10,000 Hours of Piety

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

Matthew 6:1

What does Jesus mean when he refers to “practicing your piety”?

Dallas Willard says the human will comes in three forms. First, the "impulsive will." That’s our first nature. It’s the part of us that, without thinking of consequences, says, “I want it now!” Secondly, there’s the “reflective will.” That’s the part of us that wonders, “Just because I want it now, does that mean it’s best for me?” And then thirdly, there’s the “embodied will.” The embodied will is formed when our impulses have been tamed and transformed by faithful reflection on God’s Word so that our first desire is no longer impulsive self-indulgence but rather faithful obedience to God.

Dallas Willard believes that every aspect of inward spiritual transformation has an outward, physical discipline. When Jesus refers to “practicing your piety,” he’s referring to the disciplines and practices that help transform our impulsive will into an embodied will so that faithful obedience becomes more and more our nature. In Malcolm Gladwell’s best selling book, Outliers, he claims that the secret to success in any field is practicing specific tasks for 10,000 hours. And more than just doing the same thing over and over, you have to keep improving each hour—for 10,000 hours. Given that there are only 8,760 hours in a whole year, you begin to see the life-long commitment that’s involved.

In Jesus’ day, the three main disciplines were prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. These disciplines, and others, never go out of fashion. While Jesus never discourages these practices, he does offer a word of warning about them. Pay attention to your motives. If my audience is only the people around me, my reward will only be as big as their response and affirmation, and that will never be satisfying.

Few categories of life hold more fascination for us than the lives of actors and actresses. They turn their beauty and giftedness into fame and fortune and the adoration of millions. So why do so many commit suicide? I did a Google search of “actors who’ve committed suicide” and immediately there appeared a whole Wikipedia category for “Actors who’ve committed suicide,” and then a separate Wikipedia category for “Actresses who’ve committed suicide.” All told, the lists totaled 366, and the Wikipedia categories hadn’t even been updated to include recent entries. As much as we seek and admire it, the praise of earth never satisfies.

We practice piety to become more familiar with God and the applause of heaven. My friend Kevin Hannon watched his son Craig pitch a great baseball game. Afterwards, over dinner they talked about it. Then while washing dishes his son said something just under his breath. Kevin asked, “What was that you said?” A second time his son spoke, but again too quietly, so he asked a third time, “Just once more and a little louder.” That’s when his boy said, “I heard you cheering for me.”

Practicing piety muffles the applause of the earth and amplifies the applause of heaven. God knows his applause is the only applause that satisfies.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When in life do you feel the deepest and greatest sense of satisfaction? How would your spiritual disciplines compare to Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule? What would have to change in your life to make more room for Willard’s embodied will? What holds you back?

PRAYER: Teach me the long, slow obedience in the same direction, that my daily disciplines might train my impulses to embody you. Amen.


Dave Peterson is an ordained pastor who is the Director of Community Outreach for The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation and Scholarly Advisor for the H. E. Butt Family Foundation. He is the author of Receiving and Giving, Unleashing the Bless Challenge in Your Life. Dave and his wife, Terri, have four adult children and four grandchildren.

On Earth As It Is in Heaven

When we pray, do we say, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and then sit back and wait for someone to show up on the scene and make things happen? As people of faith—at work, in our community, in our home, in our relationships—how do we partner with God to usher in the kingdom of God, right where we are? How can we live the gospel in such a way that we welcome the kingdom of God wherever we show up? What is the impact of doing good work in the places God has called us? What does it mean to do good work, and why does it matter? Does my good work every day make a difference for eternity? After we pray, On Earth As It Is in Heaven, what are practical ways to partner with God in seeing that come to pass, right in the place where we are?

Featured image by Mary Anne Morgan. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.