It has often been said ‘Practice makes perfect’. I have practiced doing, or learning many things, but I have never done anything perfectly. No one is perfect. Pope Francis has himself admitted, “I am a sinner”. We learn from our mistakes. Observing the failure of the people to keep their covenant with God Micah posed the question, “What does the Lord require of you?” to which he gave the answer ‘To act justly and love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ (6:8) What Micah is urging us to do is, keep practicing – doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God. When we do this Christ comes alive within us.
The dictionary defines practice as – a usual or customary procedure, (speaking of Jesus Luke (4:16) writes ‘As he always did on the Sabbath he went to the meeting place’) – the exercise or repetition of activity to achieve mastery, (Paul in Phil.2:13 urges them ‘keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning’) – the act of doing something, putting it into practice (in his story of the good Samaritan Jesus tells the scholar, “Go and do the same” Lk.10:37).
My focus was sharpened by the theologian Marcus Borg. In his book ‘The Heart of Christianity’, his conclusions are given in the closing chapter ‘The Heart of the Matter (is) Practice’. All the major religions require the observance of prescribed practices, both individually and corporately. Orthodox Judaism observes the Torah. Buddhism includes the eightfold Path. Islam prescribes the five pillars. This confirms practicing our faith moves beyond belief, the acceptance of certain creedal or doctrinal claims to be true, into implementation, action, conduct. We don’t practice in order to earn God’s love by our own effort. To keep practicing demonstrates our love for God; just as it would if we loved playing the violin, or any sport. His love for us is not based on anything we do. It is unconditional.
When our interest is aroused in certain activities, such as dancing, playing an instrument, learning a language, playing a sport, or qualifying for any profession we know we will have to commit ourselves in time and effort to practicing. As confessing Christians we are all amateurs, novices, apprentices committed to living a certain way. We experience times when it is difficult. We repeatedly make mistakes. We go through highs and lows in our emotions. We chastise ourselves for not living up to what we profess. Today an added deterrent to maintaining our corporate discipleship practices are the Covid 19 restrictions. We are all finding the pandemic very sorrowful, stressful in our faith and harmful to our mental health. Anxieties and our conscience trouble us and we are sometimes tempted to give in – as did some who came to Jesus. We know we are not perfect so it is imperative we keep practicing. Micah was addressing a people who were being misled by false prophets, of which we have many today. His counsel was …
Keep practicing justice. ‘Doing what is fair and just to your neighbour’ (TM) creates safety and friendliness for all. Accept the other person as God’s walking miracle. Justice is the social dimension of love and is often met with strong resistance by systems, governments, organizations and individuals whose agenda is determined by a nationalist, materialist, criminal or racial mind set. Bishop Camara of Brazil said, “When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint; when I asked why there were so many poor, they called me a communist”. Human suffering has many faces. In our global village our neighbour is the refugee, those in forced labour, or imprisoned in slavery, or poverty, or victims of domestic and racial violence, or crippled by disabilities, or simply the stranger in the super market.
Keep practicing kindness. ‘Be compassionate and loyal in your love’ (TM). St. Theresas’ primary question was ‘How can I be helpful’. Many NGO’s and so-called Charities exist and operate with no other motive than to provide help. When the Dalai Lama was questioned about his religion, he replied, ‘My religion is kindness’. Jesus went about doing good. He encouraged hospitality saying “Whatever you did for the least…you did for me”. Random acts of kindness reflect his spirit and there is a great need for kindness today.
Keep practicing humility before God. ‘Don’t take yourselves too seriously – take God seriously’ (TM). Paying attention to our relationship with God matters because it determines whose we are and who we are. All our relationships and our values are affected when this becomes our primary aim. We are created by God, accepted and loved by God to find our fulfillment in God. There are many persuasive voices, many alluring activities that would distract our attention, deter or oppose us, but Micah whispers, ‘Keep on practicing’. Don’t give up the practice of prayer, reading the Bible, listening and obedience, loving God and loving that which God loves.