When teaching others, I have found that it is all too easy to get into a rut of thinking that everything that is said from the front of the classroom is automatically heard, processed, and retained for the good of the student. It’s comfortable to just keep talking, and tell myself that the students are soaking up the knowledge. After all, if there are no questions from the audience, there’s no risk that I’ll be stumped by something I can’t answer. Similarly, a lack of interruptions means that the lesson will more likely finish on time.
Learning is not always guaranteed, though. Even the best teachers (i.e., those far better than me!) can fail to connect with students. Some students are reluctant to speak up and ask questions, instead choosing to sit politely even as they fall further behind. Each student has a particular style of learning, combined with a unique background of knowledge and experience, creating a point of view from which they view each topic.
Jesus was a great teacher (in addition to being the Son of God). He could probably have looked into the hearts of His disciples, to see if they were correctly interpreting His instruction, and retaining the important lessons. Still, in at least one case, Jesus asked this:
Do you understand all these things?”
“Yes,” they said, “we do.”
Matthew 13:51 NLT
As we learn more about God, the first step is definitely to take in His Word. We should spend time reading the Bible, and listening to others expound on their study of it. It’s impossible to understand something without first hearing or reading about it, or otherwise experiencing it. Anyone – whether a follower of God or not – who wants to learn more about God must start by accumulating information.
But, the presence of information alone is not knowledge. Without some effort put into learning, facts can just bounce off of our consciousness, leaving us no wiser than we were before. I might listen to a lawyer (an expert in a topic I don’t know much about) and hear the words, but if I don’t understand them, they are just nice-sounding phrases.
So, when you read your Bible, take some time to think about it. Ask yourself if you understand it. If not, that’s ok: there are portions of the Bible that can be initially complicated, confusing, or controversial.
But don’t give up. Ask God questions about what His word means. Tell Him that you want to actually learn – and not just read words. Listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance within your heart. Study what others have said or written about a passage.
We read and listen to what others say about the Bible not so that we can collect more opinions (or change what the Bible says), but because scholars have invested time into research of larger portions of the Bible – as well as history, archaeology, culture, and linguistics. They have spent the time to understand the larger picture, and can distill those details into new observations for us to consider. Still, we cannot accept anything about God’s Word that contradicts God’s Word.
In the same way, when listening to someone talk about God’s Word, don’t just sit through it, or let their message serve as background noise while you surf on your smartphone. Take the time to learn. Consider if their statements reveal that you need to change something in your own life. Ponder whether you should start to take action, as you realize that what you have learned about the truth compels you to do something about it.
But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
James 1:25 NLT
Similarly, because of the importance of understanding the truth about God, it is unwise to just take everything that is said – even by a respected pastor – without considering its accuracy. Does what you are learning match up with what else you know about God? Does it fit with what the Bible says? Or, did the speaker make a mistake – intentionally or accidentally? If so, don’t be an audience member who gets pulled along in the wrong direction. Mentally check each statement against what you know of God’s Word (which you are hopefully investing in learning more of, daily) and don’t be swept into falsehood.
So, “Do you get it?” If not, let me – or another trusted follow of Jesus – know about it, and we can work through your questions, together with God’s leading.