I was seven years old when I went to my first piano lesson. For ten years, my mom drove me to a country house ten minutes from our own where my beloved piano teacher would teach me theory and technique and remind me of the secret of every great pianist:
“Practice makes perfect!”
These three words were loaded with promise. I remember hearing them when starting a new and challenging piece. It was intended to motivate and encourage, and there was certainly some truth to the words. It inspired me to practice nearly every day, in the hope of one day being able to play the black-and-whites with mastery.
But it was also a phrase loaded with pressure, especially to a seven-year-old girl who thought “perfect” the only acceptable result.
To be clear, I’m all about the practice. Diligent hard work and determination are important. Eventually, I grew up to be a piano teacher myself. I know the power of consistent practice — in piano and in life.
But the perfection? It was an impossible target — one I could never seem to hit, no matter the amount of my hard work and commitment. Before each recital, I practiced my piece over and over again, determined to get it right. But then the day of my performance showed up, along with an overwhelming fear of failure, and all evidence of my prior practice seemed to fly out the window. No one else may have noticed my less-than-perfect performance, but I knew. And my disappointment in myself was real.
I’ve discovered the same to be true in my spiritual life. I read my Bible and go to church. I try to do what is right and live in such a way that would please God. But no sooner do I close the pages of my Bible and say “amen” do I find myself tripping on my pride or impatience, or reluctant to forgive and quick to judge. As Paul famously said in Romans 7:18-19, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.”
Practice makes perfect? Not so much. Determination and self-will cannot make me the woman I want to be. No matter my good intentions or how hard I try, I never quite hit the mark. Yes, the disciplines of reading my Bible, prayer, and spending time in a community of other believers certainly help me grow and become more like Jesus. But the gap between the person I am and the perfection I desire can only be bridged by an extraordinary grace:
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:21-25 (NIV)
My friend, if you’re feeling the weight of wretchedness, if you want to cringe at the myriad ways you try to live like Jesus and yet fail time and again, you’re in good company. I’ve been following Jesus for over forty years now, and some days I barely make it to breakfast before I see evidence of my broken humanity.
And yet, I see evidence of His transforming in spite of myself. Although I am not yet who I want to be, I’m no longer who I once was. And when I fall on His grace in recognition of my great need, I find His power waiting for me. It is there I can leave my hard work and determination behind and, instead, rest in His work — His saving work on the cross. It is His performance that matters, not mine.
“It is finished,” He said (John 19:30).
Yes, it is. The real work is already done. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
You too, friend. You, too.Leave a Comment