Spiritual Practice


Steve Matthews

My long-time friend Todd has always been a hard worker. He found success in two endeavors he truly enjoys—building homes and playing golf. With a knack for solving construction challenges, Todd got a lot of practice at building things. He worked as a contractor on over 50 homes, learning new skills and gaining confidence with each completed project. Todd also practiced long hours to be a good golfer, winning several amateur tournaments over the course of his life. Even in his 80s, Todd was impressing golfers half his age.

I have read that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. What are you practicing these days? Perhaps you are a math wiz, a dancer, a photographer, or an aspiring basketball star. What matters enough for you to put in the hours it takes to master something?

As Christians we need spiritual “disciplines,” practices that help us attune ourselves to God and to God’s invitations. Common spiritual practices include prayer, Bible study, spiritual reading, journaling, fasting, and worship. Some people pair these practices with other activities they enjoy. A friend of mine used to run six miles every morning as a spiritual practice. As he ran, he prayed for his friends, family, church, and community. Running and praying readied him for the day ahead.

Practice makes permanent. It’s a catchy title, but it’s also true. Neuropsychologists and others who study brain chemistry phrase it this way: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Our practices really do change our brains and the way we interact with the world.

Our practices can improve our skill level; they can change our attitudes as well. Do we want to practice seeing scarcity, or do we want to practice being grateful? Do we want to practice being critical or being kind? If practice makes permanent, then what behaviors and attitudes do we want to cultivate?

Romans 12:2 invites us to reconsider the ways we think and act. Paul encourages us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (NRSV). How might our practices renew our minds so that we can experience God in new and deeper ways?



My friend Todd no longer builds houses or plays golf. These days walking is a challenge for him. Yet even now, Todd is practicing new behaviors and attitudes. He is learning to paint; he is also is practicing patience and an increased sense of gratitude for the kind, helpful people in his life.

What about you? What do you want to practice? Maybe you would like to hone a particular skill. Perhaps you feel drawn to a new spiritual practice, or you want to cultivate a new attitude. Remember, it might take 10,000 hours—but practice does make permanent!

Steve Matthews was a youth minister for over 15 years. He is now a consultant and coach working with new church starts and redeveloping communities of faith. He is also a spiritual director.

—from devozine (May/June 2019). Copyright © 2019 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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