Updated: Mar 6, 2021
I’m 45 years old, and I still love playing pick-up basketball. Usually when I play, I’m the only female on the court, and these days I’m also the oldest. I was reflecting recently on how natural the game feels, I can go for several months without playing then show up and hit most of my mid-range shots. Without thinking, I can pull out an old-school up and under move on a kid less than 1/2 my age. I can compete with young, athletic guys, because the game is a part of me in a way that feels innate.
I know it’s not innate though. It’s in my blood because I dedicated countless hours of my youth to practice. Most nights in the summer I was playing pick-up under lights at a park near where I grew up. I took hundreds of shots daily with focus on perfecting every detail—sometimes until my hands were completely numb in the driveway. I trained hard—I was committed to being the best I could possibly be. I studied the game by watching and reading about great players and coaches. My practice extended beyond the 2 hour team practice when I was in season, I got gym time before and after. I was disciplined in my diet and only ate and drank things I thought would make me a stronger athlete. I lifted weights and ran bleachers; I jumped on and off of boxes (over and over and over). I even spent weeks at a time doing everything with my left hand (writing, brushing teeth, eating) so I could train my brain to more naturally use my left hand on the court. If a guy wanted to hang out or “date” me, most of our time together was spent on a basketball court.
I’m not saying all this because I’m proud of this (well maybe I’m a little proud that I can still take 22 year olds to the hoop)— but to demonstrate what this disciplined practice has left me with as a middle aged adult. Now I can step onto a court, and playing a game of basketball feels natural. It doesn’t feel forced, or something I have to think about with every move, I just play. Even though my knees don’t work great, my jump shot doesn’t have a whole lot of vertical anymore, and my reflexes are super slow; I still can play this game that’s a part of me—it’s in my muscles, and bones—it’s in my unconscious mind.
I believe this is how we’re to live the Christian life as well. When we decide to turn and follow Jesus with our whole lives, we then commit to the daily practice of becoming godly. Paul says we “labor & strive”— comparing it physical training:
1 Timothy 4: 7: “Train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. 10 That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.”
Along with fast food and microwave dinners, the Modern Church in the US opted for a drive-through version of faith: proclaiming it’s enough to believe the right things about Jesus, and go on living our lives the same way everyone else does (with a little more focus on being a good person).
To be clear: when we come to a relationship with God, it is by grace. We’re saved not because we deserve it in any way: only through God’s love and grace demonstrated through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus. When we begin a new life of Christ’s Way, we decide to radically change our goals and visions of success: our central aim becomes following Christ’s Way—becoming the humans God intended us to be (ultimately demonstrating His love to those around us). Jesus invites people to follow him, becoming a new kind of person, one who begins to see the world as he does, and who becomes possessed with the same view of right living and justice as God has.
This life involves discipline. If a young kid says, “I want to play like Tom Brady.” Our response wouldn’t be: “Well, you know he’s the best, and you have his jersey—so you’re good!”. If we were really interested in helping a youngster become a great athlete, we would instead introduce them to new daily habits to build into their life: eating right, training daily, practicing, learning the fundamentals & practicing them, studying the game, training, practice, sleeping well, and more practice. If we look closely at Tom Brady’s life: we would find incredible daily discipline has allowed him to shine as an amazing athlete.
Likewise, If we decide to follow Jesus: we should look closely at how he lived his life. His practices should be ours. We can find clearly he had life practices: study of scripture (he could quote it at will—and understood its essence deeply), prayer, solitude, fasting, forgiveness, celebration, generosity, simplicity (to name a few). We can’t just expect to get in “the game” and to respond to challenges as Jesus did—we need to prioritize living daily with these practices as a part of our lives. Not as a way of earning God’s favor, but as response to our “hope in the living God” (1 Tim. 4.10); these practices are an essential part of our journey of growth and transformation.
In his book The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard quotes William Iverson: “A pound of meat would surely be affected by a quarter pound of salt. If this is real Christianity, the ‘salt of the earth,’ where is the effect of which Jesus spoke”. Imagine if Christians were committed to following how Jesus lived: if we lived simply so we could give generously, if we spent time in quiet solitude to reflect, pray, and worship, if we practiced forgiveness and hospitality (for even those not typically accepted—as Jesus did). No, but what if we REALLY made these practices/ habits of our everyday life?!