Practicing

“Practice what you preach!”  That’s a phrase we’ve all heard.  We know what it means, and usually it comes with a bit of irony, if not sarcasm.  I don’t know where or how it originated. Since it has the word “preach” in it, I suspect it began as an accusation aimed at clergy who failed to live the way they preached that others should live.  Ouch!  They’re talking about me!

First, a defense.  Of course there is and always will be a gap (a chasm?) between what we (I) preach and what we (I) practice.  Our faith tells us that only Jesus perfectly practiced what he preached, and some of the stories about him are cause for doubt about that.  So it is inevitable that every preacher like every pew warmer will fail to practice what s/he preaches.  That’s a good reason to include a Prayer of Confession and Assurance of Pardon in every worship service.

On the other hand, preachers in particular are sometimes the worst at practicing what they preach.  Here I am not just referring to financial scandals or sexual abuse of minors or adults.  I’m talking about our day to day garden variety failures to do even the basic things that we tell others they need to do.  Those central spiritual practices that we preach will nurture our faith and discipleship, like prayer, Bible reading & meditation, tithing, and serving others (who aren’t our own church folks).

This is exactly why preachers need Lent for themselves.  Of course the danger is that we’ll do Lent the way we do the rest of the church year: tell others to do what we won’t find time to do ourselves!  Too many years this has been true of me.  Perhaps it’s a function of age, but I seem to have done a little better the last few years. Or perhaps it is related to all that has gone on in my life during this period.  In any case, I welcome this communal season of reflection and a little more intentional time to spend with God.  Don’t get me wrong, I can predict it will remain spotty, but I know I want it and need it.  Plus, you’ve given me some time away in which I can/might do it.

For the next two weeks, Nora and I will be traveling around the south island of New Zealand in a campervan.  We’ll roam about from campground to campground, national park to national park, surrounded by nature’s glory, God’s handiwork.  No agenda, no responsibilities except to enjoy creation, enjoy each other, and enjoy the God who made us and all this.  I hope I’ll take time each day to read my Bible a bit, pray a bit, journal a bit, and sink into the strong warm embrace of my God.

This Lent, I’m making a real stab at practicing what I preach.  That’s my prayer for you too.


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