By Brianna Hines
Believe it or not, I play a little piano. I took lessons for many years as a child, and again in college. Learning to play an instrument was a high priority in our house growing up and so all of my siblings also took years and years of music lessons. However, there is a very good reason why you will never see me plunking a keyboard in the worship band. The fact of the matter is, I am just not very good. Sure, I can play a few simple tunes by heart, and if I sat down and put some work into it, I might be able to learn to play chords for some worship songs, but no one will ever pay me to play the piano.
There is one simple reason for this: I hated practicing. Practicing piano was absolute drudgery for me. My mom was constantly having to force me to sit down for a half hour each day and practice my lessons. I hated it. I didn’t like the songs I was learning, I loathed sight reading, and practicing scales was pure torture. I much preferred playing songs by ear and learning them by heart to avoid the wretched task of sight reading. I also tried learning songs that I loved, but were much too difficult for my skill level. I was not only lazy, but also impatient with the learning process.
Practicing the spiritual disciplines has much in common with practicing an instrument as Donald Whitney says in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Sometimes it can feel like drudgery — day in and day out forcing ourselves to complete a checklist of items and white knuckling our way through every minute of it. Or worse, we merely practice them in fits and spurts, usually the result of short-lived passion or guilt from a convicting sermon or book (much like a lecture from our mother would send us to the piano bench). We know we must practice these things like prayer, Bible reading, meditation, and worship, but we do them out of obligation and without consistency, skill, or enjoyment while still wanting to reap the benefits of a rich relationship with the Lord. Often, and especially in my case, we are not only lazy, but also impatient with the learning process.
How can we possibly succeed in practicing the spiritual disciplines if all our attempts feel like absolute drudgery? I would argue that a simple shift of our mindset has the power to completely transform our pursuit of the spiritual disciplines into something we not only desire to do, but enjoy doing as well.
I once got to watch a woman play a song on the piano that brought me to tears. Her fingers flew across the keys, and she played with such emotion and passion that I couldn’t help but stare in awe. It is a thing of beauty to witness someone perform expertly, a skill that they seem born to do. That level of skill is only possible after years of consistent practice and likely expert teaching as well. I can almost guarantee that someone of that caliber didn’t spend every hour of her practicing hating the piano. She didn’t focus on the drudgery. She probably sat down most days and thought of the feeling she got every time she would play her favorite song, and it would give her courage to begin the hard work of learning a new one. Or she would picture a favorite musician of hers and hear the notes of their inspiring melody in her mind and imagine how incredible it would be to one day play as they did.
I failed to do this with my piano lessons as a kid. All I saw was work, and the small reward of playing a few songs I didn’t get to choose and I really didn’t like was not enough for me to practice regularly. I had entirely the wrong mindset! Today, if I had as my inspiration the ability to play my favorite piano song with skill and emotion as I glided over the keys, then I would have an entirely different view of my practicing. Practice is merely a means to an end, that end being the joy of playing a song on the piano with passion and skill. My practice is not shackling me to the piano bench. It is the very road to my freedom to do something I desperately love doing and long to do: playing the piano well.
Likewise, the spiritual disciplines are not punishment for the weary and guilt-ridden Christian. They are the very tools to bring us to that place of spiritual freedom that allows us to pray without ceasing, recite verses from memory in a time of need, and understand and teach the Word with skill and wisdom like all of the heroes of the faith before us!
I long to know how to pray with the same passion and perseverance as Yvonne Long and Carol Lazar! I yearn to teach Bible study with the same depth and wisdom as Jamie Harms and Kathleen Harwood! I want desperately to one day have large portions of the Bible memorized like a godly woman from my hometown! All of these things would bring me great joy! Practicing them consistently and with the tutelage of wise believers both living and those whose voices echo through the pages of their books written generations previous, will bring me ever closer to this joy. Practicing the spiritual disciplines is not drudgery at all, but the very ladder by which we can ascend ever higher toward the freedom and joy of worshiping our Heavenly Father more and better than we did yesterday.
This January we will focus on the specific spiritual discipline of fasting. We will look at what the Bible has to say about it and how generations of believers have pursued this practice of denying self for the glory of the Father. We will compare biblical fasting to that of the world, and open a discussion about this often neglected spiritual discipline and how it can provide an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work in us in a way that we may never have allowed Him to before. I hope you will join us on the journey, and that, if nothing else, it may shift your mindset of the spiritual disciplines from being drudgery to actually being freedom. See you January 6!