Practice Makes Perfect

“Champions keep playing until they get it right.” (Billie Jean King)

Ability is a gift we are born with. It is a natural quality that is in us. Skill is the honing of that ability through vision, determination, commitment, effort and hard work. Behind the appearance of effortless skill is a story of tireless training and practice to perfection.

At a crucial time in Israel’s history, the leaders looked for soldiers who were both able and highly skilled in a specific field of warfare. Before the days of bombs, guns and bayonets, stone throwing was the effective weapon of choice.

Among all these were 700 chosen men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. (Judges 20:16)

Practice your skill

The 700 men mentioned in this verse were not born with an innate ability with the slingshot. To get this good at throwing stones requires some serious training. A single hair is some target, and every one of these men could guarantee to hit it every time. We may be born gifted, but we only become consistently excellent by hard work and practice. Unrelenting practice may be unappealing, but it is the only way to get this good. We are all gifted at something. Let’s get practicing it.

Perfect your skill

In every arena of life there is a distinction between the good and the excellent, the average and the exceptional, the competitor and the medal winner. A moderate stone throwing ability is always overshadowed by perfect precision every time. These 700 men didn’t just practice. They went the extra mile and perfected their skill until they were faultless. Not only could they hit a hair, which any stone thrower could do. They couldn’t miss. We are all gifted at something. Let’s get perfecting it.

Perform your skill

There came a day when qualified stone throwers were needed. In the hour of need, the leaders didn’t look for sloppy, average amateurs. Those who had honed their skill to perfection were called upon for the historic battle. The seemingly endless hours of practice paid off when their skill was required. When the time came they were ready to step up and perform flawlessly. 700 men saved the day by performing their well practiced, perfected skill. We are all gifted at something. Let’s get performing it.

“Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.” (Unknown) We are all gifted at something, and God wants to maximise that talent for his glory. Let’s train and practice in such a way that when we are called upon we are ready for action.

How Did Jesus Learn?

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” (Benjamin Franklin)

Learning is the acquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience, or being taught. Growth and development in any area of life requires a commitment to ongoing learning.

A consequence of the incarnation was that Jesus had to learn. “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8) He had to learn in every area, and from a young age he was thoroughly dedicated to learning.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. (Luke 2:46-47)

He listenedsitting among the teachers, listening to them

By the age of twelve, Jesus had learned how to listen. Sitting with seasoned teachers, he listened avidly to their wisdom. “Let the wise hear and increase in learning.” (Proverbs 1:5) What was true for Jesus is necessary for all of us. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak.” (James 1:19) It is through listening that we acquire knowledge and learn wisdom. Our current knowledge is partial (1 Corinthians 13:9), and we are encouraged to add knowledge to our faith (2 Peter 1:5). “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction.” (Proverbs 1:8) A good learner is a good listener.

He questionedand asking them questions

Sat in the temple among the teachers, Jesus asked questions. Rather than simply listening, he engaged with the learning experience by asking the right sort of questions. The New Testament is full of examples of people asking questions of the rabbis or teachers. Learning is always enhanced through the asking of questions. There may be a negative aspect to curiosity, but the Bible thrives on it. “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” (Albert Einstein) Questioning everything with a positive attitude is a sure way to grow. A good learner asks good questions.

He participatedthey were amazed at his understanding and his answers

Our own education, growth and development is never entirely the responsibility of someone else. An increase in knowledge and wisdom requires a thirst for learning on our part. While sitting in the temple at the age of twelve, Jesus didn’t just receive from others, he also contributed to the class. It seems he had as much to say as the teachers. Engagement in discussion and the forming of informed opinion is essential to education. A good learner participates.

“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.” (Anthony J. D’Angelo) Jesus was passionate about learning, and so should his followers be. The path of discipleship is a journey of learning. Commit to being a life long learner.

Pole Position

“Position yourself well.” (Mason Cooley)

Positioning is about situating ourselves in a state of readiness for what is to come. It is locating ourselves in a place which is most conducive for progress. If we are well positioned we are prepared when opportunity knocks.

A brief glimpse into the early life of Jesus shows him carefully positioning himself for the road ahead. At the age of twelve he was already preparing himself for the future.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. (Luke 2:46)

He was in the right placethey found him in the temple

A plant grows when it is planted in an ideal location with good soil. People grow when they put themselves in the right place. “They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God.” (Psalm 92:13) While other young boys were playing games, Jesus was in the house of God, sitting among those from whom he could learn. “And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 11:24-25) A good church is at the centre of a thriving Christian’s life. Be in the right place.

He was with the right peoplesitting among the teachers

We are largely a product of the influences on us. For better or worse, our character, thinking and actions are formed by the people around us. “No man is an island entire of itself.” (John Donne) We are social beings, and so in its purest sense there is no such thing as independent thinking. “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.'” (1 Corinthians 15:33) In his formative years, Jesus was found with people who loved the scripture and wanted to talk about it. Who we mix with, read, listen to and follow really does matter. It can make or break us. Godly orthodox people are at the centre of a thriving Christian’s life. Get with the right people.

He had the right posturelistening to them and asking questions

Attitude is everything. We can be in a privileged position, with multiple opportunities available to us. But it is attitude that determines where we go in life. Two people can sit in the same environment, surrounded by the same people, and one may thrive while the other is lost. Opportunities only benefit those who apply themselves. Jesus was in the temple, surrounded by teachers, but he was not staring into space wishing the time away. He was listening, questioning, and engaging with the opportunity. Those of us living in western economies are not short on opportunity. Engagement with, and application of God given opportunities are central to a thriving Christian’s life. Develop a good attitude.

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action.” (1 Peter 1:13) Spiritual growth is not automatic, and it should never be assumed. It requires us to position ourselves in the right place, among the right people, with the right attitude.

Qualified

“I am (un)Qualified.” (Steven Furtick)

To be qualified means to have the appropriate skills, accomplishments, training and experience for a given purpose, office, position, or task. It is having complied with the specific requirements or conditions required for a particular function.

When the first temple was commissioned in the Old Testament, men were carefully selected to work on the project based on specific criteria.

The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship.” (Exodus 31:1-3)

He was calledsee, I have called by name Bezalel

The first qualification for service in building the temple was calling. Bezalel and his associates did not put themselves forward as volunteers for the task. Their involvement in the project originated with God. They were individually chosen and called. They served because of the compulsion of the call. There was no escaping it. All ministry in the spiritual temple, the church, begins with the personal call of God. “And no one takes this honour for himself, but only when called by God.” (Hebrews 5:4) Bezalel served because he was called.

He was charismaticand I have filled him with the Spirit of God

The second qualification for service in building the temple was charisma. Being filled with the Holy Sprit was not optional. A task so important as the construction of God’s house required an empowerment that was beyond natural human ability. All ministry in the gospel age relies on the anointing of the Holy Spirit. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The baptism in the Holy Spirit is essential. Bezalel served because he was charismatic.

He was competentwith ability and intelligence, with knowledge and craftsmanship

The third qualification for service in building the temple was competence. No amount of spirituality could compensate for an incompetent builder. Bezalel and his colleagues were endowed with practical skill. They were good at what they did. Since living stones are more important than a physical building, it is essential that those in Christian ministry are competent. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) Bezalel served because he was competent.

“God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called.” (Unknown) This was certainly the case for Bezalel, who entirely by grace was called, anointed and equipped for service. It is true also for everyone who serves God today. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3) If, by God’s grace, we are called, charismatic, and competent, we are qualified.

Where Is God When You Need Him?

“I guess the only time most people think about injustice is when it happens to them.” (Charles Bukowski)

Injustice is everywhere in the world. It seems to have reached epidemic proportions. In the face of oppression people of faith have a responsibility to speak up. “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

But where is God in a chaotic world of evil and violence, where good people suffer and the wicked prosper? For the Israelite slaves in ancient Egypt he was at work behind the scenes, raising up a Moses and an Aaron to speak up and act on their behalf.

Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings.” (Exodus 3:7)

God seesI have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt

There is nothing that escapes God’s careful attention. Whether it is our own personal needs or the gross injustice against the most vulnerable in our world, God observes everything. “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13) The Israelites endured harsh slavery in Egypt, but God saw every detail, and in time he acted on what he had seen. God has missed nothing, and there is coming a Day when he will pass judgment on all he has seen and set everything right. God sees.

God hearsI have heard their cry because of their taskmasters

Prayer never goes unnoticed in heaven. “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:17) The plea for justice from the the poor, marginalised and mistreated is heard. As the Israelites cried out in the despair of their slavery, God heard them. They may have thought they were ignored, abandoned, and forgotten, but their cause was heeded in the courts of God. The answers to prayer may feel like they are a long time in coming, but when God is ready he acts on what he has heard. Prayer works. God hears.

God knowsI know their sufferings

If God is almighty, why is there suffering in the world? This is the perennial question that refuses to be settled. Yet the Bible reveals a God who knows all about suffering. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) The cross displays a God who knows, feels, and understands suffering. “Jesus is the ultimate Job, the only truly innocent sufferer.” (Tim Keller) When the Israelites cried out to God in their pain, he knew what they were going through. When people suffer, God truly understands. God knows.

“Oh LORD, why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1) The Israelites could well have asked this question while in Egypt. Multitudes may ask the same question today. But God does not overlook anything. One day the Judge of all the earth will do right, “When he comes to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at among all who have believed.” (2 Thessalonians 1:10) In the meantime, he commissions Christian believers to practice pure and undefined religion, and to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). When the afflicted cry out, God sees, God hears, and God knows.

Pioneer

“In a word I was a pioneer, and therefore had to blaze my own trail.” (Marshall Walter ‘Major’ Taylor)

A pioneer is a person who is one of the first people to do something, or who is first to open up and settle in an area; a person who begins or helps develop something new and prepares the way for others to follow.

By definition, people of faith are pioneers. From Abraham onwards, pilgrimage has necessitated the pioneer spirit. Gospel proclamation and world evangelisation are pioneering activities. Paul the apostle, from his conversion, was called to be a pioneer.

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15)

Pioneering peoplehe is a chosen instrument

The gospel is not spread by organisations. It is proclaimed by people. God’s instrument of choice is always a person or a group of people. “And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land.” (Ezekiel 22:30) Paul had no background experience in evangelism among Gentiles, and there was no previous work for him to build on. He was a pioneer. Two millennia later there is a greater need than ever for pioneering believers to evangelise the world.

Pioneering purposeto carry my name

Central to the ministry of the church is the goal of knowing Christ and making Him known across the globe. Most of the world in Paul’s day was ignorant of the gospel. It was his commission to take the name of Jesus into the unevangelised areas of Asia Minor and Europe, proclaiming the good news, leading people to Christ, and establishing churches. Two thousand years have passed, and yet there are more people alive today who are unaware of Jesus Christ than at any time in history. The pioneering purpose of making Christ known is as vital as ever.

Pioneering placesbefore the gentiles

Starting a new community of faith in the shadow of an existing living church is not the same as pioneering the gospel in unreached areas of the world. “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.'” (Romans 15:20-21) Paul was a pioneer in new places, taking the gospel to unevangelised territory. With so much of the contemporary world unreached with the gospel, there is still a call for pioneer missionaries to pioneer the gospel in pioneer places.

“We are all time voyagers leaving history in our wake, pioneering into the future.” (Erwin McManus) It is the pioneer spirit that transforms Christianity from a boring religious observance into an adventure of faith. Don’t be a settler, be a pioneer.

Preparation

“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Preparation is the action or process of preparing or being prepared for use. Anything of worth that is durable has in its history the hard work of preparation.

In Christian ministry, success comes, fruit grows, and harvests are reaped, but only in proportion to the preparation that takes place. Paul the apostle is a good example of a man whose influential ministry was founded on a lengthy season of preparation.

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas. (Galatians 2:1)

Preparation requires obscurity

At some point after his conversion and initial preaching ministry, Saul went to Tarsus and stayed there for a number of years. What happened to him during most of that period is unclear. Which is exactly the point. The dynamic apostle spent the early years of his Christian experience in obscurity. Whatever discipleship and spiritual formation was taking place, it happened in private. The same is true for all who are called to serve God. There is a protracted season of preparation in secret. Preparation requires obscurity.

Preparation requires time

Saul’s time of spiritual training was not short. The season of preparation lasted for years. There was much that Saul had to unlearn, some things that he had to relearn, and much more that he had to learn for the first time. There is no doubt that Saul was gifted. But he was not ready. Whatever took place in those years is between God and Saul, and it took time to accomplish. For all who are eager to serve God, there is a lengthy period of preparation which cannot be rushed. Preparation requires time.

Preparation requires faith

‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ (Hebrews 11:1) Saul was a gifted man who was converted, called, and commissioned to preach the gospel. Yet so much of his early Christian experience allowed little or no expression for his ministry. The period of preparation required Saul to trust God, that one day the prophetic promise given at his conversion would come to pass. For everyone who is called to Christian service, the long journey of preparation takes faith and builds strong confidence in God. Preparation requires faith.

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe.” (Abraham Lincoln) Talent alone is not enough for service in the kingdom of God. All effective ministry requires preparation.