Monday, July 05, 2010

perfect takes practice

“But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” ~Jesus

In this series we began called Perfect Takes Practice, I mentioned an idea that Malcolm Gladwell posits in his fascinating book, Outliers: The Story of Success. He upsets the typical ways we think how success happens, from culture to education to race to social class. In the book, Gladwell introduces the 10,000 Hours Rule. He writes of a study done at an elite music university in Berlin by a psychologist named Ericsson.

Ericsson divided all of the violin students into three groups. The first group were the “stars”…those who had the potential to become world-class soloists. The second group was judged to be merely “good” and in the third were students who never intended to become professionals but wanted to become music teachers in the public schools.

Every student had started learning at the same age, about five years old. They all practiced around the same amount of hours. Then Gladwell writes:

“But when the students were around the age of eight, real difference started to emerge. The students who would end up the best in their class began to practice more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight hours a week by age twelve, sixteen hours a week by age fourteen, and up and up, until by the age of twenty they were practicing—that is, purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better—well over thirty hours a week. In fact, by the age of twenty, the elite performers had each totaled ten thousand hours of practice. By contrast, the merely good students had totaled eight thousand hours, and the future music teachers had totaled just over four thousand hours.”

They did the same research with pianists as well. Same result. Neurologist Daniel Levitin found the same thing with “…basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters . . . chess players, (and) master criminals.” It takes an average of 10,000 hours for the brain “to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”


Gladwell even uses the Beatles as an example. By the time they came to America back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, they had played in the gritty strip clubs of Hamburg, Germany seven days a week, eight hours a night, and two-hundred-seventy nights in just a year-and-a-half.

In an interview before he died, John Lennon said, “In Liverpool, we’d only ever done one-hour (shows), and we just used to do our best numbers, the same ones, at every one. In Hamburg, we had to play for eight hours, so we really had to find a new way of playing.”

Before they became successful in America, they had been playing together for seven years and “performed live an estimated twelve hundred times.” Most bands never do that their entire careers.

They hit the 10,000 Hours Rule. Practice, practice, practice.

What we discover in the Matthew 5-7 is the practice of surrendering to the King and His Kingdom-way of living. As a follower of Jesus I’ve learned that God is way more interested in my heart than my GPS location—where I’m “supposed to be” and “supposed to be doing”. God probes my core motivations to force me to admit if I’m living by the “dog-eat-dog, me-first, power-at-all-cost, I have to be right, recognized and rewarded” way of living in this world…or if I’m riding the first wave of this ocean of faith, hope and love that is pouring over the planet from God: the Kingdom Come.

What would happen if we began to actually practice Matthew 5-7? What if we fully became citizens of this new kingdom? What would happen if after 10,000 hours of following Jesus in the way He describes, we discovered that this is more that “good advice”? Would that make us more complete, perfect in terms of what God is doing in us in the moment?

This is light years past average day-to-day living. It is here that Jesus exposes the difference between people who say they love God, and people who really love God and know Him. I'm forced once again to face how my actions reveal my heart or God's heart.

Take mercy, for instance, as outlined in the Sermon on the Mount.

Expressing mercy is the ultimate risk-taking venture—X games for the soul. C. S. Lewis wrote that “Pilate (the Roman governor who condemned Jesus to crucifixion) was merciful till it became risky.” It would be nice if Jesus would have given us a select group of people to be merciful to…but He doesn't leave us that luxury. He simply says, “Love your enemies…and do good to them.”

I believe that if we were to actually practice what Jesus says, our personalities would begin a transformation. And by the way, Jesus didn't preface this with any exceptions. He didn't say, “I know some of you have come from dysfunctional families, so just do the best you can.” He actually tells them to be “complete, or perfected, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Teleios is the Greek word meaning completeness, wholeness, perfection—like God. It's not restrictive; rather, it’s liberating…it gives us life. If we come from dysfunctional backgrounds (and who hasn’t?), it is all the more reason to live this life-giving challenge. If I want to be well, I must.

Perfect takes practice.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)


  1. Thanks Dave, I remember hearing a preacher once say that you dont need practice but simply repent and be done with it. Well needless to say I never could pull it off. Practice makes perfect is a term my father often used and often I found that my biggest weekness was just getting it started, but I do find that surrounding my self with things like spiritual music and people helps to keep my focus. thanks for the post and just hearing that term,"practise makes perfect" is a help.

  2. I recently read Outliers and the concept of the 10,000 hour rule has remained with me. I rarely apply myself to the spiritual disciples with the same daily diligence I expect from myself in studio -- and the former is not only of greater value, it is also necessary if I want the art I consider my "real job" to evolve with sincerity and purpose. Thank you for making the connection between Gladwell's thesis and the everyday business of following Christ.