Is your prayer life really awesome when your life is in shambles? Do you brush the dust off your Bible when you're in trouble and turn instinctively to the Word for hope? Do you have a playlist of worship songs for 'a time such as this'?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you're like a lot of Christians. Our faith suddenly becomes super-important to us when we 'need' it, when we're having trouble navigating life on our own and have given up on all of our own attempts to fix things.
The problem is that when we have a faith like this, it's hard to know how to use it when we need it. We open our Bible, but where are we supposed to start reading? What part of God's story is going to speak to us right now? We play the worship music, but maybe the tone we thought would be so helpful just grates against our wounded souls. Now what? We don't know any other worship songs off-hand. We pray, but...how do you pray? How are we supposed to pray? Do we have to kneel? How do we start? Is it God or Father or Father God? All of these questions come rushing to our minds.
What we come to realize is that when we are not practiced in the faith, then every time we come to God, we are practicing the faith. And anyone who has ever been surrounded by waters that threaten to drown them knows that this is not the time to be practicing.
That's why we need to invest ourselves now in the daily practices of faith. That's why we need to be disciplined about engaging the spiritual disciplines. When the time comes in your life that you need to know for sure the love of God, you don't want to be practicing; you want to be harnessing the power of the God who loves you.
Several weeks ago, I completed the Indianapolis 500 Mini-Marathon for the first time in my life. It's an event that I signed up for in March when everything seemed possible, and then, well, life happened. My training plans went out the window. In fact, I didn't get to train at all. In April, I was barely running. Still, I was determined to cross the finish line - even if I had to crawl.
Race day came, and you know what? It wasn't as big of a push as I feared it was going to be without intense, focused training for it. I was a lot more comfortable for a lot more of the distance than I thought I would be, and even though I had to slow down more than a few times, I was able to run more of it than I thought I could. My time, too, wasn't all that bad. I understood that better this past week when the leaderboards updated and I saw that I placed in roughly the top third of both all runners and of all female runners, and I was in the top quarter of female runners in my age group.
How does someone who doesn't get to train for a mini-marathon end up finishing in the top third?
Because I have been training for years. Because for six years, I have been running as often as I can. Except for when I've been recovering from injury or illness, I have run five days a week for six years. Some days, I've run a mile; some days, I've run seven. Some days, I've run 11-minute miles; some days, I've run them in just under 9 minutes. But I run. Consistently. So when I asked my body on race day to run, my body - my 'untrained' body - said, "Okey dokey. Running, I can do." And I did.
This is what happens when you invest yourself consistently in something, and it's as true for the spiritual disciplines as it is for physical exercise. If you commit yourself to reading your Bible regularly, to praying continually, to worshiping routinely, then when you come up against something in your life that's bigger than you, something that maybe even seems impossible, all that training kicks in. You ask yourself to hold onto faith, and something in your soul - your weary, beaten, burdened soul - says, "Okey dokey. Faith, I can do." And you do it. And you're more comfortable and more capable and more satisfied in trouble than you ever thought you could be.
Maybe you hadn't prepared for this particular moment, but you had trained for it nonetheless by investing yourself faithfully in the disciplines that you were going to need to draw on.
So don't wait until you need God to learn to talk to Him. Don't wait until you don't know what else to say to start digging through His Word. Don't wait until the song has been stolen out of your heart to start worshiping. Do it now. Start now.
Because when those hard days come - and they will - you don't want to be practicing; you want to be ready for this.