Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Product is Joy

Study produces joy”, to quote Richard Foster from this week’s Celebration of Discipline Chapter 5. The chapter on the inward discipline of study was a real pleasure to ponder and apply.

It was fresh in its call to transformation and was inclusive of elements that are often overlooked in Christian circles. To be culturally literate is a good thing; yet, it is not often that observing nature, the relationships that go on between human beings, institutions, cultures, and us are sited as viable aspects of Christian study. It seems, more often than not, that many Christians hold that bible study equals Christian study and that all the rest is secular or irrelevant.

Without question, the study of God’s word is most important. All we believe and do must submit to His rule and, therefore, the authority of His word; yet, how do I see God’s word, via the ministry of God the Spirit, work it’s way toward renewal of my mind, repentance, and practical changed-life living if I stick my head in the sand rather than transact life in the culture I actually live in today?

M.L.H., in her post this week,(see Spiritual Birdwatching) makes a good observation. In fact, she points us to the Apostle Paul.

Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized--whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ--but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn't just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! (I Cor. 9:19-23, The Message)

What a terrific exhortation! May we know our God and know our culture, too. May we make room for applying the intrinsic rules of study (Understanding, Interpreting, and Evaluating) and the extrinsic rules (Experience, Other Books, Live discussions), whilst “keeping my bearings in Christ”, to the study of books - verbal and nonverbal. Clearly, there is a place for “reverent observation”.

I found the section on the Four Steps of study quite encouraging. The author put in concise terms a process that I knew intuitively but had not synthesized to the point of stating it so succinctly. Repetition, concentration, comprehension, and reflection flow in a progression that leads to understanding and transformation. For years I’ve had to study this way in order to comprehend and apply truth to my life. I’ve always thought I was a bit thick – or at least wired a bit differently- because I had to practice repetition, concentrate, dissect thoughts, and ruminate on a subject to grasp the author’s intended meaning and get to the nuggets of understanding and practical application. I am enheartened hearing now that the process is normal and useful.

Applause is merited, too, for Mr. Foster’s recognition of the need for tarrying times with God. If the aim of study were cerebral alone, then tarrying with God to wrestle a truth to the point of repentance, embrace and obedience would be less necessary. However, I prefer to be broken, genuine, and real rather than puffed up. The heart desire is to be a man of understanding – not a know-it-all more akin to a peacock than a servant of Christ. So, to tarry seems good.

Sojourning takes time. The author makes practical suggestions on getting away to tarry and change. The suggestion to retreat, to read large portions of scripture, and to zero in on a smaller book all ring true for me. Thus, I will take the suggestion to heart and put it in practice by studying Colossians these next 30 days. I do expect to hear from God as I study His word. Maybe even “hear new things in new ways”, to quote the author. You, if you wish, can hold me accountable. The dialogue (or as Foster calls it- "live discussion") would be helpful.

In closing, the aim of the inward disciplines is transformation and study, specifically, is a means of God’s grace for changing our inner man. Study disciplines our thinking. It moves our minds to think on the truth that gets our understanding past the cognitive to the level of experience and life change that keeps us from being puffed up with head knowledge and, as a positive, tips us towards the authentic. Proper study bears fruit in our inner spirit and works it way out into our experience, life decisions and our relationships. In many ways, study is a means of grace leading to heart change and behavior change that is good for us, good for others and glorifying to God.

May we humbly avail ourselves to the gracious discipline of study and - may we be changed. Amen


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