Practice Makes Perfect
Life here, now, is about life here, now, and also about the life here, then. We Christians live in the hope of the Second Coming of Jesus, with whom will come the New Jerusalem, the new city of God, a gift coming down from heaven to a renewed and improved planet Earth.
Life here, now, is about doing God’s will here, now, for the sake of those here, now. We feed ourselves and others, not because the result of that labour is somehow eternal, since we’ll have to do it again in just a few hours, but because it needs to be done. It’s good, in God’s good creation, to eat and to help another do so. It’s the same with medicine and dentistry, faithfully protecting and repairing our bodies that will, inevitably, die–and all that good work perish. It’s the same also with politics, the hard, sometimes heartbreaking work of helping us somehow get along and, on good days, helping us live a little better–when it all will fade away under the new regime of Christ’s direct rule. This is all good work because God cares about the here and now, and we and our neighbours surely do, too.
Present life is also, however, about practicing for the next life. Practicing mercy, forgiveness, forbearance, patience, discretion, longsuffering, faithfulness, loyalty, meekness–all those strengths of the spirit that get tried so sorely in the everyday disappointments and injuries we endure. Practicing grace, kindness, generosity, celebration, gratitude, worship–all those strengths of the spirit for which each day provides opportunity. And, above and under all, practicing faith, hope, and love, attitudes and actions at the heart, the foundation of our life in God, the first and last postures of our understanding of things: that God is our Heavenly Parent who has made us, sustains us, rescues and restores and renews and rehabilitates us, and destines us for the full blooming of our potential in the full manifestation of God’s own–what the Bible calls “glory.”
I like the idea of being invited to take a place in the New Jerusalem. I like it a lot . . . except, however, when I recall that it is suffused with the divine light, the very omnipresence of God. And then I think of how I lived my life yesterday and how some of it was spent in shadowy places, actual or virtual or imagined. These were places God’s light isn’t obvious, places I preferred to sneak off to and visit alone.
Maybe they were pornographic (and there are lots of kinds of porn, not just sexual), or maybe just stupid. Maybe they were obviously sinful, or maybe less obviously–“just” wastes of time, “just” sites of mediocrity, or distraction, or corrosion, or deformation, sites of regression, self-indulgence, and disobedience. I like having a little “me time” every once in a while, don’t you?
Friend Steve Bell tells a story of his grandmother, nearing the end of this life, cheerfully, even excitedly, reading psalms and memorizing gospel songs in the expectation that she would soon be reciting them in the heavenlies. Friend Carolyn Arends heard Steve tell the story and wrote a beautiful, brilliant song about such a woman, “Getting Ready for Glory.”
Am I getting ready for glory, for the full disclosure of my potential before the shining gaze of God and my fellows in the City to come? Am I habituating myself to the glorious, full-on presence of God in all that I do, think, and feel? I have opportunity each day to practice living the way I will live forever, rather than maintaining old, bad habits that need to go, somehow, before I can enter that City’s gates.
Wise John Baillie offers this prayer, a prayer I’d say is a prayer of “good practicing”:
By Thy grace, O God, I will go nowhere this day where Thou canst not come, nor court any companionship that would rob me of Thine. By Thy grace I will let no thought enter my heart that might hinder my communion with Thee, nor let any word come from my mouth that is not meant for Thine ear. So shall my courage be firm and my heart be at peace.
I don’t want to die and find I’ve got a Very Big Pile of remedial work to do. (I shudder to think about purgatory: I hope the Catholics aren’t right about that, but then–how am I going to be made ready for glory?)
I certainly don’t want to die and find that my tastes have not matured sufficiently that I even like parts of the world to come–the way I used to turn up my nose at tomatoes, or Stilton cheese, or (amazing, but true) even wine. I don’t want to clumsily offend all these very nice people around me because I haven’t practiced the right things to do or say. And I certainly don’t want to grieve the Lord who gave everything he could to redeem me by living now as if I don’t really want to move up and on, as if I’d just as soon stay here, thank-you very much, enjoying this decaying, doomed bedlam.
Today is the day to be good, and do good, and get better. There are lots of lessons still to learn. Let’s not waste a good practice.