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The Need for Constant Practice

Next year is an Olympic year and in the summer of 2008, athletes will converge on Beijing to complete in 302 events across 28 different sports. Already we are beginning to hear about qualifying events and national Olympic committees choosing the teams they will send to China to represent their countries. There isn’t an athlete who isn’t already dreaming of earning a spot on the Olympic team and earning a gold medal for his country.

Athletes know that to earn a spot on the team and to have any hope of bringing home a medal, they need to commit to a serious training regimen. Though the Olympics are still almost 300 days away from the opening ceremonies, all around the world men and women are preparing themselves, pushing their bodies to the limits, enduring grueling competitions, so they can be at their absolute best when the games kick off on August 8, 2008. Only with constant practice, constant attention to their sport, will these athletes be ready to perform at the highest standards. Only those who are absolutely dedicated to their sport will win the prize.

This weekend I read Craig Brown’s The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism, a small book that has just been published by Ligonier Ministries. It is a book that seeks to address five of the most common charges against Calvinistic theology, showing how Calvinism ultimately addresses these issues in a way that is faithful to Scripture. In a brief Foreword to this book, R.C. Sproul says something that resonated in my mind throughout the weekend. He first quotes Hebrews 5:12-14 which reads. “[E]veryone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Sproul than says, “In other words, there is much to the Scriptures and the Christian faith beyond what immediately meets the eye, and it is not easy to get at it—‘constant practice’ is necessary to move from the ‘unskilled’ state to that of ‘mature’ and ‘trained.’ Even Peter acknowledged the difficulty of doctrine when he said of the letters of his colleague Paul, the apostle who, more than any other, laid down the doctrinal basics of the Christian faith: ‘There are some things in them that are hard to understand’ (2 Peter 3:16b). He was right. For this reason, I would be suspicious of any doctrinal system I could thoroughly grasp with ease.”

As I was writing The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment I spent quite a bit of time studying and pondering those verses from Hebrews 5. I found them challenging verses and ones that had important things to tell us about discernment and its deep connection to spiritual maturity. I’ve written about that here in the past in a three-part Call to Discernment.

But the verses are also a challenge to us in that they exhort us to constant practice. All around the world Olympic athletes are practicing as they gear up for the Olympics, hoping that they can bring a medal home with them. And yet many Christians seemed lulled into complacency about the spiritual matters that are of far greater importance than any athletic competition. The Bible is clear, not only in Hebrews but in other passages, that God expects and demands maturity. He expects that we will move beyond the unskilled state to the state of one who is mature and trained—the state of one who is ready to be challenged.

As I read these words from Hebrews and as I pondered their significance I was led to ask myself, “What have I done today to prepare myself?” I am certain that this is a question athletes must ask themselves every day as well. And I asked again this morning, “What will I do to practice today?” To be a man who is mature in my faith and to be a person who is ready to have my faith challenged, I must practice and I must dedicate myself to maturity. Have I done those things God requires of me in order to mature in my faith? Have I given time to learning from Him in the Bible? Have I spent time communing with Him in prayer? Have I dedicated myself to a local church and to sharing my life with other Christian men and women? If I wish to be mature, I must train. And if I am to be mature, I must train in the way God tells me to.

My challenge to you and my challenge to myself at the beginning of another week is simply this: What have you done to practice?