As I’ve discipled college girls these past six years, I keep being surprised by how illiterate many students are about the Bible. I recently asked my small group of college freshman if they knew (A) that the Bible has a storyline and (B) what that storyline is. They looked at me with blank stares, and we spent some time looking at an overview of the covenants and God’s master plan of redemption (see this book or this book for more info on the subject). It was the same thing last semester when we studied the gospel. When we first started, they could not even explain what the gospel is.
Learning does not necessarily mean that you have to love to read (although it does help). You can learn by listening - to wise older believers, to podcasts, to audible books, to sermons, etc. I have one girl in my group who is not a reader, and she has started listening to the Bible instead of reading it, which has helped her. At the same time, we might need to discipline ourselves to read in order to grow.
I don’t know much (or care - gasp!) about football, but Tom Landry (former Dallas Cowboys coach) once said something that applies to learning and to spiritual disciplines: “The job of a football coach is to make men do what they don’t want to do in order to achieve what they’ve always wanted to be.” If we want the end goal of growing in Christ-likeness, that will involve disciplining ourselves to do things that we wouldn’t have naturally gravitated towards doing. For you, learning might be one of those things. But press on. Ask God to give you the desire to desire to learn, and take a step.
We must learn in order to grow in our love for God.
A couple of years ago, I heard Jen Wilkin teach an event where she said, “The heart cannot love what the mind cannot know.” In Mark 12:29-30, Jesus states that the greatest commandment involves loving God with all of your mind. Your mind. This necessitates learning about God, studying His Word, speaking truth to yourself, and filtering your thoughts (see Phil. 4:8).
How can you love God - truly love God - without learning? Love without knowledge is fluffy and superficial. It’s naive. And knowledge without love is dry, stuffy, stale, overbearing, and legalistic.
It’s not that you have to choose between devotion to God and theological study. Rather, knowledge about God should fuel our love for Him. The more I know about Him, the more I grow in my love for Him. And the more that I love Him, the more that I want to know Him. (It’s like Lay’s potato chips, you can’t have just one. You want more. One just whets the appetite.)
We get this when it comes to dating relationships. There’s that twitter-painted phase of dating where the more you spend time with the fella, talking to him and getting to know him, the more you care about him and the more you want to know about him.
But are you this way with God?
We must learn in order to be transformed and to become more Christ-like.
If we are going to obey God, we must read His Word and learn what He says about how we should live (and why we should live that way). As late London preacher Martin Lloyd-Jones states, “No one is changed by an unread Bible.” You can’t be transformed unless you expose yourself to what and Who can actually transform you.
We must learn in order to become wise.
Proverbs has a lot to say on this particular subject:
“Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” -Prov. 9:9
“The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.” -Prov. 10:14
“An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” - Prov. 18:15
“Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge.” -Prov. 23:12
Are you increasing in learning, laying up knowledge, seeking and acquiring knowledge, and applying your heart to instruction?
Be an Intentional Learner
Some learning will happen accidentally. But if you want to learn and grow, you’ll need to plan for it.
The girls I’ve discipled have unknowingly and unintentionally helped me to become an intentional learner. I’m intentional about studying what we’re walking through each semester. This semester, our small group is studying a different spiritual discipline each week, so I’ve got several books on the subject that I’m reading (see picture in case you want to add to your Amazon wishlist). And the stack of books on my desk/floor/nightstand as well as podcasts on my iPod typically reflect whatever area I’m focused in on, which right now is counseling and emotional issues. I’ll be in the car a lot these next two weekends, so I’ve already prepped by downloading an entire sermon series on Biblical Emotions that I can listen to (in between some Ben Rector, Ellie Holcomb, and Shane and Shane).
You might also pick out people in your church, family, or community that have experience with the subject you want to learn more about. Who might that be? What questions would you ask that person? This might be a one-time conversation, or it might become a mentoring relationship.
The point is intentionality. Identify an area in which you need or want to learn more about, identify solid resources to help you, and carve out time to read or listen to them. And start small. Set your first goal to be something that you can easily accomplish - like reading a blog post this week (each day?) or listen to a podcast this week during your commute instead of the radio. Or maybe choose a book and commit to reading 1 page a day - only 1! Completing small steps like this gives you momentum in taking another step.
What action step can you take with this particular discipline? Is there a certain area you want or need to learn more about? What’s one thing you can do this week with regards to learning?