THE HABIT OF LEARNING
In this week’s blog post, we are considering the habit or discipline of learning. In past posts, we have considered Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship as it relates to both time and finances, fasting, silence/solitude, and journaling.
If you have not seen these posts yet, go ahead and click on the links to catch yourself up.
And remember that the primary motivation for these spiritual habits or disciplines is taken from Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7, where he says, exercise or discipline yourself toward godliness. This applies to us just the same today and he makes it clear that, if we wish to be godly, it will take work, discipline, and exercise. Just as an athlete, musician, or artist must exercise disciplined practice to become more proficient at their chosen field, so a disciple must exercise disciplined practice in these activities as means’ of grace to become more proficient at being godly. That is to say, as we become more disciplined in the practice of these habits, more of God’s grace is available to us which will change us.
So what about learning?
An examination of the New Testament word disciple shows that it means to not only be a “follower” of Jesus but also a “learner”. Are you a disciple of Jesus? To follow Jesus and become more like Him, we must engage in the spiritual discipline of learning.
The Wise Person
According to the book of the Bible written specifically to give us practical wisdom, one of the characteristics of a wise man or woman is a desire for learning. We read in Proverbs 9:9, “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” Wise and righteous people can never get enough wisdom or knowledge. Unteachable people or those who are prideful about their learning only expose how shallow they are. The truly wise are humble because they know they still have so much to learn. And according to this verse, wise and righteous people remain teachable. They can learn from anybody, regardless of age or background. Give one of them instruction and he will be still wiser, he will increase in learning. The biblically wise are always looking to learn.
In Proverbs 18:15 we read, “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” A wise person not only acquires knowledge, but he or she also seeks it. Wise ones desire to learn and will discipline themselves to seek learning opportunities.
One other verse in Proverbs deserves a look. Proverbs 23:12 commands us, “Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge.” No matter how much previous instruction you have received or how extensive your knowledge - especially about God, Christ, the Bible, and the Christian life - and regardless of how intelligent or slow you consider yourself, you still need to apply your heart and ears to learn, because you haven’t learned it all.
A strong yearning for learning characterizes all those who are truly wise.
The Great Commandment
Jesus said that part of God’s greatest commandment is, Love the Lord your God...with all your mind” (Mark 12:30). What God wants most from you is your love and one of the ways He wants you to show love and obedience to Him is by godly learning. God is glorified when we use the mind He made to learn of Him, His Word, His ways, and His world.
Sadly, many Christians do not associate learning with loving God. In fact, we live in a quite anti-intellectual age. That may sound strange in light of the infinite storehouse of information accessible through the Internet; the widespread availability and growth of online education; the almost daily, dazzling advances in technology; and the fact that there are more advanced academic degrees being awarded today than ever before. Perhaps it is precisely because of such things that people - including Christian people - are more averse to things intellectual. Smart kids may be unpopular just because they are smart. They’re dismissed as nerds and the social attention goes to the underachievers. Our culture seems to glorify the physical much more than the mental. Nobody sells posters of the top software engineers or the most accomplished carpenter., much less the leading theologians.
There may be an intellectualism that is wrong, but it is also wrong to be anti-intellectual. We should love God just as much with our mind as with our heart and soul and strength. How can it all fit together? RC Sproul wrote, “God has made us with a harmony of heart and head, of thought and action...The more we know Him the more we can love Him. The more we love Him the more we seek to know Him. To be central in our hearts He must be foremost in our minds. Religious thought is the prerequisite to religious affection and obedient action.”
Unless we love God with a growing mind, we will be Christian versions of the Samaritans to whom Jesus said, “You worship what you do not know” (John 4:22).
A Requirement for Increased Godliness
The Christian life begins with learning - learning the gospel. Nobody is made right before the God about whom he knows nothing. Nobody is made right with God unless he or she learns about Him and His message to the world, a message of good news called the gospel. To know God, people must learn that there is a God (Hebrews 11:6), that they have broken His law (James 3:10, Romans 3:23), and that they need to be reconciled to Him (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). They must learn that Jesus, God’s Son, came to accomplish that reconciliation (Colossians 1:19-20) and that He did so through His sinless life and His death on the cross as a substitute for sinners (Romans 3:21-26). They must learn about His bodily resurrection and their need to repent of their sin and to believe in Jesus and what He has done (Acts 17:30). Because apart from people learning these things, how are they to believe in Him of whom they have not heard (Romans 10:14)?
This is essentially what the apostle Paul is talking about in Romans 12 when he says, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Transformation of the heart and life - growth in godliness - involves a mental renewal that cannot happen without learning.
If you know little about godliness, you will grow little in godliness. To know it requires the Habit of Learning.
Learning is By Discipline, Not By Accident
As every dust bunny gets bigger the longer it rolls around underneath the bed, so every mind picks up at least a little more knowledge the longer it rolls around the earth. But we must not assume that we have learned true wisdom just by growing older. Job 32:9 says, “It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right.” In other words, age and experience by themselves don’t increase your spiritual maturity. Becoming like Jesus doesn’t happen incidentally or automatically with the passing of birthdays. Godliness, as in 1 Timothy tells us, requires a deliberate discipline.
Those who are not trying to learn will only get spiritual and biblical knowledge by accident or convenience. Occasionally they will hear a biblical fact or principle from someone else and profit from it. Once in a while, they may display a brief burst of interest in a subject. But this is not the way to godliness. The Habit of Learning transforms accidental learners into intentional learners.
Now, it is a whole lot easier to be an accidental learner or a convenience learner than an intentional learner. We are born that way. And much of the technological advances of the last few years has served to entrench this accidental/convenience learning. Watching TV or video is so much easier than choosing a good book, reading words, creating your own mental images, and relating them to your own life. Television decides for you what will be presented, speaks the words to you, shows you its own images, and tells you what impact it wants to have on your life. Compared to that, books often appear too demanding for the contemporary mind. Honestly, it takes discipline to become an intentional learner.
A Variety of Ways to Learn
There are indeed people who have genuine difficulty reading, so there are methods of learning for these people, methods that learners who do thrive on learning will enjoy also.
First, there is the option to listen to audiobooks. It’s so easy to listen and learn while getting ready for the day or while commuting, while driving around town or travelling long-distance, while exercising or working around the house. Much the same is true for audio or video recordings available on the Internet or through podcasts. Just make sure that you are listening to a reputable ministry, not just to someone whose speaking style you enjoy. If study guides are available, use them.
Another way to learn without reading is to have meaningful conversations with spiritually mature Christians. This is a natural part of the discipling process. Those who are more mature than ourselves have much to teach us about godliness and obedience to the commands of Christ.
While our attention is directed toward personal spiritual disciplines, we shouldn’t neglect the multiple opportunities for learning that are (hopefully) available to you through interpersonal spiritual disciplines in your local church. It is understood that COVID-19 restrictions have curtailed the face-to-face sort of learning opportunities at your church but these restrictions should be removed in time. If this post has triggered you to further discipline yourself in intentional learning, be sure to speak to your pastor about the role your church could play in helping you learn for the purpose of godliness.
There you have it; learning as a discipline is a key component to increasing in godliness.
Remember that learning has a goal. The goal is Christlikeness. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me”. There is a false or superficial knowledge that puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1), but godly learning leads to godly living. John Milton, who wrote the poem Paradise Lost, wrote, “The end of learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love Him and to imitate Him.” Let’s pray that God would give us an unquenchable desire for the knowledge that leads us to love Him more and that makes us more like Jesus Christ.
Will you develop the habit of learning?
How will you start?
When will you start?
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