Arts & Culture & At Work

Wax On, Wax Off: The Importance of Practicing the Basics in Our Faith

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Back in March, I had an interesting discussion with our unit chaplain. He had given a lot of thought to a scene in a classic movie that had some implications for integrating our Christian faith in our work and relationships. His main point is that we don’t always see the results of our hard work. If the end result of what we are pursuing is worth the effort, we need to press on by faith, regardless of the feedback we receive.

Let me briefly summarize this scene and then discuss it from a biblical perspective. I think it will be a valuable discussion.

Wax On, Wax Off

Mr. Miyagi, the old man with a mysterious past and some mad karate skills agrees to train Daniel. In this scene, Daniel is complaining that all he has been doing over the entire weekend is helping his coach with various chores like waxing the car, painting the fence, and painting the deck. His muscles are sore. He is exhausted. What is worse is that he is discouraged. He has not seen any connection between what he was asked to do and learning the basics of this martial art. He wants to quit.

With some persuasion, Mr. Miyagi gets Daniel to stay. He shows him how each of the tasks he asked Daniel to do would enable him to execute a basic defensive karate move. It is hard to remember how cool it was when I saw this scene for the very first time. I was just as amazed as our main character was to see it come together.

What Mr. Miyagi was trying to put across is that learning new skills takes time. There are a variety of ways to learn the muscle memory needed to be able to do these defensive moves without thinking. Waxing cars (circular motions from the inside out) and painting the fence and deck (using vertical and horizontal motions) were the tools the master teacher used for our karate kid to learn the skills that would help him later on.

Feedback Loops

In our deep theological discussion of this particular scene, the chaplain referred to “feedback loops.” Daniel wanted to quit was because he got no feedback during the tasks he was doing. He did not see the results he expected.

The chaplain talked about small loops, where we receive feedback on our efforts early and often. Much of the time we see large loops, where feedback is late in coming, is infrequent, or never arrives at all. When we see a little progress towards meeting our goals, feedback spurs us on. If no feedback is received, we get discouraged.

Positive feedback which motivates us to keep on doing what we are doing comes in many forms. It can come in words of encouragement or gratitude. Or we see the results of our labors (i.e., we closed the deal, a student’s grades improved, our congregation is growing in faith and numbers, or maybe we saw some hope in the possibilities of a new relationship we have begun to pursue). It might just come from the still small voice of God whispering to our renewed hearts to continue to follow what he has called us to do.

Perseverance is the Key to Success

I would like to now focus on the application of these things we have discussed.

Whether we are trying to learn a new skill, improve job performance, pursue a relationship, or become a more faithful Christian, the one trait that is required in all of these endeavors is perseverance. We may not get the encouragement we think we need or deserve, but we press on anyway, knowing that God loves us, that he has good plans for us, and that suffering and trials build up our faith.

Looking back over my winding vocational journey through math education, ministry, and with the military, I can honestly say that there were quite a few jobs that I had where I was not sure of God’s purposes for me at the time. However, I do know now that God was present with me every step of the way. There was divine purpose in every chapter of my life, no matter how difficult it was (i.e., being fired from youth ministry in 1985, failing at recruiting duty in 1992, etc).

What I learned from each of the painful jobs I had been given helped me learn new skills, built my character, and made me a better Christ-follower.

Trusting the Coach

Like Daniel-San in the movie, we just need to learn to trust our coach. Let me spell it out. We need to trust the triune God to bring us where he wants us to be. We may not always see the reasons why we are doing the difficult tasks that he may call us to do, but we have to believe that good will come from it if we persevere. We can trust God based on what he has revealed to us in his word regarding his divine attributes.

In Peter’s second epistle, he tells us that God provided everything we need to live a godly life through his divine power. The main resources Peter mentions here is knowing God and his precious promises (2 Pet. 1:3-4). When we know who he is and what he promised to do for us, it keeps us motivated to pursue our relationship with him. Peter breaks it down further so that we know that God has the primary role in our sanctification, but we have a part to do as well. Without our cooperation, we cannot live the abundant life.

Peter lists a number of things Christians need to do to enable God’s divine resources to take effect. We are to “make every effort” to pursue these character qualities by faith through disciplined practice of them in the power of the Holy Spirit: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, and brotherly love (2 Pet. 1:5-7).

As a result of this pursuit, Peter says, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:8). In other words, the more we practice the basics (wax on, wax off), the more Christlike we will be.

Closing Challenge

I trust that whatever season of life you are in, as a young person learning new skills or pursuing a special relationship, or as a seasoned employee who is in the position to give back to others, you are pursuing the tasks that God has called you to do with perseverance. You may not see how it is all going to come together, but if you can trust God, you will gradually grow in skills, knowledge, and Christlikeness.

I leave you with the encouraging words of the Apostle Paul. Meditate on this when you need it: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

Editor’s note: This article was republished from the author’s blog with permission.

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