3/28/12

God's 'Lifelong Learner'

Wise people know there is always more to learn, and they are eager to learn!

One of the best decisions I made was to go back to school at age 48 to get my Bachelor's degree by the time I was 50. It expanded my perspective and gave me practical knowledge to use in ministry and some of the various roles of my life. It shouldn't surprise us that God can use everything that we learn and experience in some way.

The difficulty sometimes is in deciding what to learn ~ what is of the most value.

Years ago, I might have taken up crocheting or learned how to write computer code, but (even though there's nothing wrong with those activities) I've decided not to waste time on these "lessons" at my age. I want to instead ask God to teach me what will make me a better servant of His kingdom, and to help me learn things that will improve my relationships with Him and others.

So I believe God wants me to be a "life long learner" in the Word and in understanding who He is, and the book of Proverbs bears out the value of this choice.

Solomon, the son of King David, was said to have written more than three thousand proverbs (1 Kings 4:32), and many of them are found in this book of the Bible. As a young child, in a little white church in Illinois, I remember asking God to make me wise like King Solomon. I believe God has answered my prayer, in some measure, as He directed me in His Word.

The truth is, we are to pursue wisdom! "Wisdom is supreme," Proverbs 4:7 (NIV) says, "therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding."

Proverbs 1:5 (NIV) says, "let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance." Proverbs 10:14 (The Message) says, "The wise accumulate knowledge ~ a true treasure." Without a listening, learning spirit, we may stray from wisdom and practical knowledge (Proverbs 19:27).

True wisdom comes from God, so God's lifelong learner might want to pray these words from Psalm 25:4-5 every morning, "Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long."


There are many practical ways to develop the habit of lifelong learning ~ the habit of buying up truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding (Proverbs 23:23).

Here is how I've become a lifelong learner in my spiritual journey:

(1) Books ... and the Book ~ I have plenty of resources about the scriptures and helpful books for topical studies, but first and foremost in my "library" is the Word of God itself. And I keep copies of "the book" near me at all times ~ in my purse (on my iPhone) and in my home. That way I can always use any waiting time to read and study.

Beyond my Bible, I try to add to my learning by reading one book per week ~ practical nonfiction, usually ~ that will either stretch my thinking, supplement other studies, or meet a need.

(2) Lean on Lists ~ I not only have a list of books I want to read, I also have a list of topics I want to study, and they aren't all "spiritual" topics. (For example, I am such a techno-blonde, I need to read some "Dummies" manuals so I can improve my computer skills.) But I might not get to all of these studies right away, so whenever I'm motivated by something I want to study, I write it on my list.

Sometimes we need to supplement our Bible study with topical studies that can expand our learning. We might need to study statistics, examine a survey or technical study, or even learn a new language (Greek perhaps?) so we can better understand what we read.

(3) Spend Time with Wise Guys (and Girls)! ~ If I want to continue to learn, I need to rub shoulders with people who aren't just smart, but also wise. They have invested time in learning and have plenty of experience to share. "Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm" (Proverbs 13:20, ESV).

(4) Meditate and Contemplate ~ I take time to mull over what I'm learning. Sometimes I do this alone; sometimes I brainstorm with others. I consider how facts fit together, and meditate on how to use what I'm learning. I don't journal (although I often encourage it), but I do sometimes write down what I've learned, a practice that helps me see if I'm thinking clearly or if my thoughts are muddled. I check my thinking with the scriptures to be sure I'm not believing lies of the enemy or unbiblical philosophies from the culture.

(5) Act It Out
~ I can read and read, but if I'm not practicing what I read ~ if I'm not applying it ~ my knowledge is useless to me. (It's pretty simple. I can read about making omelets, but if I don't get out some eggs, there won't be an omelet.) It's foolish to learn for learning's sake. Whenever my knowledge can be applied, it's to my benefit (and others) to apply it. Application also helps us remember what we've learned.

(6) Pass It On
~ Another way to remember what we've learned is to teach it to others. I can teach through blogs like this one, or by speaking at a women's group, or even sharing what I've learned over soup and salad at Panera's! Pass it on and you benefit others as well as yourself.

(7) Purge and Re-focus
~ Whenever I find that I'm getting dull in learning, I look for something fresh to jog my brain cells.

I discovered recently that I wasn't even reading some of the blogs I'd subscribed to, so I did some housecleaning and eliminated some. Scan and read the blogs you really want. Search for others that challenge your thinking. Purge so you can refocus.

The same is true for books on your bookshelves. Ask yourself, "Why are these books here?" Are they to help you in your family roles or ministry? Or are they there because they "Look good" or someone gave them to you. Purge (and donate) your books. Re-focus. Buy new books that you can really use ~ books that will help you move forward as a lifelong learner.

(8) Be Brave ... Be Very Brave ~ One of the scary sides of learning, for me, has been stepping outside of my comfort zone to consider topics that are "foreign" to my thinking.

Stretch your thinking. Think outside the box! Even if you disagree with someone's theology, you can read others' thoughts with your Bible alongside, comparing their statements to scriptures. It will help you know why you believe what you believe. Perhaps, in some cases, you may discover that what you've believed was tradition or others' opinions rather than the pure Word of God.

(8 ) The Socializing Strategy
~ Again, it's not wise for me to always go it alone. Beyond spending time with individual wise friends, as a learning strategy, I have joined groups and organizations that encourage me to learn more about the Word of God or teach skills I can use in my ministry.

Rubbing shoulders with others isn't just for fellowship and encouragement; it's also for instruction, correction, and motivation.

(9) Start Early, unless... ~ If you need to study, aim for the earlier part of the day when you are more alert ... unless, of course, you aren't alert until your afternoon coffee! I tried "morning devotions" and "morning Bible studies," but found that my prime study time was the hour before lunch! Be wise about the time when you're trying to "buy wisdom!"

(10) Create a Consistent Habit. Make lifelong learning a powerful habit by being consistent. Discipline your life and make study appointments. Create and anticipate study retreats. Make and take the study opportunities God brings your way. Be intentional!

Perhaps you have other methods to gain wisdom as a lifelong learner. Please share them!

Friend, God will reward your efforts to become wise for His glory, and perhaps He will even open up new opportunities for you to minister in His kingdom with your new-found understanding and skills.

2 comments:

Sherri Cullison said...

Whenever I read encouragement of growth in wisdom, you might as well get me a blanket and a pillow because I'm there for the long haul. lol. Seriously, Dawn, great pointers, very motivational, and above all a 'Bible study' on one of my favorite subjects at my fingertips. Like you, I keep reading material on my phone in my purse for those opportune moments, and I used to carry the small book Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence until it started to weather the book. But above all, you encourage your readers to grow and seek wisdom. That's a heart-cry for me. For too long I was dormant and now I delight in trying to catch up. :)

Dawn Wilson said...

Thank you, Sherri, for your kind and supportive comment. I'm glad that you found it helpful and "motivational." I love it that you are "trying to catch up" in your growth in godly wisdom. That was exactly my circumstance, but God showed me it is never to late to gain wisdom. (We may suffer consequences from years of foolish choices, but we can always change and grow and become wise women of the Word.) You are a blessing to me today. Thanks.