Practice makes perfect. Remember that saying? Parents, teachers and other leaders from our childhood pushed us toward excellence by encouraging us not to quit, but instead to try, try again.

I’ve come to realize that some of the trials set before us are God-given pushes toward excellence.

They are lessons that teach us how to run with endurance, how to keep going when we want to quit, how to love when we want to lash out. And our response makes all the difference. Not just in terms of our own short-term outcomes, but also for those who are running alongside us, fighting against us, or just quietly watching from the sidelines.

During an unintentionally extended “quiet time” yesterday, a plethora of God’s wisdom washed over me from one devotional and bit of Scripture to the next:

Scripture:

Hebrews 12:1, 3, 12-13: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. Think of all the hostility [Jesus] endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.”

Application:

In between verses 3-12, Paul tells of the Lord’s discipline, with verse 11 promising that “afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.”

It all spins out of this weekend’s message at church, one that I would have sat through again and again if not for our “Gifts and Passions for Serving” class in between services and company coming for Sunday brunch. I intend to view it again online before moving forward in my current “God-given push toward excellence” since this passage from Hebrews zings my heart with four truths that I need burned into my soul:

1. That people are watching to see how this alleged Christ-follower will handle things.

2. That I’ve acknowledged and prayed for an end to my sins of pride and impatience, for my lack of self-control, and for my tendency to hold on to bitterness resulting in judgment, unforgiveness and a desire for vengeance rather than offering grace and mercy — and now I’ve been given another chance to try, try again.

A little clip from the movie Evan Almighty helped me realize that when we pray for such things, God normally doesn’t just zap us with whatever we ask for. Instead, He gives us opportunities to practice and grow the traits we need to develop. Watch this:

(link to 1.51 minute clip: Pray for the Opportunity)

3. That through the training I’ve received by delving into His Word followed by this opportunity to practice what I aspire to, “there will be a peaceful harvest of right living.”

4. That Hebrews 3, 12 & 13 is the Lord Himself speaking to me right now:

        Buck up, Mary! Think about what my Son endured. It puts things in perspective mighty quickly. I know you’re tired, but you can do this. Keep your eyes on Jesus: Do what He did; react in the same humble, loving way. Because these people don’t get it. They have no understanding of right living. Show them.

        Take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are watching—especially those who’ve gone before and will go ahead of you in similar fights—will not fall but become strong.

Not surprisingly, I opened up my second devotional of the day and found good old Charles Stanley referencing Paul’s writing in Philippians 4:10-13 about learned contentment:

        Contentment is learned experientially. This isn’t something you can acquire from a book or sermon, because it’s a process that must be lived out. Paul learned contentment—in persecution, suffering, and prison. The Lord used every difficulty to transform him.

        Situations that cause frustration, anxiety, and displeasure are also the ones God uses to produce contentment in us. When you are fed up with your own grumbling, disappointment, and dissatisfaction, then you are ready to let the Lord teach you His new way of living—in joyous trust (InTouch Magazine – 11/19/18).

And I had to laugh when I read the Scripture from Devotional #3, reminding me again why I love that King David: “David had just been saying, “A lot of good it did to help this fellow. We protected his flocks in the wilderness, and nothing he owned was lost or stolen. But he has repaid me evil for good. May God strike me and kill me if even one man of his household is still alive tomorrow morning!” (1 Samuel 25:21-22).

Oh, that vengeance-filled David…so much like me! But he turned it around, and I will too.

Prayer:

Oh, Father! And to think that I almost closed up my “quiet time” after just my first devotional, always in a hurry to move on to whatever to-do list awaits. I’m so grateful You didn’t let me, so grateful for these days where one message confirms another…and then another. I love it when You tell me so clearly what You want me to think about and do…and be. Mostly that—who You want me to be.

And I love being reminded of the fact that I’m not alone in this. That knowledge poured down on me all day Saturday with sweet and unexpected notes and calls and visits from people who love and support me, some of whom I only met very recently (and reluctantly, now that I think of the UEC weekend that I worked so hard to bow out of), others who I’ve known for years but hadn’t heard from in ages, and those beloved everyday companions who’ve walked this and other hard roads with me. And now today, Paul and David…and good old Charles Stanley.

You are good, Lord. Thank You for giving me yet another chance to practice toward becoming the person You created me to be. Thank You for surrounding me with people who cheer me on when I become weary, and for teaching me how to do the right thing the right way for the right reasons in this practice situation that You’ve placed me in…for my good and for the larger good that only You know.

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

Amen.

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