One of the things we have trouble with is seeing how certain actions are actually training for other actions. This is another application of “practice makes perfect.” The usual application is the fact that if you practice running certain distances, when you get to race day, you will have (hopefully) trained well for the 5K Fun Run. Same thing goes for batting practice, taking free throws, and penalty shots: you practice those actions in order to do them well when it counts in the game.
But everything is connected, and wherever we go, we bring our bodies with us and the skills they learn and “make perfect” transfer into other situations (for better or worse). Many athletic skills transfer into other areas of life for blessing. The self-discipline, endurance, patience, and concentration needed for many sporting events transfer into accounting, management, sales, parenting, marriage, and school — or at least it could (not that it’s necessarily automatic).
However, people practice other things as well. People stay up too late and arrive late to school or work. They eat whatever they want, whenever they want. They drink as much as they want. They watch whatever they want, whenever they want. They say whatever comes into their head. Others practice doing whatever they think other people want them to do. They eat what other people think they ought to eat. They watch what other people think they ought to watch. They dress and talk constantly trying their best to keep up with the spoken or unspoken expectations of others because they think this will make them accepted and this will make them secure and happy. Or perhaps all the good skills someone is honing in their athletic endeavors are fundamentally selfish and self-centered and self-aggrandizing. Did you see my endurance, my moves, my body, my finesse? And this perceived self image makes us feel good, feel satisfied, feel happy. In other words, one of the things we are constantly practicing is either being governed and assessing our lives and this world by God’s word (no matter what anyone else thinks or how we feel at the moment) or we are practicing serving our own passions and pleasures or even fears. You are either practicing delighting in the law of the Lord and finding security in His Word or you are practicing delighting in your own law, the law of your flesh and how you feel.
And just so you see how this translates into sometimes surprising, sometimes horrifying applications, let me give you a couple of examples to connect the dots: If a five year old boy is allowed to routinely practice losing self-control whether uncontrollable crying or an uncontrollable temper, he is not only practicing self-pity and rage, he is also practicing not having self control of his passions when they want to look at porn when he’s thirteen. Or a girl who is allowed to let her emotions rule her is likewise training to be enslaved to her feelings and to be easily manipulated by the men in her life as she grows up. And this makes for real fireworks when these two kids, having practiced emotional self-worship for years, meet in high school (as somehow they always seem to do). Now of course there might be the usual sexual temptations, and those are significant and should be fought and resisted with all gusto, but that’s not merely because premarital sex is sinful and a lie about God’s love for His people (though it is both of those things). The other problem is what they are training for. They are practicing submission to the emotional-now, they are practicing absolute obedience to their passion-gods. Right now the hormone-spiked emotions say touch, kiss, caress, do whatever feels good, and so on. But the passion gods are fickle deities that can turn around and bite you later on.
What happens when he’s late for the fourth time this week? What happens when she’s in that mood again and doesn’t seem to respect the fact that you’ve been busting your butt all week? Or what about when the kids are just driving you up the wall? The saccharine passion-goddess can give you all the gooey feelings of the most classic kitten poster right now, but once you have enthroned this god, she very well might command you to unload a clip of bitter invective at your husband, slug your wife, say things to your kids that you would cringe to have recorded and played for the world to hear. But don’t you see? You’ve been training for this moment all your life. You’ve been practicing doing what feels good, what feels good now. And sometimes it feels like you just need to hit something, hit someone. Sometimes it feels like you just need to get a little wasted, sometimes you just need a little me-time, a little me-pleasure. Just one more beer and everything will go numb, one more cupcake, one more impulse buy.
But don’t you see? When you are your own god, when you practice serving yourself and your feelings, the deepest, most fundamental instinct is violence because everyone else is a threat to your divinity, everyone else is a potential risk to your preeminence. And this why shagging in the backseat of your mom’s minivan is actually practicing for violence against your spouse later on. This is why being ruled by your emotions now, in this moment is actually training for bitterness, murder, and bloodshed down the road.
Do you see that god enthroned in your soul, that snake wrapped around your neck with fangs sunk deep in your heart? It’s the me-god, the passion god, and it’s the demon that will suck your life away. But God in His mercy knew about our slavery. He knew about our idols and demons and abusive behaviors. And He knew that we had practiced these works of darkness and they had become completely engrained in us so that we could never be free of them. And so He sent His Son Jesus who came to bear our curse, our demons, our addictions, our guilt, our shame. And when He was hung on a cross two thousand years ago, God lifted His hand and let all the evil powers in the whole world do their worst. Like a lightening rod, all the hatred and spite and bitterness and fearful rage was taken into the flesh of Jesus, but when He died, all of it died with Him. God laid on Him the iniquity of us all and His justice was completely satisfied. And when God allowed His only beloved Son to be crushed, He crushed all our guilt and filth and shame and the serpent’s head in Him and exhausted it’s power forever. And when guilty sinners look to that cross, to this crucified Jesus as their sin-bearer, as their Savior, as the Lamb of God who takes away their sins, His blood washes away every foul thing. His death becomes the death of our death.
In other words, you don’t have to be enslaved to your habits and passions anymore. You can be set free. You can be made completely new. You can start over again and begin to live the life of freedom that God has for you.
Do you want that? Do you want to start over? Why don’t you ask Jesus to make you new right now? Whether you have known Him for many years or have never been sure if you truly do, it doesn’t matter that much. He loves to make people new. He will if you ask Him to. When we do, God gives us His Spirit which is the Spirit of Jesus that begins to take control of our lives little by little. But this isn’t anything like the serpent, this is the Spirit of God’s love and acceptance and forgiveness. It’s outside of us; it’s independent of how we feel. It’s objective and true and permanent. It’s the righteousness and holiness and goodness of Jesus given to us. So that God the Father looks on us only in Christ. And He smiles on us with admiration and delight. And it’s this love and grace and goodness that compels us to repentance, to new obedience. It’s not acceptance that must be earned; it’s acceptance freely given. It’s like a breath of fresh air, like relief, like waking up refreshed. And like the showers of rain that wash the earth, like the sun that comes up bright every morning, He will make you new, and all the shadows will fade away.