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From the Preacherman

Practice. The word itself strikes fear and loathing in my soul, memories seared into my psyche long ago, of summer days on football practice fields in Eastman, Georgia, heat and humidity so thick that you could cut them with a knife. Brutal. And gnats. My goodness. Unless you live below the gnat line in Georgia, you have no idea what it is like to inhale a handful of gnats with every breath. Just awful. Any mention of “practice” stirs bad memories in my soul.

However, over the years, I have learned something important: to do a job, to compete or finish a task or be halfway decent at anything takes practice. Whether you are teaching a class, finishing homework, completing a project or preaching a sermon, there is not a single thing any of us can do consistently well without practice.  

My stepsons, Addison and Evan, are avid climbers, mostly at their gym in Bowling Green, Kentucky, but sometimes outside on giant rock walls and cliffs that scare the life out of me. They didn’t become good overnight but only after long and repeated sessions of learning tactics, strengthening muscles and disciplining minds. And falls. Lots of falls. It takes dedication, fearlessness and, well, a little madness to attach yourself to a rock and climb straight up a sheer wall. They are good at it now and getting better. Why? Practice.

Anything I do well is because of practice. Yes, I am a decent preacher, but largely because of repetition and routine and much failure. I joke that I can fall out of bed at 3 a.m. and start talking. That isn’t an issue. I have had to learn how to manage my nerves, which I mostly do. However, if you have ever felt my hands before worship on Sundays, you know: my hands are like ice, my physiological reaction to being nervous. I return to this quote from Frederick Nietzsche:“The essential thing in heaven and earth is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction.” So, I keep at it.

Date night at my house on Thursday evenings is taking out the trash with my wife. I know you are impressed at my extravagant spending but stick with me here. Each week we eat supper together, gather up the refuse from the house, put it in the appropriate containers and walk the cans out to the road. We talk quietly, notice the trees, plants and flowers, the moonrise, animals in the yard, just ordinary things. It is but a tiny practice with my wife, but one we look forward to each week. It matters.

Worship, and many of the things in life that matter, are a long obedience in the same direction. Not every week in worship at church is earth-shattering, nor can it be. But the weekly practice becomes ritual, and we relax, and come to recognize the holy all around us. The routine of writing this is helpful to me, as is, hopefully, your reading of it. My mind is stirred, memories evoked, and spirit opened with the practice. What is your spiritual practice? Find something and stick with it. Who knows what you will find, or what may find you.

Peace … Chris