I’m Not Becoming Perfect From My Practice

I realized something about myself the other day: practice doesn’t alway make perfect.

You know the saying. It’s often used to get people to work at something until they improve. I think there are a lot of things this applies to in life, but writing is not one of them – at least not for me.

When I work on my sermon, sometimes I will stand up and work on a white board in my office. I will walk around, pacing back and forth while I think, and then jot things down with my erasable marker.

I’ve been doing this for a while now, but it dawned on me that I’m not getting any better at it. I mean my writing is not any neater or easier to read than it was when I started this method.

If practice makes perfect, why am I not writing perfect “A’s” or “S’s”? My letters still slide into and up against each other. Sometimes I don’t close them off; sometimes I don’t even make a good attempt at forming the letters at all.

It sometimes makes for difficulty reading, though my wife, Lily, and I are pretty used to it and can figure my writing out with only a little frustration at times.

I know there is another saying that someone came up with … probably someone like me who ran into the contradiction with their own handwriting. That person said, “Perfect practice makes perfect.”

I don’t like that phrase very much because the whole idea of practicing is that we aren’t perfect yet. Maybe “proper practice makes perfect” is a better saying.

I can live with that one because clearly I don’t practice my writing properly.

But you know, I’ve found many things in life that also don’t stand up to this nice little slogan. For instance, I’ve been playing the guitar for years, but I’m not significantly better than I was ten years ago.

I also don’t practice very much, but that’s because I don’t see much progress or perfection taking shape when I do practice.

There are some people who practice driving and they don’t get better either. I know because I find myself driving behind them and beside them on the roads all the time!

If the saying, “practice makes perfect” doesn’t really work, my question is, “Should we keep doing things that we aren’t getting perfect at?”

Should I stop trying to play the guitar? … For sure some people should stop driving and leave that task to someone else! But there are some things that if we don’t become perfect at, well, it’s okay. We can get by; we don’t need to be perfect at them.

Writing for me is one of those things. When I see someone with neat handwriting I get a little jealous. But at the end of the day, I will live with the mess I create on my white board.

I will continue to decipher it when I review what I’ve written, and I will just be satisfied that I’m not perfect.

Here’s the thing: God isn’t waiting for us to be perfect; He takes us as we are and then He works on us. He doesn’t quit on us when we fail to make significant progress towards perfection, but He keeps encouraging us on, in spite of our imperfection and failed attempts. Your relationship with God is not one you should quit working on. Accept your deficiencies and keep working at them. One day in heaven you will be perfect.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What have you been working on that’s frustrating you? Leave your comments below.

You Can Trust Your Memory

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always trust my memory. I find I more readily trust what I’ve written down or am able to look up somewhere.

memory

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I don’t trust my mind with the information I gather. I feel I must write it down or I think I will forget it. The truth of the matter is I probably will forget it.

The process of writing something down seals it in my mind so that I don’t have to worry about using my mind to remember it at all.

But my mind is more powerful than I give it credit for. This week was proof of that …

I was in the research phase of sermon preparation, gathering information and gaining insight and understanding of the passage I would be preaching from on Sunday. I was recording this information, making notes on my computer.

At noon I stepped out for lunch and, when I came back, my computer was off. I hadn’t plugged it in and the battery had run down. My computer is six years old now so the battery doesn’t last as long as it used to.

I plugged it in and turned it on. Often in this case, the computer has just gone into a deep sleep, like a hibernation. It’s not really turned off, but it almost takes as long to boot back up as a fresh start up. The difference is all the programs are still open when it’s comes back on.

Not this time. I had to start up my computer and then open my programs again. When I did that I found I had lost all my notes.

It reminded me of the early days of computers when, if you didn’t save your document regularly and your computer crashed, you lost whatever you hadn’t saved.

I learned through many losses to save every time I paused from typing.

Now word processing apps save data automatically … but I don’t use a word processor to record my sermon notes.

I lost it all.

The great realization I made, however, was that I could remember a lot of the notes I had made.  The next day I was able to retype them and continue from there to make more notes.

I made triple the amount of notes I had typed the day before, but then had to leave for a meeting.

By the time I came back to my office, my computer had shut down again. And once again I lost all my notes.

Yes, everything! – the retyped notes from the day before and all the new notes I’d made in the morning.

On my third attempt to record my commentary, I made sure that I closed the program before I left my computer alone. Again I was amazed at how much research I remembered as I reentered my data for the third time.

The process of writing something out locks it into your mind more securely, which in turn allows you to trust your memory with that information.

Here’s the thing: Many people say they can’t memorize or remember scripture passages. You’ll find you are able to remember far more scripture if you write it out. If there is a passage you want to remember, write it out a few times, say it several times and you will find it sticks in your mind better than you thought it would.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What is your method for remembering scripture? Leave your comment below

What A Mind I Have!

Sometimes our minds surprise us; sometimes they let us down.

i-forgot-day

It is a rare occasion when I’ve finished writing my sermon before about 6 pm on Friday night. But this past week I finished writing my sermon at 1:40 pm.

I can’t tell you how good it felt to be done that early in the day. It was like a burden had been lifted from me.

There is a weight that preachers carry with them as they prepare sermons. It feels heavy like a backpack that you can’t take off until you get to your destination.

But when the sermon is done, the backpack comes off and you feel light again.

I celebrated by going for lunch. I decide to try a new chicken fast food restaurant close by and I even got myself a pop. I was feeling good.

The crazy thing was, though I finished my sermon in record time for once, I still had more writing to do. So after a not-so-inspiring chicken lunch celebration, I was back at it. This time writing a funeral message.

The amazing thing was I was still focussed and by 6 pm I had finished that message and I was really done for the night.

I was feeling great, mentally exhausted, but ecstatic that I was all done.

In the evening, Lily and I went to a store and saw someone we knew from a distance. About two minutes after that I realized how my mind had let me down despite how focussed I’d been in writing messages that day.

Seeing that guy reminded me that I had forgotten to do something very important earlier in the day.

My message had flowed out of me like a tap turned all the way on, but I had forgotten to fill the baptistry tank in the sanctuary!

You see, another church had asked to use our church for a baptism service on Sunday afternoon and the guy I saw Friday night while shopping was from that church. Seeing him triggered my memory.

For a Sunday baptism, the tank must be filled and the heater turned on by Friday so the water will be warm enough.

I was ripped, upset at myself for not remembering. I was devastated that I would have to spend the rest of the evening babysitting a baptistry tank (it’s a 2 hour process).

How could my mind be so sharp that day but still let me down so badly?

I wanted to blame someone, or something, for how my day turned out. But in the end I had no one to blame but myself.

Here’s the thing: When something goes wrong, we want to blame someone else. It doesn’t change the outcome, but we feel justified being angry at whomever we pin the fault on … even if it’s God. However, accepting responsibility enables us to see how God works things out. I normally have a long day writing a sermon. This week God enabled me to write both messages in the time it usually takes to write one. Though the baptistry issue cost me time Friday night, God used that guy I saw to remind me about what I’d forgotten. When I put the blame in the proper place I can see how God helps me even when my mind lets me down.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: How has your mind amazed you and failed you in the same day? Leave your comment below.

Staring At A Blank Page

This doesn’t happen often but this morning I spent quite a long time staring at a blank computer screen. No, my Mac didn’t freeze.

Paul Silcock white album.001

It was more that my mind was blank and so I had a nice white page on my screen that didn’t have any words written on it.

If white’s your colour, it was a beautiful sight!

The Beatles have a white album titled, “The BEATLES”, recorded in 1968. And yes, it was completely white with the title embossed on the cover. That album has been dubbed “The White Album” ever since.

But despite all the “white” there was music on the vinyl inside, and that vinyl was all black.

All white isn’t that great when you’re trying to write something like a sermon or a blog.  They call an all-white page “writer’s block”, when you just don’t have anything to put down on the page.

But it’s not that I didn’t have any thoughts at all. While my page was white this morning, I had lots of ideas come to mind; just none of the thoughts I had were worth recording, or I didn’t feel like recording them.

My mind jumped from one topic to another. I would think of something to write about, but then,  for one reason or another, the idea would die in seconds.

I decided to change my scenery and do something else to maybe knock the “block” out of my system – you know, do something radical, like hold your breath when you have the hiccups, or sip a drink of water upside down.

The idea is to reboot your system back to normal.

So I left my white page, and went upstairs to have breakfast. I thought that filling my mouth with food and having a conversation with my wife would somehow spark words in my head that I could then type out onto the white page on my computer.

Sometimes that helps. … The other day I was having trouble with one of the apps on my phone. For some reason it was staying on and burning up my battery at a crazy rate. I powered down my phone, and when I turned it back on, whatever had been stuck on, got unstuck and my phone was working fine again.

Unfortunately, that didn’t help much with my white page. I came back to it and, not only was the page still white, but I still hadn’t come up with anything worthy of adding some black marks to it.

It sure is frustrating when that happens.

I had other things that I wanted to get to, other things I needed to be doing.

I almost left that white page white. And then I thought maybe I should write about having a difficult time putting black characters on a white page.

It didn’t take long until the black marks started to create an amazing contrast on the white page. My white page became a mere backdrop to highlight all the black letters that are now prominent, front and centre.

Here’s the thing: Sometimes you read the Bible and nothing seems to hit home. You feel like giving up on reading it. I believe Henry Blackaby once wrote that when he spends time with God he keeps reading the Bible until God brings something to his attention. Don’t stop reading God’s word because, if you persevere, God will cause those little black characters to stand out and apply to you, right then and there.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What do you do when you are blocked in some way? Leave your comment below.

Turn Your Toil Into Joy 

 

This is a re-post of a blog I published on October 13, 2012. This week I found myself in a very similar situation and this blog spoke to me all over again. Enjoy.

Yesterday I had to work late on my sermon.  It was Friday; I like to be done my sermon by 5 pm but it was obvious that was not going to happen.

working lateEvery week that Sunday deadline stares me in the face; it’s always on my mind.  Some weeks things go well.  I do a little work on my message each day so that the task is broken down.  Monday mornings I make notes on the passage and from commentaries.  Tuesdays, I read supportive material and start to formulate the main idea of the passage.  Wednesdays, I try to create the outline with supportive scripture.  Thursdays, I write a draft of the message.

These days I’ve been dictating that draft. Its an amazing thing, I speak and my computer types the words.  My wife Lily always laughs when I dictate because the program gets some words wrong … like the other day, when I said, “Because the word…” and the program typed “Because Al Gore.”

I’m not sure what Al Gore had to do with my message – it had nothing to do with saving the planet’s environment!  On the other hand, my sermon did have to do with saving people ON the planet.

Fridays, I edit my message, prepare the media presentation and internet support.  This Friday by 4 pm, I had not even started to write the sermon.  It had been a very difficult week, with many interruptions and meetings.

At 4 pm I was tired, and frustrated because focus had been an issue all week for me.  I was not looking forward to spending all evening writing a sermon.  But as I was checking a reference for something, I ran into a quote that struck me.

The quote was from Samuel Chadwick a Methodist preacher. “The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying.  He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion.  He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”

I had just finished praying when I read that, asking God to help me get my sermon done quickly.  But something struck me in that quote; it was the part about Satan laughing at our toil.  My sermon writing felt like toil to me right then.  I was not excited about writing it; I just wanted to be done.

After pondering the quote for a moment, I began to pray again.  This time I asked God to give me a passion for my writing.  I asked Him to fill me with excitement and enthusiasm for what I would put down.  I asked Him to give me joy in writing my message, no matter how long it took.  I asked Him to fill me up with the message He wanted me to bring to my congregation.  I prayed, “Lord, don’t let Satan laugh at the work I am doing.”

The Lord answered my prayer, keeping me focussed and moving ahead as I dictated. He filled my mind with thoughts and words and illustrations.  It was a pleasure to write that message, and I finished before 8 pm.

Here’s the thing:  When we are struggling with something, no matter what it is, it’s always a good thing to pray.  Keep in mind that Satan would love to keep you toiling and prayerless.  Do the opposite.  Pray and watch God make your work a joy.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What do you do when you find your task is more toil than joy?  Leave your comments below.