At a certain age, it was 15 when I was growing up, you young people get it in your heads that you want to learn to drive motor vehicles – and not just the gator or scooter or snowmobile variety, but you want to go the whole hog and drive the full size variety. You want to drive cars; you want to drive trucks; you want to drive very large and expensive tractors. Now you realize, for many of your parents this is a frightening prospect. They love you, of course. But full sized vehicles are deadly pieces of machinery and are not to be taken lightly. And so instead of just handing you the keys and letting you have at it, they insist that you learn about and then practice the ins and outs of driving a vehicle.
It is particularly this latter that matters: practice. To drive a vehicle isn’t something that you can read about in a book and then do well. No, you need to get into the driver’s seat, put the keys in the ignition, start up the engine, and then go. And for just about anybody, it’s going to be a bit herky-jerky, a little uncomfortable, maybe even somewhat embarrassing.
For my part, I learned to drive in a 1993 Mazda 323, a little hatchback. It was a stick shift. I killed the motor, I revved the motor. I crawled along. I leaped forward like an over-eager frog....... And then we left the driveway. To learn to drive I needed practice, lots of it. And so I practiced. I needed to learn how to drive in order to become an adult. And so I practiced.
As we begin Lent, our Lord Jesus Christ gives us a lesson about the importance of practice. Now it’s a message that we might easily miss. We might miss it because he delivers it wrapped up in a warning. The warning is this: “Beware of practicing your piety (that means doing good things for God) before others in order to be seen by them.” Is this warning the message? No, it is not. If this were the message, then we could most easily obey Jesus by making sure that we never did any good things at all for God. Because if we never did these pious things, we wouldn’t run the risk of doing them in front of other people. Problem solved. No, the message is not: Don’t do good in front of other people! No, the message is this: Practice doing good. Practice doing good.
Why would we need to practice doing good? I can think of two reasons:
- Because doing good, being pious, is worthwhile. It is a worthwhile goal to try to do the good things that God wants us to do. And because it’s a worthwhile goal, we should practice it, so that we can do it well. That’s one reason.
- Another reason is this: doing the good that God wants us to do isn’t easy. In fact, doing good can be awfully difficult. Sometimes we try to do good and just make a mess or even hurt people. I can remember on one occasion making breakfast in bed for my parents. I think it might have been my mother’s birthday. We had every intention of doing good. But let me assure you that we did not provide a good breakfast. It was terrible, if not entirely inedible. Doing good takes practice. And so we are to practice our piety so that we can do it well.
Lent is traditionally a time for practicing. Over the centuries, people have taken this church season as an opportunity to try to go beyond what they normally do. In Lent, the church has traditionally asked more of its members. The most obvious example of this is that we have extra worship services on Wednesday nights.
As we start Lent, I would like to ask something of you. Instead of “giving something up,” try doing something good for God; try practicing your piety. Try doing something that is really worthwhile. Perhaps you might make a change that is too overwhelming to make if you had to think about it as a permanent change. But what if you just had to do it for 40 days. What if you just made a commitment to practicing it for awhile?
Here are some suggestions:
- Do you tithe? If you don’t, it might seem overwhelming to give away ten percent of your income. That’s understandable. So why don’t you practice doing it for Lent this year?
- Do you take time to pray for other people, especially the people you don’t like? Why not get up fifteen minutes early and do that? Fifteen minutes isn’t too overwhelming. And practicing it for forty days, you could make that work. And if prayer is hard for you, then practicing it would be a great idea.
Doing these things, or others that you think of yourself, they provide an opportunity for God to work in us and change us. And we might find that by practicing our piety, we will get better at it. So choose to do something good this Lent. And practice it. Never mind if it’s uncomfortable at first or if you aren’t any good at it. Just keep practicing. And may God bless you richly for it.