Focusing on the Fundamentals

Categories: Staff Devotions

October 25, 2016

Focusing on the Fundamentals

– Fred Poston (First Impressions Ministry)

Among the many professional athletes and musicians is an elite group that stands out above the rest. One thing which these top performers have in common is the commitment to practicing the fundamentals of their craft. Jerry Rice has been considered to be the best wide receiver to ever play in the NFL. He would continue to practice receiving and running long after the rest of the team went home. Six days per week during the off-season he underwent grueling physical workouts by himself.[1]
Forward Tim Duncan has been dubbed one of the most boring players in the NBA and “the best player on the planet,”[2] but Shaquille O’Neal nicknamed him the “Big Fundamental” because he was one of the most fundamentally sound players in the league.[3] Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich credited Duncan’s sound, fundamental playing as the force that led the Spurs to their 2005 NBA championship title.[4]
Itzak Perlman attributes his childhood devotion to practicing scales and études to what made him the violinist he is today, which he called doing his “due diligence.”[5]
The list of examples goes on and on. World Series champion shortstop Barry Larkin summarizes all these accomplishments with “What people don’t realize is that professionals are sensational because of the fundamentals.”[6]
The messages of the recent Surge Conference could be summarized as a call back to the fundamentals of the faith: scripture reading, prayer, living the Spirit-filled life and holy living. Like scales to a musician, these disciplines are fundamental to life. One can never move beyond them to “deeper things.” One can never master them to the point of never needing them again. To do so is to neglect the source of our life and to succumb to the shallowness of our society.
Richard Foster wrote in 1978 that “Superficiality is the curse of our age.”[7] If that was true then, how much more is it today? With all the technology and resources which we possess nowadays it is possible to create a sensational program which sweeps up people in its momentary ecstasy yet leaves them empty. Foster calls the church back to a life of spiritual disciplines in order to move below surface living into the depths of what it really means to live. That is where Quaker John Woolman (1720-1772) counsels us to live: “It is good for thee to dwell deep, that thou mayest feel and understand the spirits of people.”[8] To this end Foster prescribes twelve disciplines and a life of simplicity.
Woolman and Foster aren’t the first to promote this simplistic lifestyle. By Luke’s account the early church devoted itself to just four disciplines: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer (Acts 2:42).[9] I can’t imagine that this came any more easily to them in the first century than it does to us in the twenty-first. People had lives to lead, jobs to do, food to buy and families to raise just like we do today. And all of this without cars, supermarkets and microwaves. Yet they devoted themselves to these disciplines.
The verb used here,[10] translated as “continually devoting,” means “to persevere, be constantly diligent.” It infers calculated effort. The verb tense used implies that the devotion was ongoing. There wasn’t a once-for-all-time commitment made. They had to repeatedly commit themselves to these things because other things cropped up and got in the way.
What the ministers at the Surge Conference promoted are disciplines which nurtured the life of the early church and which ministers have been calling the church back to for two millennia. If we discipline ourselves in these things – in the fundamentals – we will be practicing what the early church practiced and we can expect to see the same results that they did and which “upset the inhabited earth” (Acts 17:6).
[1] Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else (New York: Portfolio, 2008). Referenced in James Clear, “Masters of Habit: The Deliberate Practice and Training of Jerry Rice,” Jamesclear.com, 23 October 2016, http://jamesclear.com/jerry-rice.
[2] “Spurs Dethrone Pistons To Take Third NBA Title,” NBA.com, 23 June 2005, http://www.nba.com/games/20050623/DETSAS/recap.html.
[3] Noa Kageyama, “Why I’d Spend A Lot More Time Practicing Scales If I Could Do It All Over Again,” Bulletproofmusician, 23 October 2016, http://www.bulletproofmusician.com/why-id-be-a-lot-more-diligent-about-practicing-scales-if-i-could-do-it-all-over-again/.
[4] “Spurs Dethrone”
[5] Angelica Frey, “How and How Long Should You Practice? Violinist Itzak Perlman Weighs In,” CMuse.org, 3 August 2015, http://www.cmuse.org/how-and-how-long-should-you-practise-violinist-itzhak-perlman-weighs-in/.
[6] Kageyama.
[7] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 1.
[8] John Woolman, The Journal of John Woolman (Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1972), 118.
[9] One can also add the actions listed later in vv. 44-47a, but this can be understood as the result of fellowship (v. 42).
[10] proskarteréō, also used in Acts 1:14 to describe their continual devotion to prayer which precipitated Pentecost.