Earlier this year, my little Primrose went through a particularly rough sleep regression. She had a hard time falling asleep—which meant Mary and I had a hard time falling asleep, too. That got me thinking about a subject that is near and dear to my heart.
It’s called coffee. You may have heard of it. It’s pretty great.
Because you are a converted Christian, I’m going to assume you enjoy a cup of coffee on Sabbath mornings. (It’s practically the Eleventh Commandment.)
I’m also going to assume that you are probably the person who makes that coffee—or at least that you know how to make a pot of it.
With that said—when you make coffee, do you have to analyze and second-guess every step of the process?
I doubt it. I imagine it comes pretty naturally. But that’s interesting, because there are a lot of variables that go into making a cup of coffee. If you use an automatic drip coffee maker, like most of us do, then most of that process is… well, automatic. But even then there are some variables to consider. What’s your coffee-to-water ratio? Are you using filtered water or tap water? When were your beans ground? When were they roasted? Are they a light roast or a dark roast? Will you use a mesh or a paper filter? If it’s paper, is it natural or is it bleached?
Whether you care about them or not, each of those variables can change how your coffee ends up tasting. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s obvious, but there’s always a difference. Why is that you aren’t overwhelmed and paralyzed by all those variables every time you go to make a cup of coffee? Easy. It’s because you’ve gone through a process that, in the coffee world, is known as “dialing it in.”
More on that in a minute—because dialing it in isn’t just about coffee. It’s actually a fundamental part of being a Christian.
But, uh, first I’m going to talk more about coffee.
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Most of my friends would probably tell you that I’m a coffee snob. And by now, you might be thinking, “Well Jeremy, they’re not wrong.” And maybe they’re not. But I have no qualms about reheating a day-old pot of coffee or drowning it in creamer if the urge strikes. The truth of the matter is that I’m fascinated by coffee. For starters, there are so many different ways to make it.
You can grind it to a fine powder and make Turkish coffee in a cezve, the way people have been doing it for 500 years. You can take a more manual approach with the water by trying pour-over coffee. You can feel like a mad scientist by creating a vacuum in a siphon coffee maker. You can give your cup of joe some international flair with a French press or an Italian moka pot. You can plunge it through an Aeropress or an espresso machine, bubble it through a percolator, or just boil it in a pot like some kind of madman.
The problem is, when you use any of these brewing methods, you have to relearn a bunch of variables. You have to think about ratios and grind size and extraction rates and water temperature and freshness and roasting methods and origin and timing and like 100 other things and you’re going to get them wrong.
You’re going to get them wrong over and over and over again.
Not for lack of research. You’re going to read through 12 online guides and watch 27 video walkthroughs and you’re still going to botch it. You’ll make a cup that’s too weak, then too strong, then too bitter, then not bitey enough, and on it goes, until eventually, you’ll land on something that isn’t completely awful.
And that’s how “dialing it in” works. It’s about gradually, deliberately tweaking those variable until you can consistently make a cup of coffee that isn’t completely awful. And then tweaking some more until “not completely awful” turns into “pretty good, actually” and “pretty good, actually” turns into “this is all I ever wanted from a hot cup of bean water.”
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Dialing it in is a slow, gradual process that involves brewing a lot of coffee you’re not happy with—until eventually you figure out how to make coffee you’re consistently happy with.
Have you figured out what dialing it in has to do with being a Christian?
I hope so. That whole process ought to be sounding awful familiar right about now. Trying, over and over again, to produce something you’re happy with, messing up even though you have instructions, gradually refining your approach until you start to see improvement. Learning to make a decent cup of coffee—dialing it in—has so much in commonwith being a Christian.
So—okay, cool analogy. But so what? Who cares?
I think when we learn to see Christianity as a continual process of dialing it in, it changes how we look at… well, everything.
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There are two essential components you need if you’re planning to dial in a cup of coffee: information and experience. And you need both of them. You can read 15 essays on how to make coffee with a moka pot and still not truly understand how to make coffee with a moka pot. But on the other hand, if you pick any one of these brewing methods and just start throwing stuff in there and seeing what happens, I guarantee you that you will make so many unnecessary mistakes.
And that is of course true for more than a cup of coffee. That is true for every important trait that goes into making a Christian. Love. Joy. Peace. Longsuffering. The fruit of Spirit, the armor of God, all of it. These are our spiritual cups of coffee. We can read every verse there is to read about patience, but if we never practice it, we’re not patient. And if we just start trying to practice godly love without ever reading what God saysabout love, we will get it catastrophically wrong.
As Christians, we need information, and we need experience. We need to know what God says in His instruction manual and we need to keep putting those instructions into practice. And the beautiful thing is, the more we let instruction and experience interact, the deeper our understanding becomes. We start to get glimpses into why God designed things the way that He did; we start seeing how the gears interlock, and that helps us to do a better job moving forward.
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Speaking of moving forward, I should point out that all these methods of brewing coffee are very different from one another. Sure, they all have some things in common—they all use water and coffee beans—but the process and the timing is vastly different as you move from one method to the next. Having a good handle on one doesn’t mean you’ll automatically know how to use the others. Besides that, some of these methods you’re going to naturally click with—and some you won’t.
Point of fact, my first real foray into this world of coffee was the French press. I researched it, I made a cup of coffee with it, I drank that cup of coffee, and I immediately decided, you know what, I guess I just hate coffee. But no, turns out, I was just doing everything wrong. Wrong beans, wrong brew time, wrong grind size—everything. Pour over came a liiiiiiiiitle more naturally, but I still cannot get the moka pot to make anything I’m remotely interested in drinking.
The point is, the French press is not the siphon is not pour-over, and love is not longsuffering is not joy. There are common elements, yes, but each one takes its own kind of practice, and some will come more naturally than others. That’s the way this works: practice, practice, practice.
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But when it comes to practice, there’s an easy trap that we as God’s people can fall into—and that has to do with how we look at our own progress. Take the fruit of the Spirit again. It’s easy to look at each of those traits—kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness—as binary things. I either have it or I don’t. I am either a kind person or I’m not. I am either a patient person or I’m not. I am either a loving person or I’m not. As if the only two possibilities on any of those spectrums are 0 or 100%.
We do ourselves a disservice when we think like that.
Obviously, God is the full and complete expression of each of those traits. His love is at 100%. His joy, His longsuffering, all of it—100%. And if our only two possible rankings are 0 and perfect—well, none of us are God, so we must all be 0.
That is a depressing thought if you’ve been doing this for any extended period of time. I’ve been baptized for a little over 14 years. My daughter Primrose is a little over 2 years old. There are some people in the Church who have been baptized for 50 years—half a century—and it is absurd to think that they are sitting at the same level of progress as me or my two-year-old daughter.
I mean, that’s not how making coffee works, right? Imagine if it did. Imagine if you could only brew garbage cup after garbage cup over and over again until, one day, magically, you could suddenly make the perfect cup of coffee. But that’s ridiculous. That’s not how it works with coffee, and that’s not how it works with being a Christian. I cannot imagine spending 50 years of my life following God and feeling like the only label God has for me is “still not good enough.”
There are so many of you in this room who have spent years—decades—slowly improving your spiritual cups of coffee. And maybe for you right now, peace is only at 15%, but gentleness is at 73% and self-control is at 49%. Is there room for improvement? Sure. But have you been improving? Absolutely. Or maybe you’ve spent this entire year getting 1% better at joy. And that’s it. Just joy. Just 1%. That’s not nothing. That’s not sitting at 0. That’s improvement—and who knows what kind of mountains you had to move to get that 1% increase?
And on the other side of this coin is another awesome reminder. The fact that none of us are at 100% means that none of us are sitting here and just taking up space. The fact that no one feels perfect after half a century of living this life means that God always has more to teach us. That there’s always more to learn. That 50 years isn’t enough to see everything God wants to show us.
To me, that’s incredible. That’s a testament to how much depth and height there is to this calling we share. We each have the opportunity to brew and improve so many more cups of coffee.
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I’ll be the first to admit that this has been an unusual Sabbath Thought. Here we are at the end of it and I’ve not given you a single verse. I’ve not referenced a single Bible story. But I hope that while you’ve been reading, you’ve been thinking about verses and stories. I hope different ones have been running through your head as you read everything before this.
I do have one verse I’d like to leave you with. It’s something Jesus told His disciples. “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52, ESV).
God’s Word doesn’t change. The rules for brewing these spiritual cups of coffee don’t change—and yet as we engage with that Word, the treasure we bring out is somehow both old and new. We’re going to see things we never really noticed before. We’re going to start understanding things that didn’t quite make sense before.
And whether we’ve been doing this for five weeks or fifty years, we’re going to get there the same way: by dialing in cup after spiritual cup of God’s Word.
Until next time,