‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ – John 1:14
I picked up the two heavy ring binders containing my study notes from my days at International Christian College in Glasgow last night and enjoyed a good flick through the pages. On one hand, I loved revisiting the pages, remembering even sitting in the classrooms…the lecturers and students. On the other hand, I was slightly bewildered at the fact that I’d once learnt this stuff, much of which I’d forgotten, or, rather, filtered. One of the things I always said about going to bible college was not so much about the specific things I learnt, but the fact of having learned to learn! That’s the thing that really sets you up for life and it becomes a skill you can develop and apply to most stuff.
I have to say that one of the things that troubles me most in many churches I’ve experience in over 20 years of being a Christian is the low levels in congregations of people engaging with learning. Don’t get me wrong…it’s not all about book learning for me. I think it’s even possible to know loads of stuff and for it to make little impact on your discipleship (I’ve seen that too). I intuitively know that many people learn better by doing, and that an active ‘on-the-road-with-Jesus’ discipleship should helpfully balance any book-type learning. But all the same, it is concerning how in some circles the take-up for education is low in the church…especially when it comes to Bible literacy.
When I was 14/15 years old, and in the six months or so before my conversion, I was literally soaking up everything I could read about Christianity. Everything. I had devoured my little red Gideon’s New Testament I had got from school and had covered anything half decent in my local library on matters of Christian faith. I just wanted to know more. This, I believe, not only helped me to respond to the gospel readily in October of 1995, but also set the tone for what would be a normative part of my ongoing discipleship. I’ll always be thankful for that, wherever I got it.
Thing is, I was never a reader up until that point. Until that point in time I don’t reckon I’d ever really read a proper book. I wasn’t encouraged, really, to read at home. I do understand that reading isn’t some people’s bag…I honestly get it. But, for me, the thirst to understand the Christian story was just bigger than all of that. And, I haven’t really stopped.
But I remember that early passion for the Bible. I remember, lying in my bed at home, reading the bible under my duvet like it was some contraband material (probably was in my house!) and being entirely captured by the words of Jesus. I remember the first time reading of ‘you are the light of the world’ and ‘let your yes be yes’ and ‘if the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness’, and ‘this is how they will know you are my disciples’ and ‘Jesus sent them out two by two’… and to hear those words for the very first time without any real church context understanding of them at all – it was revolutionary stuff! I was captured by the Jesus in the books and was thrilled and amazed when I realised that I could talk to this Jesus and that he would respond in ways I could never have imagined.
And that’s the whole point: relationship; encounter; thirst; transformation. People spend their whole lives expecting people to feed them with this stuff. Truth is: you have to have the appetite (if you don’t have it, ask the Spirit); you have to learn how to feed yourself; you have to take responsibility for your own discipled approach; and, you have to not just be a reader, but a doer of it. But you know what? People like me have jobs that are designed, really, to help people do just that!
None of this is to say that, over the years, there haven’t been dry patches, negligent patches or, in my case, some periods of time where I have been prevented from being able to read or study due to being unwell. But, as soon as I detect a real case of whatever it is, it doesn’t take long before my cry is ‘God, please!’
I remember one such time during a recent illness when I just couldn’t read – the words wouldn’t register, they wouldn’t come together, it just wasn’t happening, and I was desperate for the cognitive function to engage. In that time, I even remember carrying my Bible with me, opening it on the desk and resting my head on it. I wasn’t under the impression that any sort of weird osmosis would take place, but I had such a desire and longed for my head to clear and the ability to read to return.
I’m always happy if I can just encourage people, in any small way, to read and engage. And, if people aren’t readers to get on the apps, the CDs, the mp3s, the podcasts, the whatever and allow your mind to be shaped through engagement with gospel ideas and the teachings of Jesus. More than that, do it with other people…it’s not a solo sport all the time. Take responsibility…move on from the milk, and arrive at the good meat. So, what ya reading? 😉