by Carren Marvin
As a high school English teacher, I try to inspire teenagers to adopt the lifetime habit of reading. To help them, I use the analogy of an athlete in training. “You can’t get better at your three-point shot or have the stamina to run a marathon without a lot of practice,” I remind them. Practice, as we all know, is often grueling and sometimes even downright frustrating.
I don’t believe for a minute that practice makes perfect; even prodigious athletes make mistakes sometimes. I am certain, however, that practice makes permanent. What you do often becomes second nature because you’ve practiced so many times that your brain naturally remembers what to do.
“Reading is the same way,” I explain to my students. Even to my honors-level students, I emphasize that you simply have to practice, practice, practice. That’s how you’ll get better at understanding. That’s how your speed will improve. That’s how you become a reader.
Christians would be wise to remember that the fruits of the Spirit—like strong reading skills—are not automatic. Christians can’t just pray for God to make them more holy and then sit back and enjoy instantaneous righteousness.
Not surprisingly, Scripture uses an athletic connection to reinforce how we become both holy and wholly devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Paul urged Timothy to “train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7) and reminded him later that Scripture itself is valuable for “training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Paul seems to be saying that you will become holy by becoming holy on purpose. Timothy was advised to train for it, practice it, and be intentional about it. In order for righteousness to become our natural way of living—in order for holy choices to be so automatic that our brain doesn’t even think twice—we must practice it on purpose. Even when we don’t feel like it, we must practice the fruits of the Spirit.
Will this practice make us perfect? No. But it will go a long way in making permanent the transformation Christ calls us to.