In my attempts to address the question mentioned above, it is clear that what I am providing are means of changing behavior. If we want to improve our skill in some endeavor, whether playing the piano, praying, or preaching, there are four elements that must come together: frequency, efficacy, duration, and intensity. Without sufficient attention to each of these four, our efforts are unlikely to bear fruit.
Frequency: we need to engage on a regular schedule. Find any athlete, artist, or writer who is good at what they do and you will find them engaging their discipline daily. This is what makes the Daily Offices the cornerstone of Anglican spiritual formation. Habitual action forms character.
Efficacy: It is not just a matter of an hour or two per day. That time must be well-spent in activities that promote growth. I played electric bass for several years, but I plateaued in my progress pretty quickly because I was content to play fairly easy songs and not work to develop my skills. We must do things that will lead us in growth and our exercises should become progressively more challenging.
Duration: The effort has to be regular and effective over years. The so-called 10,000-Hour Rule, while hotly debated, has truth to it. Namely, that a high level of proficiency in any endeavor takes lasting effort over multiple years. Changing our behavior is a long process. Our resolve to change may be formed in a short experience, but the actual change takes endurance.
Intensity: We must be sincere in our effort, but be careful with this for it can sidetrack you. Change takes more than just intensity.¹ C.S. Lewis shipwrecked his adolescent faith by focusing on intensity in his prayers to the exclusion of everything else. Intensity is not about feeling it. Intensity is about not giving minimal effort to our endeavors which in turn habituates us to perfunctory and superficial effort. We not only have to do the right things (efficacy), we have to put sufficient effort into them to make them work.
We need to look at what we really want to grow in, focus on those few things, and give them time. This is not going to be a five minute per day endeavor. It is going to take change, hard work, and persistence. When I read the sayings of the Desert Fathers and other saints throughout the ages, I am reading advice from people who engaged in the life of the spirit for decades. Their advice and learning came from long, protracted study and practice.
None of this is to discount the role of the Holy Spirit. He is essential in our efforts at Christ-likeness, but our obedience is also essential. Nowhere in the Scriptures do we see God blessing the disobedient or apathetic.
¹ This post is an expansion of an earlier post.