following Jesus brings peace and hope. It fills you with love and opens your eyes to the needs of those around you. Remember we don’t practice to improve the music, we practice to improve the musician.
Dallas Willard puts it another way, “ Discipleship is not for the Church. Actually the Church is for discipleship. Discipleship is f o r t h e w o r l d . The world that God so loved, and that He has great hopes for, and that He is going to bring great things out of. That is where discipleship belongs. If we shrink discipleship down to Church work we will never see its power to transform the world.”
Read that again. Our spiritual practices are not so that the Church can grow. Our church is here so that we can engage in spiritual practices and disciplines. And more importantly it is through that process of becoming disciples of Jesus Christ through faithful practice and prayer that we can experience the power of God and transform the world through His love and grace.
We cannot grow in strength and vision without visiting the well of God’s grace and mercy through the many spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, silence, and the study of scripture. Jesus Christ is offering to us new life. Only by embracing this new life in Christ and striving to devote ourselves to the work of discipleship and the transformation of our heart and minds by the renewal of our Souls can we BE the Church that can transform the world. Once we are vessels of God’s love and grace, once we are a healed and healthy Church, then growth will naturally occur.
Let us devote ourselves to the practice of prayer and discipleship because when we follow Jesus Christ our best days are never behind us. In Jesus Christ the best is yet to come!