We practice for so many things in life. It is essential in ventures such as sports or music. We speak of professionals who practice law or medicine. Well, Christians are to practice their faith.
Right now we are in the midst of a season that is set aside for us to focus on practicing. Lent is a time of self-sacrifice and self-examination. It is a time to take a close look at our relationship with God and how that relationship is expressed toward our neighbor. We are to give particular attention to how we practice our devotion through activities like prayer, giving, and fasting.
In one of the readings for the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday), Jesus reminds us that these practices of devotion are not for others to see so we might be complimented. Nor are we to call attention to the fact that we are engaged in these spiritual practices. It is to be between us and God. We should not look like we are suffering because of our sacrifice. We should look joyous, energetic, and full of life (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21).
This kind of spiritual exercise on which we focus in Lent is practice for living a dedicated, loving Christian life all the time. As we move toward Easter, it prepares us to be stronger and more loving in sharing the joy of new life.
In a reading from Romans 4 readings for the second Sunday in Lent, Paul is speaking to early church members about putting these values into practice. Some of them were concerned that newcomers did not have the history of observing religious laws and practices that the current members did. Shouldn’t they be expected to go through all the same things and meet the same requirements before they can be received?
What Paul points out is that, going all the way back to Abraham, what makes us worthy and acceptable is one thing — faith. Here, Paul is exercising the faith he has been practicing while urging other Christians to do the same. Paul’s background was as a strict adherent to religious law. Through Christ, he came to realize that none of us can keep the rules well enough to deserve a relationship with our God. And yet, our faith in Christ opens us to a loving relationship with our God that is granted to us as a gift. That’s called grace.
Further, Paul points out that since none of us can earn this gift, none of us should place extra restrictions on others who come seeking that same gift from God. And the amazing thing is, when we have a loving relationship with our God based on faith, we are moved to live a life consistent with God’s will. So, we don’t keep religious law to earn the relationship. It is the relationship our God grants us that inspires us to live a Godly life. And it is a joyous thing.
Practice, practice, practice. During Lent we practice for the rest of our lives. We practice showing devotion to God. We practice ways to express love to our neighbor. Lent will draw to a close, and on Easter Sunday we will share in a great celebration of the resurrection. By then we have sharpened the necessary skills to live as loving, joy-filled people. If we do that, our community and our world can be transformed. Are you practicing?