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Learning curves

Obedience to God takes practice, and practice, and more practice

Learning curves

(Illustration by Krieg Barrie)

Duolingo tells me I’m only at 51 percent fluency in French. That stinks since I’m French on both sides and grew up with it spoken around me, although my sister-in-law from France informs me that they don’t consider Québécois French to be really French.

I appreciate an online course that tells it like it is, that doesn’t flatter me. This way when I do well in the drills and get bumped up a level, I can trust I got there honestly. 

The other thing I like about Duolingo is that it knows (somehow) my weaknesses and doesn’t let me get away with them. If I stumble on numeral writing, it throws numbers at me in the next lesson. If noun genders are my problem (in French, cheese and candle are masculine, while snow and tavern are feminine), guess what comes up in the practice sessions.

I’ll admit there are times when I argue with my computer. I say to the chubby green owl mascot in the sweatband that it is unfair to mark me so harshly on vowel accenting, and that there are more important things in life than whether I have an accent circonflexe on hôpital.

The concept of “practice makes perfect” is axiomatic in all areas of human accomplishment worth mastering. We all knew that once, when we were 2½ feet tall and fell all day long until we could finally let go of the coffee table. Or take baby birds as an example:

“The parent will forcibly teach them that unless they learn how to flap their wings, they are going to keep hitting the ground and will not get their food. Once the bird has experienced flight for the first time, it does not make the second or third time very smooth. The bird will flail its wings clumsily and only sustain itself for a few seconds, if that. Only with practice do they learn the ropes and develop the muscles necessary to flap their wings to their fullest potential” (“Nature vs Nurture: How do baby birds learn how to fly?,” BU).

Practice makes perfect is true in the spiritual life as well as the physical life. How can it not be? Christ Himself says, “You therefore must be perfect” (Matthew 5:48), and what He means by that is made plain in the context, where He says that greeting your friends is no big deal to God, but greeting your enemies is a perfect thing (verses 46 and 47). 

Remember that God said to seek Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

We can do perfect things, not in a way of absolute and ontological perfection that never has a stumble, but in the doable daily ways that we are able, when confronted with a carnal choice and a godly choice, to choose the godly one. It just takes practice, meaning a conscious and deliberate effort to confront weakness and improve (see 2 Peter 1:5 on “making every effort”). Remember that God said to seek Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. So for example, if conversation with your husband broke out into rancor yesterday, retrace your steps and see where you went wrong. Why would you ever assume that you can’t do all things by Christ who strengthens you?

Even in movies and theater, scenes have multiple takes until they are right. “Take 18!” the director shouts, camera operators moving to position. The movie dad for the eighteenth time walks through the door, tosses his raincoat on the chair, and says to the movie wife, “So you couldn’t be bothered to meet me at the station.” If the director isn’t happy, he will call for Take 19.

Are you willing to do more takes till our heavenly Director is happy? He commends those who are “trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14) and who “go on to maturity” (6:1). 

I have found in my life that, like Duolingo, God doesn’t let us get away with stuff. We will keep seeing the same wall thrown up on our path over and over again until we learn to master that particular wall and stop skirting around it. I have been married twice now, and it is interesting to me that God is revisiting me with the issues I didn’t master in the first marriage.

I look at it as a second chance to straighten up and fly right.


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  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Sat, 01/28/2017 01:14 am

    My football coach used to say, "Perfect practice makes perfect."  If we practice but do it poorly then the practice doesn't do us much good!

  •  Paul B. Taylor's picture
    Paul B. Taylor
    Posted: Sun, 01/29/2017 06:40 pm

    We have to take the Kingdom of Heaven by force; however, we have to remember to not give in to the temptation of legalism.  We are not saved by works or any merit of our own.  We are justified by faith, alone, so that none can boast, because it is only by the grace of God that we have saving faith.  Works are very important, though, as they are evidence of saving faith.  The chief work is the work of repentance, and as we grow to maturity in Christ, we store treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust can corrupt by our love for our Savior who says, "If you love me, keep my commandments."  Without saving faith, there is no repentance, and without repentance, we don't have assurance of our salvation.

  • KY MikeS's picture
    KY MikeS
    Posted: Tue, 02/07/2017 05:20 am

    A Bible teacher once pointed out that if you practice the wrong thing it won't result in perfection - practice doesn't necessarily make perfect but permanent. Repentance makes perfect. 

  • CR
    Posted: Thu, 02/23/2017 02:08 am

    Andree, Thank you for perfecting your craft as a writer all these years. I rejoined WORLD this week after a one-year hiatus. For what it's worth, in my opinion, your column is sharper than ever. More honest, more fluid, more challenging somehow, both intellectually and spiritually. I really can't think of anything else that compares to it. My congrats to you!