And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may . . . [be] filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)
The Good (And The Bad) of Muscle Memory
Most of us know what it’s like to be in the infancy stages of developing a new skill or habit. When you first pick up that guitar or start that new workout regimen, it feels awkward, clunky, and unnatural. But ideally, when a person routinely practices an activity over a prolonged period of time, he or she develops an acute ability to perform it more naturally with an increasing measure of finesse. And as you may know, this is a result of something called muscle memory.
Writing for Lifehacker about how muscle memory affects personal success, Adam Dachis says,
Muscle memory is . . . like a cache of frequently enacted tasks for your muscles. It’s a form of procedural memory that can help you become very good at something through repetition…
But muscle memory can also have potentially negative effects as well. Dachis goes on,
…but in exactly the same way it can make you absolutely terrible at that same thing . . . If you’re practicing a song on the piano over and over again, the idea is that you’ll continue to improve. “Practice makes perfect” can be an accurate phrase because the more you do something, you build up that procedural memory and your brain can quickly instruct your muscles to carry it out. That muscle memory doesn’t judge whether you’re doing good or bad, however, and so if you practice a song poorly for hours on end you’re going to be really good at making the same mistakes over and over again . . . When you repeat mistakes again and again, you build a muscle memory with those mistakes.
In other words, regardless of whether it produces intended or unintended results, our psychology interacts with our physicality to form muscle memory. I’m pointing this out because I believe that, in many ways, this can help us to see how the church’s gathered worship forms us Spiritually to live every day as real Christ-followers. Let me explain.
Aiming for Quantity And Quality
To borrow Dachis’s example, if you were to sit down at a piano and play, say, for an hour, you wouldn’t develop any real chops as a pianist. But what if you were to play piano for an hour on a daily basis for a few years? Well, then you would probably see some noticeable abilities develop. And of course, as Dachis rightfully points out, this is all contingent upon the quality of your practice.
Well, gathered worship is a lot like that.
You see, if a person were to casually attend LifePoint’s worship gatherings a half-dozen times in the course of a year, it probably wouldn’t impact his or her daily living in any notable way. Sure, it might occasionally serve as a nice spiritual pick-me-up with some short-lived effects. But ultimately they wouldn’t prove to be meaningful in the grand scheme of life.
On the other hand, what if a person were to not only attend, but also serve and connect in community through LifePoint’s gatherings nearly every Sunday over the course of several years? I’d say its impact on his or her daily life would be quite profound. Which signals us to the reality that gathered worship, like any other habit or skill, must be developed. It’s a Spiritual discipline that Christ-followers diligently observe on a regular basis. Otherwise, its impact will be minimal at best.
And yet at the same time we can’t afford to forget that quantity isn’t the only thing that counts here. Whether the effects of worship gatherings end up being positive or negative depends entirely upon the Spiritual quality of those gatherings. In fact, you probably don’t need to look very far to find some bad fruit that’s been produced over a lifetime of attending lousy church gatherings. After all, many churches form their congregants to be legalistic, consumeristic, fanatical, and even heretical.
Conversely, the intended effects of biblically faithful worship gatherings can often be observed in the daily lives of those who joyfully make the local church a priority in their schedule, resources, and decision-making.
This is why Paul prayed that, in remaining committed to the Lord and to the mission of building His church (Mat. 16:18), the Philippians would be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God” (v. 11, quoted above). Paul’s prayer clues us in to a well-established fact of the Christian life—that how we live as Christ-followers is inextricably connected with our commitment to the local church. This is true both in regard to the quantity of time we spend with the church and the quality of the church with whom we spend our time.
So what does this mean for LifePoint?
Basically, it means that we must regularly spend time worshiping God together. But not only that, we must also make the most of the time we spend together. As Sunday approaches, I encourage you to ask yourself some specific questions about how the quantity of time you spend with the people of LifePoint can also be quality time. Questions like, How should I be praying for LifePoint’s gatherings? Who in our church can I go out of my way to bless and encourage? What’s the best way for me to meet guests and new attenders? What needs do I see that I have the resources to meet?
LifePoint, if we will do all we can to make the most of the Lord’s Day, I’m confident that the Spirit of Christ will be at work among us to develop our Spiritual “muscle memory.” And if that’s the case, our daily lives will be impacted profoundly through gathered worship for the glory of Jesus, the joy of His church and our witness in the world that He came down to redeem.
So let me boil it all down for you by asking, Do you believe that gathered worship is really that important for your life?