Grace, Study, and My Story
I am known as that guy who likes books. If I were a martial artist, I would be an black belt in book-fu. If I were a comic book superhero, I would be Batman but that’s for other reasons. In any case, I do love books and If you grew up with me the irony would be evident. Hopeful by the end of this post it will be evident to you as well.
At remnant, I am the guy in the chair. The guy obsessing over categories and definitions like a deranged garden gnome over a trespassing Chihuahua. The guy running intellectual logistics, connecting dots and thinking, along with the rest of the gang, of ways to help people learn more about the God we love. So as “that guy”, I just wanted to take a moment and maybe encourage someone, who may feel overwhelmed with the idea of studying the things of God. I hope to accomplish this through telling some of my story.
Why before what
“But why daddy?” my son asked that question 1000 times yesterday. He gets it honest. I have been told I was the same at his age. I never really grew out of it. I have to know why I should do something before I do it. Sometimes before I even ask what something is, I want to know why I should care. I think it is true for most of us. Here are a few reasons Why you should care about study.
A Christian should study to get to know God.
If you were given a map that guided you to the Worlds greatest treasure. What would you do with the map? You would study every aspect of it! You would know that map inside and out. The same is true when it comes to studying the Bible.
2. A Christian should study to uncover misguided ideas.
When a person becomes a Christian, they can bring with them a head full of bad ideas about God and his ways. Study helps to correct those misguided ideas. I thought of God as an old man with a shot gun who was happily waiting for you to step out of line. God is not like that but it took a summer of studying God’s character to get that out of my head.
3. A Christian should study to learn how to handle life’s problems.
God’s word is powerful. Ps 19:7 reminds us Scripture makes the simple, wise. I spent my first 3 years as a Christian in proverbs, It put principles in me that have helped me through some very dark days and difficult problems.
The “What” is also a “why”
We have not yet answered the question what is study. Here is a definition from the dictionary; “the acquiring of knowledge, as by reading, etc.; careful examination of a subject; treating a subject in great detail; earnest effort or deep thought.”
That is a good definition but we will look at a passage in Mark to guide our thoughts in answering “What is study?” In Mark 12:29-30, Jesus is asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” In essence he is asked “What is God’s top priority?” Jesus replies
The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Jesus basically says, The most important thing is Loving God. Jesus was quoting Deut 6:5 which reads “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Did you read something different? Did you see what Jesus did? – He added the word “mind” – Jesus was highlighting something only implied in Duet 6:5. He was highlighting “loving God with all your mind.” This is especially important since the way we love God with all of our mind is by studying his Word.
So What is study? Study is a way to Love God with your mind. Since the Bible teaches study as loving God with your mind, “what study is” gives us one more reason why it is important.
Those are just a few reasons why we should study? So we see study is a good thing. Now we must ask what is needed to study? What does it take?
Christian study takes overcoming obstacles.
Everyone has something they want to know more about, Christain’s are no exception. Ask someone at church, they likely could tell you what they “want to” study. Unfortunately, It is human nature to confuse good intentions and actual effort. We all want to study. Whether it is a Bible study you have longed to do or the theology book you had been itching to read. Maybe it’s a “study guide” from Remanent radio you just have not got too yet. In any case, everyone experiences obstacles that keep us from studying. Some obstacles are common to us all. Three of the most common obstacles are laziness, busyness and pride.
Growing up, I hated to read. I also had good reason. In the second grade, I was diagnosed with a severe form of dyslexia, a learning disability(1) that affects about 5% of the population. It did not help I was also diagnosed ADHD. In short, my form of dyslexia meant reading, spelling, math, and grammar, would be difficult to grasp. The ADHD meant I was more distractible than a hyper-active golden retriever. Add those together and you have someone who is fun at a party but will not be going to the library anytime soon.
As the specialist put it, “Dawson, you have the perfect storm of learning problems.” To which I nodded and smiled, but only heard “your dumb.”(2) The social stigma can be crushing. I did all I could to hide it, put up a false front, for fear of my shame being really exposed. One expert has described people who struggle with dyslexia, as feeling the same level of personal shame that “often matches, in intensity, the shame experienced over incest.” (3) The shame related to dyslexia is often ‘slow-drip’ trauma. Dyslexic children often feel abnormal every day, I can testify to the reality of such shame.
My parents were told I would likely struggle to learn just about everything. It was like I could only take in information at the same rate as someone drinking through a coffee straw. I still quip that my work flow is like that of a garden slug. I do half the work in twice the time. As long as I can remember reading was very hard. Words were my enemy. So I hated to read and hated even more to study.
Throughout High School, I squeaked by mostly on charm. Privately, one teacher encouraged me to find a good job working with my hands, which was code for all you’re capable of is being a farm hand. I was stubborn, competitive and could not stand to be told, “Your not good enough”. Up to that point, My only interest in going to college was for sports, after that moment it was on my bucket list.
After graduation, I was tested to found out among other thing, I read on an 8th grade level. I was 19. The specialist was not confident I could improve much in areas of comprehension and reading. In his professional opinion, I would likely never graduate college due to the course load and likely the foreign language requirements would be almost impossible for me to fulfill.
Undeterred, I got into a junior college by the skin of my teeth. Midway through the year, I became a Christian. When I met Jesus, everything changed. This rebellion preacher’s kid, now sincerely thought Jesus was awesome. I found myself wanting to know more about him. But reading was still very hard. Words ran off the page – my comprehension was almost nonexistent so when faced with the idea of studying God’s word – I would hear:
Laziness, say, “You need your sleep.” or “you know how hard it will be.”
Busyness would say, “You have to go to the gym.”
Pride. would say “Do you really want to put yourself through that, you know enough already. You just need to do it.. maybe tomorrow.”
I avoided studying scripture and let my bible collect dust. The lies spoken to you may have been different but I think we have all heard those excuses in some form. It is true to say we have all let those obstacles stop us from time to time.
I had been a Christian for two months when a sermon pushed me to realize i really needed to read my bible. It felt like I was preparing to climb Mt. Everest. My discouragement drove me to prayer that way only a new Christian can, it went something like this, “God, I don’t like books and for some reason you do. Help me read your book. If you don’t help I can’t do this. Are you hearing me?.. I can’t, if you don’t……”
In Mark 12:29-30, Jesus begins his answer to “whats the greatest commandment?” in a very odd way, He says, “Hear Oh Israel The Lord our God is One.” It may sound like an odd way to answer the question. But not if you were a Jew, in Jesus day. He was again quoting from Duet 6. He was quoting what was known as the Shema, a prayer every devote Jew prayed at the start of their day.
What was Jesus doing in beginning this way? He was reminding them that prayer is linked to loving God. It follows if we want to Love God with our minds, prayer should permeate your study time. Jesus was implying, “The one thing you need to do in study is pray!” Prayer and study are interconnected in God’s economy. Just like breathing permeates all of Life, so to should prayer permeate all of our study.
Prayer needs to be our first habit not our last hope. Before we study we need to pray. As we study, pray. After we study, pray. Prayer should be apart of study like breathing is a part of living. The big question is What should we pray for? My top three requests on our ‘study prayer list’ should be praying to develop the three virtues. We should pray for help in developing desire, discipline, and determination. we will look at each in turn.
Desire: While some are eager to study; others need to ask God to give them the motivation. Some people just love to study. I was not one of them – at first, as I studied more, more grace was added. It did not get easier but I gave the effort and over time a flame began to flicker; Each sentence, warmth, each page, light. God was stirring in me an unquenchable flame of curiosity. So my curiosity drove me even deeper into his Word.
Although my curiosity is never fully satisfied, I have tasted truth that quench my thirst. I have known, what the Psalmist meant when he wrote: How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Ps 119:103) Pray for curiosity, then as you read no mater how slow, continually ask God the curious questions that come to mind.
Discipline: The world has many distractions which can keep us from fully knowing God. I am not a morning person. So I found nighttime was a great time for study. The amount of time is not important in developing discipline yet the act of being consistent is the key.
Consider the Promise of Hebrews 12:11, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Discipline is not a matter of trying but training. Here is the difference, I can try to run a marathon or I can train for a marathon. When we see discipline as training, we have a mindset already postured for perseverance.
Determination: We need to be unwavering in our determination to learn what God wants to teach us. We should pray to have determination like Paul in Phil 3:12-14 or like Isaiah in Isa 50:7, “Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.” I love that verse.
Determination is necessary because failure will happen. I have learned to be thankful for the failures as much as my successes. As I read I found it never got easier but I began to love reading the Bible. I read with a hunger, line by line and detail by detail. Always painfully slow but my pace became a blessing. It kept me from falling into a common misstep people make in study. Richard Foster in his classic work, Celebration of Discipline explains:
“a vast difference exists between the study of Scripture and the devotional reading of Scripture. In the study of Scripture a high priority is placed upon interpretation: what it means. In the devotional reading of Scripture a high priority Is placed upon application: what It means for me. All too often people rush to the application stage and bypäss the interpretation stage: they want to know what it means for them before they know what it means!” (4)
In a plot twist only God could write, my agonizingly slow pace helped me become a better exegete. I just wanted just knowing what the text said, what the authors intended, even if it took me 6 hours to get it.
When I entered college it was on a provisional bases. I was accepted under the condition I would be tested again after my freshman year. About a year after my conversion, I was retested and I was reading on a college freshman level. Everyone was shocked, most of all me. In one year, just reading the Bible, and God did what the specialists though was impossible. He gave me a gift. I could learn. On the ride home, I felt the years of shame and self hate melt away like ice in warm water. I still had dyslexia, but the Holy Spirit was up to something good. He was redeeming my time and preparing me for my future.
I began to loved to study and God opened the door for me to study religion in College. He even gave me a scholarship to study it. Me? the definition of dumb jock, got paid to learn about Jesus. For the next few years, I lived in the library fueled by curiosity and Campbell’s chunky soup.
To be clear it has never been easy. We were never promised easy. We are promised something greater, God’s never-leaving, never-forsaking always abiding presence. (If you know him – you know that is better.) I still have days when I can’t do what most take for granted. I still have days when I am lost in my insecurities. I still get anxious and flustered when I have to read out loud, still feel the judgment when it is slower than it should be. I still know the looks and what they mean. I still get way too angry, when people confuse unassuming for lack of calling or mix up a ‘pretentious-show-of-competence’ for God’s hand on a minister. But in my all too human struggle, it is his nearness that assures me he is at work. I find my solace in the knowledge that, God is at work in my weakness. I have a history with him to support it and a Bible full of stories that prove it.
Study has not changed my life. The one whom I study has changed my life. Now at 44 years, I look back at that impetuous boy of 19 and fondly smile. I remember the long nights and lost sleep, the slow progress forward. I did not know much but I knew I wanted to know more and that was all I needed.
I am thankful I didn’t listen to those who neatly placed me off to the side, in the box labeled “not going to amount to much”. I am thankful, the Spirit of God burned that label off and set me on a journey to “know him.”
What is true of me is true of all of us. Because I desired to know, God gave opportunity after opportunity like it was a lunchtime buffet at Denny’s. If you want to learn “no qualification” or “preconditions” – Just humbly want to learn – God will extend extravagant grace towards you.
I am an example of what God can do. Remember, no one is born an expert or a scholar such skills are developed over time through serious effort. Study is a process that takes time to develop. It is like a workout. you only get out what you put in. So be “all in” and in his time, God will use you in ways you may not yet understand.
I have not changed the world in a profound way. Nor can I clam to had a revolutionary idea or accomplish some great service for the kingdom. I have seen more than most but I am just a ordinary guy, about as special as a cement block. If he can do this for someone like me, then what about you?
(1) the term used is outdated, today it is “learning differences” as not to be stigmatizing and reflect the modern theory of issues like dyslexia. Researchers have determined it is more of a learning difference that conflicts with modern western forms of education. Fundamental to this is a biological disability which produces varying difficulties in decoding written language.
(2) I wrote another blog describing my childhood experience here
(3) Attributed to Gershen Kaufman, Ph.D., an expert on the culture of shame Quotes in Ben Foss, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A blueprint for renewing your childs confidence and love of learning. (New York: Ballantine Books 2016) xxii. Also see “The psychology of shame”, Gershen Kaufman, 2004. Also consider, “89% of adolescents who committed suicide and left a note could have been identified with a learning disability based on spelling and handwriting errors found in the note.” From McBride, & Siegel, “Learning disabilities and adolescent suicide.” Journal of Learning Disabilities, 30, (1997). 653.
(4) Richard Foster Celebration of Discipline (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1988.) p. 69; Foster also suggests that study involves four steps: repetition, concentration, comprehension; and reflection. All aspect of reading I had to consciously work at to accomplish.
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