My first teaching job was in a small community southwest of Lexington, Kentucky. Although the school included first through sixth grades, there were only five teachers. Second grade was divided, some students included in first, the rest with third. I was assigned the first/second split.
The first morning of school went by quickly as we read stories, played a few learning games, and completed a class chart of favorite summer activities. Soon it was time to march to the cafeteria for lunch.
The children lined up to receive their plates of food, and then were instructed to pick up napkins, utensils, cartons of milk, and straws – all without benefit of trays. Little hands struggled to hold so many items–much less carry them all without accident. (And why were the first and second graders seated farthest from the serving line? I never had the nerve to ask.)
So began my habit of standing at the end of the counter, wrapping utensils and a straw in a napkin, then perching a milk carton on an empty corner of the plate as the students passed by.
One second grader, Ricky, was much too manly to use a straw. Each day he would proclaim, “I don’t need no straw.”
Each day I would patiently correct him: “I don’t need a straw.” Ricky would repeat it again after me. It almost became a joke between us, as the exchange occurred day after day, month after month.
One noontime in March, while focused on wrapping the next set of flatware, I heard Ricky’s voice proudly proclaim, “I DON’T NEED A STRAW!”
My eyes popped, Ricky’s twinkled, and his broad smile indicated his pleasure in remembering–all by himself–how to correctly form his request.
A quick hug, a few pats on the back, and an “I-am-so-PROUD-of-you!” let him know how I felt.
It never occurred to me to say, “Well, it’s about time, Bud! You DO realize we’ve repeated this little ceremony over one hundred times, don’t you?”
No. This was a moment to celebrate! Our perseverance had paid off. And perhaps this one little grammatical victory would prompt Ricky to conquer the next. I was thrilled.
Do you suppose that’s how God feels when our “practice makes perfect?”
- Our quiet time with him finally becomes a near-daily habit?
- We remember to express gratitude and praise to him throughout the day?
- We’re able to think before we speak more consistently?
- We forgo some purchase for pleasure in order to supply someone else with necessities?
- We put aside our agenda to do a favor for someone else?
Yes, I believe God is thrilled with our steps of progress, just as I was with Ricky’s effort. If God withheld his pleasure until we reached perfection, we’d never experience even one good thing (Psalm 84:11). He’d always be in discipline-mode.
But Isaiah tells us: “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion” (30:18).
David reminds us that out of his grace and compassion he guides our steps and takes delight when we follow his way (Psalm 37:23).
Another psalmist proclaimed that the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love (147:11). No mention of delight reserved only for those who are perfect.
Ah, but what about Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect?”
Yes, that is the standard, but God does not disapprove of us because we have not achieved that goal. He knows perfection this side of heaven is impossible. What he does approve of is effort—to press on like Paul to “receive the heavenly prize for which God through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:12-14).
When we stumble, we keep going. When we fall, we get up and try again.
But listen closely. You’ll hear God celebrating our progress (Zephaniah 3:17).
* * * * * * * * * *
We praise you, Heavenly Father, for being a gracious, compassionate God,
who is slow to become angry and always abounding in loving-kindness.
Even as we strive to be more like you,
we can rest in the knowledge that you will not condemn us
when we stumble and fall.
Thank you for your readiness to forgive and your everlasting love.
Thank you for continually drawing us closer to you and your perfection.
(Psalm 103:1-2, Romans 8:1; 1 John 1:9; Jeremiah 31:3).