Surely you’ve heard the common phrase, “Practice Makes Perfect.”
I admit that practice is the most vital component to improving in any venture: Sports, learning a new language, a hobby such as crocheting, and so forth. Practice is essential! But did you know that practice doesn’t guarantee you’ll be perfect?
What if you practice incorrectly?
At the peak of his amazing golf career, Arnold Palmer did an astounding thing. Before each pro golfing season began, he would seek out a golf pro and contract with them to teach him the game from scratch: How to hold the club, how to swing, how to putt, etc.
Why? Why would perhaps the greatest golfer in his day hire a golf pro to teach him? What could Arnold Palmer stand to learn from a man barely fit to be his caddy? The answer lies in practicing perfectly.
You see, left to ourselves, we ingrain bad habits. Arnold may get full of himself after winning a few tournaments and think, “My new altered grip is winning. Therefore it must be an improvement.” Arnold was wise enough to know that he needed fresh eyes on his game to weed out any bad habits that were creeping in. This commitment to “practicing perfectly” added longevity to his brilliant career.
What Arnold knew was that the phrase “Practice makes Perfect” should actually be re-worded to “Practice makes automatic.” That is more precise. Whatever you do on a regular basis becomes natural to us. It becomes second nature because we’re trained to make that behavior the automatic response, whether it’s preferred or not! When I was in the US Army, I was around men who cussed regularly. Guess what? Suddenly, I found myself cussing very naturally, even at home! Practice makes automatic…not perfect (unless you practice perfection).
St. Augustine wrote of the chain reaction of what practice can do. “The enemy held my will; and of it he made a chain and bound me. Because my will was perverse it changed to lust, and lust yielded to become habit, and habit not resisted became necessity.” His will became lust. His lust became habit. His habit became a necessity (i.e. an addiction).
In other words, bad habits not resisted become natural! And once something is natural to us it’s much harder to correct. And the worst part is that we are poor judges of our own poor practices, which is why Step 1 of the Alcoholics Anonymous creed is “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.” This is what St. Augustine speaks of, and it all begins with practicing poorly.
The good news is that, like Arnold Palmer, there is power to help us practice perfectly. AA Step 2 says, “We came to be aware that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” St. Augustine would heartily agree. God rescued him from his lusty “necessity.”
What are you practicing that could lead to habit, and eventually necessity? What things should you be practicing to strengthen your character and make good things your automatic response? Like Arnold Palmer, what help could you enlist to help you “practice more perfectly?” The Church has excellent resources, and if you have a Bible lying around, I think you’ll find it a useful “Pro” to help you improve your grip and swing. I’ll leave you with this tidbit from Rev. Charles Stanley, from his book The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life.
“The most balanced Christians I know are those who spend time in God’s Word on a daily basis. The most unbalanced people I know are those who do not. It is that simple.”
Practice makes things automatic…whether good or bad. Practice perfectly!