When I picked up my boys from basketball practice this week, one of them observed, “Dad, basketball practice is a lot harder than a basketball game. In practice, you run and run and run, much more than in a game. In practice, you shoot many more shots than you do in a game.”
Recognizing the truth in his statement and remembering my brief years on the court, I responded, “That’s so you don’t have to think about those things come game time. They’ll be automatic.”
It got me to thinking about the prophet Daniel. Many of us know Daniel for the bold and courageous ways that he stood up to the political powers of his day. We remember the way that he stood up to King Darius and was thrown into the den of lions. However, it is a small, obscure verse leading up to that event that came to my mind as I talked to my son.
In Daniel 6, we read about the king’s decree forbidding anyone to pray to any god or human being except the king for thirty days. Then, we read, “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (Daniel 6:10).
The key is found in the easy-to-overlook phrase: “…as was his custom…” Too many times, we hope and pray that when the big tests and challenges of our life come, we might find the strength to make it through them with integrity. We hope that God might intervene on our behalf.
Instead, maybe we need to learn a lesson from Daniel. He made a custom or habit of seeking the Lord regularly. Three times a day, he opened his window towards Jerusalem and prayed to God. To put Daniel’s actions into modern terminology, we might say that he practiced regular spiritual disciplines. He oriented his life in such a way as to be able to connect, commune, and hear from God — whether he felt like it or not.
The spiritual disciplines of prayer, scripture study, worship, meditation, confession, fasting, obedience, and service were the “sprints” and “free throws” of Daniel’s spiritual training. When it was “game time,” Daniel wasn’t dusting off his Bible or stumbling through awkward prayers he only half-remembered from his childhood.
No, I believe that Daniel’s knees fell naturally into the indentions in the floor of his bedroom, rubbed smooth by his daily intercession. I believe that Daniel probably didn’t need to turn to the pages of scripture because he had hidden God’s word in his heart.
If you are waiting for the great trial in your life to begin getting ready, it may already be too late. Instead, we need to begin forming “habits of holiness” that orient us to the presence of God in the everyday moments of life. It’s the best way I know to be ready come tip-off.