The gospel is nothing if not practical. God was more interested in helping us live our lives every day than equipping us to sit in dusty rooms arguing theology. So today let’s be eminently practical.
I am sure you have heard “practice makes perfect” your entire life. It is wrong. The only thing practice makes is permanent.
One of the things I had to train many of my piano students to do was to practice correctly. They would come in with the same mistakes week after week. First they played the wrong note (the same wrong note in the same piece at every lesson), and then they would correct it. What they had taught themselves to do was to play the wrong note first, then stop and play the right one. Correcting it did not make the competition judge happy. He wanted a perfect performance the first time.
When their poor practice habits became obvious, we had to start all over. First I had them tell me the name of the correct note, saying the name aloud several times which I then repeated to them. “Right, it’s an F#, an F#, an F#.” Then I had them find that note and play it with the correct finger, while saying its name over and over. Then I had them play the note before it and after it until they played that three note sequence correctly no less than three times in a row. If they made a mistake, we started counting all over.
Then we backed up one measure and played past it one measure, once again until they could do it correctly three times in a row. Then we backed up one phrase and played past it one phrase until they could play the three phrases correctly three times in a row. You get the picture. We practiced it correctly over and over, using as many senses as possible, hearing ourselves say the correct name of the note, feeling the correct note under the finger, seeing the correct note both on the page and as we played it, and then playing through without the bad habit of doing it wrong first. Usually that took care of the problem.
What do we do as Christians? Do we teach ourselves to do it wrong first, then pray for forgiveness over and over, constantly making the same mistakes? Practice makes permanent. Maybe it is time to do a little analysis.
Why do I keep doing the same thing again and again? “That’s just the way I am,” is not an acceptable reason; it is a lame excuse. God expects us to change the way we are. If it took such detailed, tedious work to undo a bad habit in a piano piece, why do we think we don’t have to really work at it to undo a bad habit in our thoughts or behaviors, where Satan is actively pulling against us? Some of my students may have been little devils, but that is not why they played wrong notes! So why should sin be easier to fix?
Often just the fact that I am owning up to my sin and thinking about the problem will do a world of good, but if you really want to make progress—and I assume we all do--it takes more effort than that..
Make a plan and follow it. Find three times in the day to pray about that particular problem. Find three passages about that sin and read them over and over. The next day pray again and find three more passages. Do that every day, praying, listing and reading. Keep a journal of all the times that problem rears its ugly head. Write down every detail of the situation, how it happened, what caused it, and how you handled, or mishandled, it--without blaming anyone else. When you finally have a victory, celebrate with a prayer of thanksgiving and your favorite hymn. Call a friend with whom you have shared your problem (James 5:16) and tell them about it so they can rejoice with you.
You do not have to do all of these things in all of these particular ways and numbers, but do something to help yourself kick the habit. Think about how you set about to lose weight, keeping track of what you eat (including the no-noes) and how much you exercise each day. Remember how those nicotine patch commercials show people stepping down one level at a time till they reach their goal? But you should be stepping UP one level at the time to reach yours.
Practice makes permanent. Make sure you are practicing correctly.
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God,
1 John 3:9.