I took piano lessons when I was in like 3rd grade. That’s one of those things that I hated at the time, like reading Huckleberry Finn, that I wish now I had paid more attention as a kid. I wanted to play like Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder (I was a precocious little kid). Of course, since I didn’t have prodigious musical talent, I would have to practice a lot in order to get there. My story is the same as everyone else’s; practice is boring and Schubert’s Lullaby did not sound anything like Superstition.
Perspective, though, tells me now that I’m older and wiser (well, the former for sure) that neither Billy nor Stevie got there either without that kind of practice, either. They just were committed enough to realize their goals and put in the work to make that happen. They were also blessed with loads of that prodigious talent that I was not.
As far as growing the same way as people of faith, we are told pretty clearly that we need to practice. 2 Peter Chapter one talks about this, as do a number of other places (Galatians 5, James 1 and 2 are a few that come to mind). The thing is, how do you know what that looks like? John 14:15 says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” That’s good advice, but we also are told how hard that is to do by Christ himself, pretty much continually.
This also reminds me of the various cute but meaningless clichés churches like to throw out there to make us feel better: “God is my co-pilot” or “Give your decisions up to God.” I can’t think of a third one, but I’m sure they’re out there. What does that look like? How can we identify the spiritual equivalent of Stevie Wonder at the piano? How do we even know if we are making progress?
Tiger Woods, arguably the best golfer ever, doesn’t win every tournament he plays in; the best out there have their bad days, too. What does that mean for us? Especially when in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul explains the expression of the Spirit in believers looks different, how do I know what that kind of progress should look like in me? The easy answer is when you are walking in the Spirit or living in God’s Will, you’ll just know it. And sometimes that’s inarguably true. But there’re a lot of times where it’s just not that clear. Those are the times when identifying the right way to go isn’t something you just know. Those are the times I am talking about.
The promise that comes with doing this right is so dramatic, that asking these questions to get it right is very important, and certainly worth the effort. In John 14:23, Jesus explains the conclusion to 14:15: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Sounds like a pretty good deal, even if I can’t play River of Dreams.