Challenge Central: a CBC devotional
By: Casey Korstanje
An American polling company recently decided to study what effect the Covid-19 pandemic had on churches and church life.
What struck me was their methodology. When presenting its conclusions, the company said it had polled “practicing Christians” for its research.
The firm defined a “practicing Christian” as “someone who attends church at least once a month.”
Yes, I blinked as well when I read that.
I am guessing that whatever conclusions the polling company eventually came to were targeted toward a secular audience. Christians, “practicing” or otherwise, already knew the answers.
But I kept thinking about the word “practicing.”
Overwhelmingly, for me anyway, the word carries a musical connotation. Most every afternoon, I tell Laurie that “I’m just going to go downstairs to blow my own horn.”
But here’s the thing, “practicing” your instrument is not the same as “playing” your instrument.
When you play your instrument, if you have achieved any facility at all, people listen and may derive pleasure from your effort. They may sing along or clap when you’re finished. And if you are really good, people will even pay to hear you play.
When you practice your instrument, they close the door.
Practicing is about metronomes, repetition, problem-solving, technique, working out fingerings, memorization, breath control, rhythm, and more rhythm, and did I mention rhythm? Practice is about setting goals and incremental improvement.
In the practice room, you are alone, but not completely. There is another felt presence there as you labour on. It’s your teacher, your conductor, or both, before whom, sooner or later, you will once again be sitting and presenting the results of your labour for their judgment and guidance.
In the practice room, the “master” is always watching.
Learning any new skill means eventually realizing that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” And you need a teacher, a guide.
In the Psalms, we find this: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. (Psalm 32:8 ESV)
A practicing Christian goes to Lord for instruction through the Bible and prayer.
At the end of June, Paul Nicholson, the music director/conductor of the Brantford Memorial Concert Band, took three of his most inexperienced members (me and two others) and offered, in an act of unbelievable generosity, to study with us over the summer before band started again in September. Of course, we said “yes.” And then, every Monday morning over the whole summer, we four played music together.
Practicing is about working on the things you need to work on, not the things you already know.
Paul formed us into a saxophone quartet, and we played song after song together, each with our own parts. In a big ensemble, like the band with 50 other musicians, you can more or less hide if you get lost or lose count. In a quartet, you can’t.
Paul knew that what we three needed most was ensemble experience. Playing together forced us to keep count in our heads, blend with the others, and reach for musicality.
Admittedly there were times when Psalm 32:9 applied: “be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.” (ESV)
Come September, when band regathered, I realized that my ability to count had strengthened, and I felt just a little bit more secure than before.
All summer, Paul had selflessly shared his gifts and talent with us. That’s what practicing your faith looks like.
A practicing Christian is not someone who attends church once a month.
A practicing Christian is someone who gives, who shares, who prays, who studies, who loves, and who worships. A practicing Christian senses God’s presence and knows they will one day be sitting before Him and laying what they have practiced at His feet.
Jesus puts it this way: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matt 7:24 NIV)