Psalm 27: Going to School
"Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors." (v.11)
So, who's schooling you? There's never a day that passes without you being taken to school in some way. Life is really all about teaching and learning. And there's a way in which neither stops from the first until the last day of your life. So, perhaps one of the most important diagnostic questions that each of us should be asking is this, "Do I approach life as a student?"
If you are committed to know and understand, if you're committed to journey from ignorance to knowledge, and from foolishness to wisdom, if you're interested in more than your own plan and perspective, then it only makes sense to learn at the feet of the world's best Teacher. Who could know more or be wiser than the One who put the universe into motion, who presently holds it together, and who controls its destiny? Who could know more about the true meaning and purpose of life? Who could know more about your identity? Who could know more about the environment in which you live? Who could know more about the foundational questions of life? The Proverbs say it very well, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom?" I like John Calvin's paraphrase, "There is no knowing that does not begin with knowing God." There can be no better place to go to school than to the University of the Lord and there could be no better course of study than the "way of the Lord."
His way is wisdom and wisdom requires understanding his way. So where are you going for wisdom? Whose school have you been attending? Who shapes your definition of the meaning and purpose of life? Who tells you who you are and what you should be doing? Who crafts the way you look at the surrounding world? Who defines your problems? Who instructs you as to how they will be solved? Who helps you to determine your life direction? Who tells you what's functionally important and what isn't? Who shapes your relationships? Who clarifies your thinking in moments of difficulty. Are you really a faithful student in the school of the Lord, or do you just audit now and then when it's convenient?
Let me suggest the characteristics of a student in the school of the Lord.
1. A healthy cynicism toward your own wisdom. Sin reduces all of us to fools, but it does something else that's even more insidious; it makes us believe that we're wise. Independent wisdom was both the seductive temptation and the delusional desire of the Fall. One of the primary reasons Adam and Eve were attracted to the fruit was that it was "desirable for gaining wisdom." But eating the fruit didn't result in wisdom, no, it opened the floodgates of foolishness and we've be drowning in it's waters ever since.
You and I were never created with the autonomous capacity to be wise. Wisdom doesn't come through research, experience, and study. Wisdom comes by revelation and relationship. You only get wisdom from the One who is its ultimate source, the Lord.
2. A humble sense of need. We all get lulled to sleep by feelings of arrival. You know what it's like. We all have the capacity to be too easily satisfied. Because we know more today than we did yesterday, we quit working to know more tomorrow. Rather than gratitude for what God has taught us, motivating us to learn more, we get smug and lazy, quite content to consider ourselves to be God's graduates.
3. A willing and open heart. Willingness and openness are the essential characteristics of any good student. Why, you may ask? Because learning not only shows me what I didn't know, but points out the places where what I thought I knew was, in fact, wrong. I cannot tell you in my many years of teaching how many defensive students I have met. "Defensive student" is an oxymoron, like "jumbo shrimp" or "low-fat butter." You can't be defensive and be a student. You have to open up your heart. You have to be willing to be told that you're wrong. You have to submit yourself to someone who knows better and knows more. Defending what you know won't lead to either further or corrected understanding. Willingness to listen, consider, and change are in the heart of every good student.
4. Discernment, focus, and determination. Discernment means that you have to make sure that you're submitting yourself to qualified teachers. Paul says in Colossians 2:8: "See, to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." Once you're sitting at the feet of those who represent the Teacher of teachers, then continued learning takes focus. You live in a world of many, many voices. All of them are interpreting your world and all of them are vying for the allegiance of your heart. And you have to remember that learning is a process not an event. One truth opens the doorway to another truth. One truth functions as an interpreter of a truth previously introduced, but now understood more fully. Learning is a lifelong process and because it is, it requires perseverance.
5. Commitment to act on what you're learning. Any seasoned teacher will tell you that the real learning takes place after the students leave the classroom and practice what they've been taught. The God who's your teacher will orchestrate events, situations, and relationships for the purpose of causing you to live what you've been learning. Life is his classroom and every new location on each new day provides a rich and God-given environment to understand more deeply and to live more wisely. So, good students always carry with them the commitment to look for ways to apply what they've been learning and they know that as they do, their learning will continue.
By God's grace we haven't been left to our own wisdom. We've been brought into personal communion with the One who's the source of everything that's wise and true. So, these questions remain. Are you a committed student? Whose school are you attending?