Going through the letter of 2 Timothy in our “Good Soldier” series I’ve been struck with the obvious: preparation, faithfulness and discipline.
Phrases in the letter include “hold on to the right pattern…,” “follow the Lord’s rules for doing His work,” “work hard so God can approve you,” “do not let yourself become tied up in the affairs of this life,” “remain faithful to what you’ve been taught.” (New Living Translation)
However, this is only part of being equipped. It would be tragic to miss out on the importance of improvisation in the battle. We are trained by God’s Word so we can respond rightly in every situation.
My dad played trumpet in jazz bands and was amazing at improvisation. I tried to excel in the things that were important to him, including the trumpet. I could read and play the music, but really struggled with improvisation.
One day I asked him how he did it. He just smiled, shook his head and said, “You’ve got to play all the time, practice, do scales, listen to other great players, practice playing along by ear, build your ‘chops,’ work on your tone and range, a lot of stuff you don’t like to do… Because improvisation flows out of discipline and hard work. There’s a magical thing that happens when it starts to flow naturally in the moment.” Pause. Another big smile, as though he believed I could feel and understand what he was saying. It only took me 20 years to figure that out, long after I put the trumpet away.
It is so easy to reduce our spiritual journey to right information and formulas — if I can recite the right doctrine, check the experiential boxes, say the thing that sounds spiritual, pray the prayer that impresses…
The greater challenge is to put God’s Word into practice. It is to step out of my comfort zone and exercise His love and gifts with people who are unimpressed (outside the walls). It is to view the unexpected as an opportunity.
It is very hard for religious people to improvise.
Jesus said it this way to a guy who had relegated it all to right information and formulas:
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8 ESV
Improvising in God’s kingdom is not about self-expression or desire, but instead responsiveness to Jesus. The wind is blowing, God is on the move.
You are invited to join Him and give yourself to Him. Remember the challenges of 2 Timothy to hold on, follow His Word, work hard, to remain faithful.
And be prepared to join Jesus outside the box when it is time to improvise!