If you’ve ever learned to play a musical instrument, you are familiar with that phrase. In fact, learning almost anything new requires lots and lots of repetition. I can remember sitting in piano lessons, trying so hard to get through a scale or exercise, only to hear these dreaded words as soon as I finished: “Great job. Now do it again.”
If you’re like me, you prefer it when things can be “once and done.” Problems that need to be solved are actually welcomed challenges, especially those that only need to be done once. When I was in preparation to get married, all the paperwork for a marriage license, name change and various certificates was kind of a pain. But once it was over, it was over. I don’t have to do that again.
The problem is that most things of greatest importance in life are not “once and done” types of things, but they require constant input and repetition. Whether it is exercise, encouraging others, or managing finances, there is never a point at which any of us “arrives,” and we run into real problems if we don’t understand this.
Perhaps the most important example of this is in our Christian journey of faith. When we first hear the message of the gospel and by God’s grace are drawn to follow him, there is a sense of awe, wonder and excitement at who he is and what he has done for us. But the law of diminishing returns says that if you do anything over and over again without changing, eventually you will become less and less satisfied by it. What once captured us becomes dull. But this is only a problem if we combine it with our “once and done” thinking.
See, if I don’t feel excited about God’s word even though I’ve already read it, I will be tempted to look elsewhere for satisfaction. I might go looking for some new “revelation” or discovery of a new way of thinking about God’s truth. This can be healthy, but it can also be deadly if it consumes me. I often say to myself, if I’m feeling like God isn’t faithful, the likely answer is that my feelings are wrong not that God has changed. The answer isn’t to go find something new. The answer is to go back and do it again.
Even though I have a basic familiarity with the gospel message, I need to hear it every day. Why? Because I am, like the hymn says, prone to wander and prone to forget. The beautiful truths of God’s word are so deep that we will never plumb the depths in a single lifetime. So I can always find something new to refresh my soul. It’s also true that I don’t know it quite as well as I think I do…
So why don’t I remember the simple principle of going back to the truth? My guess is it’s pride. I might be embarrassed that I haven’t “mastered” this stuff yet, or that I have to keep asking for help. But God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). Coming to him again today for the same things I did yesterday actually highlights his mercy, patience and goodness. The goal of my spiritual life is dependence on him, not getting to the point where I don’t need his help anymore.
If success is doing the right things every day for a long time, then it isn’t for lack of knowing what to do that most people don’t succeed. It’s actually a lack of consistency. Consistency is simple, but it requires doing the things you already know but don’t feel in the moment. As John Maxwell says, the difference between winners and whiners is that whiners wait to feel good before doing the right thing, and winners do the right thing in order to feel good.
Every day, preach to yourself. Do what the psalmist did and command your own soul to bless the Lord. You’ll find that maturity in Christ is actually mastery of the basics.