I had a basketball coach in high school that used to say something repeatedly during our daily practices. He’d say, “Practice doesn’t make perfect…perfect practice makes perfect.”
Now, I don’t want you to focus on the word “perfect” there. I think we can all agree that none of us will ever be perfect. But what my coach was really getting at is that you can’t expect to perform at the top of your game if you haven’t practiced at the top of your game.
Noted theologian Dallas Willard discusses this in his book Spirit of the Disciplines. He draws a comparison to famous athletes – like a baseball player. Kids all over the country will try to imitate the way their favorite baseball player performs during the game. However, they aren’t practicing or lifting weights like that player is outside of the game. It would be silly to think that I could go into a Major League Baseball game and expect to hit a home run simply by imitating the way Anthony Rizzo stands at the plate. The point is, I’ll never perform like Anthony Rizzo unless I practice like Anthony Rizzo.
I say all of that, because I think our passage for today is all about practice. We’re talkin’ about practice, man. (Hopefully someone understands that reference.)
Jesus first says in Matthew 5:17 that he did not come “to abolish the Law or the Prophets…” When we’re talking about the law here, Jesus is discussing The Ten Commandments and Jewish laws of conduct. These were rules about Jewish daily practice.
Many times we talk about how Jesus brought in new rules. That belief in Him comes through faith alone and not through works. To that I would say…of course that’s true!
How can both be true, though? How can Jesus say that he didn’t come to do away with the law and yet also say that belief is through faith?
To answer that, I encourage you to look at the Book of James.
Believing in Christ – salvation – comes through faith alone. That point is made clear throughout the Bible. That faith, according to James, is dead without works, though. That is why Jesus talks about the Law in our passage for today. He says that the Law will always be with us because true believers will obey God’s commandments. That’s just the natural outpouring of the faith that they have. Again, it’s all about practice.
So, what does that mean for you?
Well, it would be easy to fall into the common idea that we have to keep a checklist of everything we’re supposed to do and try to check off all our “good works” every day. I am not telling you to do this.
Let’s go back to athlete example again. I’m using Anthony Rizzo since he’s the best player on my favorite team, the Chicago Cubs. When Anthony Rizzo practices and lifts weights to prepare for a baseball game, he enjoys it. Oh, I’m sure there are days where he doesn’t like fielding groundballs or practicing a toss to first for the pitcher covering the bag. In general, though, he enjoys the process of practice because it will help him perform better in the game.
We get to have a relationship with the Creator God. He has saved us. He loves us. Those facts alone should compel me to follow Him.
Now, I’m going to stop here for a second. Maybe you’re reading this thinking, “But I don’t particularly enjoy waking up early and reading my Bible.” Then find a way to interact with God that you do enjoy. Maybe try reading the Bible at night. Maybe only read a few verses instead of an entire chapter. Maybe you like to write and you’d rather write a letter to God instead of trying to sit down and pray for 30 minutes. God wants to have a relationship with you. He wants to spend time with you. Find a way that you enjoy.
The bottom line is this: you need to build a daily practice of interacting with God. That is the outflow of the faith within you if indeed you have a saving faith in Jesus Christ as your one, true Savior. Jesus makes it clear here that you must practice these habits if you are to enter into his kingdom.
So today, try one thing. Read the Bible in a new way. Draw a picture. Write God a letter. Find some practice that you enjoy that can be a way of interacting with God. As it becomes a daily habit, you will see God speaking to you in whole new ways. And that is the exact type of relationship that Jesus came to start.