It has been said that a failure to plan is a plan to fail. While it’s impossible to see every curve ball thrown your way in life, it generally holds true that we should plan for the things we can foresee. Christians are no different and are, in fact, called in Scripture to be prudent and wise; looking to the future in an attempt to account for inevitable difficulty and make the most of our time. I believe educating yourself borrows many of these principles. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we can’t know everything we’ll ever need to know. So, I believe, we should be vigilant and attentive to sharpen our minds and deepen the pool of the information our minds have to use.
Yet, many of us are often too consumed by the here of life to make time to study and learn. Sadly too many of us are also enamored with the ultimately meaningless and fruitless amusements in life. I hold fast to the principle that everyone needs rest and relaxation; that sometimes the most important thing can be to take it easy. However, in Western culture, relaxation, rest and amusement become the things for which we strive, the goal to be attained, rather than respite from the everyday pursuit of something greater. Tragically, the church in Western culture has not done much to distinguish itself.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have failed to study as I ought. Just as I’ve failed to pray as I ought, evangelize as I ought, and live as I ought. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because we’re both humans. If there’s one thing us fallen creatures are good at, it’s failing to live as we ought to live. I am not so naive as to believe that a plan to study will make anyone (least of all me) less of a failure in righteousness. But I do believe that study and continuing education ought to be a part of our daily pursuit to glorify God. And while I am not so naive to think a plan to study and learn will make one educated and learned in and of itself, I do believe that a plan to study and learn is the first step to becoming a person who studies and learns.
So then, I thought it would be helpful to detail my own plan for studying and reading in 2017. I’ll post the plan next week. The reason I believe this will be helpful is because I can discuss why I made each decision and elaborate on the principles behind the decision. In a lot of ways, I’m a typical conservative American Evangelical Christian. I’m married, have a son, and our family is expecting foster kids any day now. Unlike Jimmy and Robb, I’m not a pastor or an elder at my church. Rather, I work a 9-5 ‘regular Joe job’. However, I am heavily involved in my local church. Here at Pillar of Truth I spend part of the year planning a conference and part of each week managing a blog and/or helping to produce a podcast. Needless to say, I’m pretty busy.
And it is precisely BECAUSE of that busyness that I need to study, learn, and grow. It is exactly that same busyness that will inform how I’ll study, what I need to be better at, what I need to master, and what I can ignore. It’s my goal to be busy until I die because I don’t want to be the type of person that spends his life chasing things that are ultimately meaningless. I want to have an impact because God has given me, and all His elect, a finite amount of time and a singular purpose to glorify Him. It is up to me -up to all of us- to make the absolute most of that time for His glory. That doesn’t always mean putting your nose in a book, but without the time spent in study and education the time spent elsewhere will often lack the impact it could potentially have. A deep well of knowledge and a well trained mind are assets in nearly every endeavor.
Frankly, the western church needs educated people. There is, in many Christian circles, a taboo against scholarship. People see a library full of books and the reaction of some is to view it as a threat. It threatens their traditions and their own way of doing things to have someone who actually knows something inform others about the truth. Still others eschew education and learning to such a degree that any mention of it is met with a defeatist attitude and a resolution that they’re not cut out to educate themselves. People who aren’t interested in being educated aren’t interested in the truth. Emotions, traditions, systems, and formulas will rule the day, but not truth. This is precisely the opposite of what God has called us to be. The church needs educated people.
The church also needs people who aren’t JUST educated, but are learned. We’re full up with educated people who haven’t learned a thing. They are usually the ones who have been so open minded their brains have fallen out! Feet planted firmly in mid-air, they love their educations and rely on them as absolute truth. If they would have learned anything, they would know how foolish is such an idea. It’s a fine thing to be educated, but it does you no good to be educated in the wrong way or to not be able to tell the truth from error. Also, it should be evident that we are not self-sustaining and our minds need to be fed by other, greater, minds. Our modern age has deluded us that information is at our fingertips so we possess all we need. Soon we believe our common sense -our wisdom- is of great value. The true scholar knows that the more he learns, the more he discovers he has yet to learn.
We also need people who are not simply learned, but are well trained. Western churches benefit from many professionals in worldly vocations. But the church is not the world. Your ministry at your local church doesn’t need a surgeon or an attorney. They need well rounded believers with depth of knowledge, sense enough to know right from wrong, and discipline to guide them. It’s fine to be learned, but a Christian ought not think his Master’s Degree and career is learning enough. We truly have a higher calling than our vocation.
Might I suggest the body also needs balance? We must be more than walking encyclopedias. It is praiseworthy to be able to deal deeply with a number of issues, to know right and wrong; but people need people, not machines. Educated and trained is good! Cold and stodgy is not. It’s good to have hobbies, interests, and a sense of life within you. Your study should include some of your interests. Read fiction, read about your favorite sport, know a little something about a hobby you enjoy. God has given it all to us for His glory, and when we’re full of more than just facts we go from being a stuffy glorified book shelf to being a well rounded human being.
Next week I’ll show you my study plan. As you read through it, I encourage you to think through your own situation and the tasks God has given you. What gaps in knowledge or skill are revealed? What interests do they spur on in you? What do you need to be better, smarter, and more well rounded? Most importantly, what do you need to do to complete the ministries laid before you so that God is glorified, your brothers and sisters served, and you become more like your Lord?