As another study draws to a close and I set the book on a shelf in the living room, the scary thing is how easy it is to move on, to mark that topic “done” and set it aside. As if I could ever be finished learning about the Holy Spirit or stop looking at what He is doing in my life…slow as growth seems sometimes, His influence is as inexorable as water and wind wearing down a rock, and before I know it years have gone by and I am surprised at the form my life has taken under His hand. This is a long-term process of transformation, and though we may be done studying the specific topic of how the Spirit cultivates His fruit, my growth is far from over.
We were talking this past week how following Jesus is a hands-on learning process, something that must be experienced and not just read about; our classroom study can only take us so far, and then we have to get out there and try and fail, and try again, till we get the feel of the struggle…of listening and obeying…of putting Self to death…of living as a new creature. Rather like an internship done under the supervision of someone with more experience, which is exactly what Paul says we are doing: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1b-2)
So it could be that as I put another study up on the shelf, thankful for all we have learned here, and already turning my thoughts to the next book, the real lessons are just beginning. James (the “big brother” to Jesus, who talks as if he were that to all of us) says that just hearing God’s Word has about as much effect as catching a glimpse of yourself in the mirror as you walk past a room. A momentary flash of attention that will no more fix what’s wrong with you than it will a bad hair day. But stopping and giving it your full attention, putting hands and feet and time and money into doing something with it– that’s where transformation begins. He assures us that “…whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:25) He even goes so far as to say that your faith is useless, unless it enters the everyday and makes both you and your corner of the world better. An intern goes into the real world with what he has learned and puts it into practice, and yes he will often make mistakes, but at least his learning is proving itself to be worthwhile.
The funny thing is, that for every messy error, you learn so much more; there is something about trying it yourself that grows you exponentially, way beyond what a desk-bound scholar could ever process and retain. Ask any surgeon or electrician or elementary school teacher. You have to study hard and pay close attention, fix your eyes on what is true and worth remembering, but you also need to work with it and see how it affects everyday life– prove its accuracy and value to yourself and to others, let it change the way things are into something better.
So maybe it is time to put the books away– not so we can move on and forget it, but so we have our hands free. It’s time to move out of the classroom and into the world with what the Holy Spirit is cultivating in us.
“You lived among the least of these:
The weary and the weak.
And it would be a tragedy
For me to turn away.
All my needs You have supplied,
When I was dead You gave me life.
How could I not give it away so freely?
And I’ll follow You into the homes that are broken;
I’ll follow You into the world,
Meet the needs for the poor and the needy, God;
I’ll follow You into the world.”
(Follow You, Leeland)