Sometimes I find myself wishing I were a better Christian in certain, specific ways. “I wish I knew a better technique for how to pray more effectively.” Or, “I wish I were better at serving by going out to soup kitchens and homeless shelters.” I think every Christian does this. Often we can trick ourselves into thinking that there's some "magic bullet" that will chop up all the different ingredients of what being a Christian is and combine them into a single purée that's easy to gulp down in one sitting. “If only I knew some special technique for Bible study, I'd have a more consistent study habit.” We can see somebody else's good example of consistency in one area—whether it be service of some kind, or faith, or godly love—and assume that they've always been that way and that it comes easily for them. Or perhaps that they've figured out some special technique that makes it easy for them.
In the book How to Write by Richard Rhodes, he tells about an early mentor he had whose name was Knickerbocker. He had a good rule for how to become a better writer, which the author coined as the “Knickerbocker rule.”
The rule is simply, “butt to chair.”
It’s a shorthand way of saying a bunch of things: Time. Commitment. Diligence. Perseverance. Hard work. You become a better writer by…well, writing. I think we can apply the Knickerbocker rule to lots of other things, including aspects of our Christianity.
Growing up, I mistook my dad's extensive knowledge of the Bible as him just being naturally smart. But in fact, it was years of work in the form of daily prayer and Bible study. I saw him wake up and do the same routine every single day, no matter where we were—whether we were at home, on a trip staying at a hotel or as guests at somebody's home—he'd get his shower, then read the Bible and pray for about 30 minutes. Every day. For decades. I don't think you can do that without coming away with an extensive knowledge of the Bible.
Malcolm Gladwell has determined that it takes approximately 10,000 hours for an individual to become an expert at something. Have you considered your Christianity in such a way? Do we strive to become an expert at being a Christian the way we might strive to be an expert at another skill? Playing piano, for example. Or writing. It reminds me of the story of famous classical violinist who was known for being one of the best in the world. One evening after a stunning concert performance with the symphony, a woman who had attended the concert said to him, “Sir, I’d give my life to be able to play the violin like you!” The violinist looked at her and said, “Madam, I did.” Perhaps the violinist had a natural gift or talent for playing the violin. But that didn’t make him one of the best in the world—it was hours of practice every single day for his entire life that did.
Solomon wrote that “work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty!” (Proverbs 14:23 Proverbs 14:23In all labor there is profit: but the talk of the lips tends only to penury.
American King James Version×, New Living Translation). This principle can be applied to every facet of our Christian lives: “I admire JoAnn so much—she’s always sending cards to people who are sick. I wish I were more like that.” OK, then do it. How? By writing cards and sending them. Make it happen. Find out who's sick, where they live, and send them a card. “I want to get better at meditating on God's Word.” OK, then start meditating on God's Word. The more you do it, the more naturally it will come. And you’ll discover things along the way that help you get better at it.
I agree that this approach may sound overly simplistic. There is certainly an aspect of wisdom that should be applied—the Bible says: “Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed” (Ecclesiastes 10:10 Ecclesiastes 10:10If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.
American King James Version×, NLT). We should definitely seek out the advice and expertise of those who have gone before. We should try to glean wisdom from their experience. This is the reason we have women's enrichment weekends and men's Christian leadership clubs. But an over-reliance on trying to find the magic formula for success in whatever area can lead to paralysis and inaction. Sometimes we try different techniques for a few days, we don’t keep up with it, and it falls by the wayside. Or sometimes there may not be anybody to ask. In the absence of good counselors or advisors, or if you aren’t finding something that works for you, following the Knickerbocker rule will not fail in helping you to become a better Christian. Most of those people we see who seem to have it together—who seem to have it all figured out—got there through years of commitment, diligence and hard work.
And when it comes those great examples, it’s good to have a role model to look up to. Someone whose example is good and who we can emulate, or who can mentor us. But sometimes when their example is so good, it can work against us. The thought of ever measuring up to it is can be too overwhelming. And in the fact of that, we don't do anything instead. For me, my dad's impeccable example of daily Bible study and prayer was too much to attain. I knew I should be studying the Bible and praying every day, so I’d try to copy his exact routine. I'd make it about, oh, three days before I fell off the wagon. I'd get discouraged and it would be a long time before I started trying again. Eventually I got too discouraged, my laziness took over, and I didn't do anything in the way of prayer or Bible study. Then I’d be guilty for not having a better prayer and study habit.
Until one day I had an epiphany: You have to start somewhere. Anything is better than nothing. I realized I didn't have to get my dad’s 10,000 hours of experience all in one week. If just reading one chapter of Proverbs a day was all I could reasonably get done, so be it. Once I developed that habit, I could build on it, working up over time to more and better Bible study and prayer.
Being a Christian in many other aspects is the same. The more you do it, the more you practice it, the more naturally it will come to you. If you practice a more regular praying habit, praying will become less of this daunting challenge and more a delight you look forward to. If you practice responding to insults with patience, kindness and love, you will more often have that response first just by default. If you practice meditating for 15 minutes every day over lunchtime, you will start being able to slip into that mindset more quickly when that time comes every day, and the things to meditate on will make themselves more readily apparent to you.
Remember that work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty. Make every effort to become an “expert” at being a Christian by applying the Knickerbocker rule. Seek out wisdom and advice from others, but don't become inactive by an overwhelmingly good example. You have to start somewhere, and you must. Put butt to chair, figuratively (or literally), and watch as the fruits of your labor begin to grow.