This week I am enjoying the opportunity to watch a soccer camp that one of our children is attending. The camp has a variety of ages and skill levels. It does not take long to realize that going to this camp will not make the beginning kids better, nor will it make marginal kids reach the next level. The camp is designed to drill basic skills, improve physical endurance by a lot of running and simulating game situations with scrimmages. In the three days the kids are at camp, they are not going to make big leaps in their games or skill levels, they simply cannot in that short of a time period.
As I was sitting observing the highly skilled kids perform and the mid to lower level kids struggle against them, it struck me that what is taught at this camp means nothing without hours of practice at home. Hours of constant repetition of kicking, dribbling, knowing where the ball is without ever looking down, abrupt starts and stops and changing direction. All of these skills are touched on at camp, but they are perfected after hundreds, thousands or millions of repetitions, usually done alone, out of sight of others.
Sounds an awful lot like walking the way of Jesus. People go to church and have varying levels of spiritual maturity based on their experiences. Some are brand new, some have a moderate level of maturity and some are those rock solid believers that most church goers claim they want to be like. But the believer's "skills" are not acquired during the hour or two spent at "camp" on Sunday mornings. That is just where the skills are explained, maybe you get a quick once through, but then comes the real work. Done at home, at work, at the store, in traffic or anywhere else we can practice living like Jesus. The best players at the camp did not just show up that way. I have no idea how many hours and years they have practiced to achieve the level of skill they display.
Likewise, when we see a person who has achieved a consistent level of peace, joy and contentment that we wish we had, just think of the hours, years, decades of practice that it took to reach that level. Greatness in any endeavor only comes through practice. We must practice being gentle, loving, compassionate, forgiving, accepting and faithful. It takes practice. Constant, continual, never-ending practice. If doctors never stop practicing medicine, we should never stop practicing the example that Jesus gave us in the gospels. Greatness only comes from practice.