All through my early years I saw myself as a humble man. The fallacy of that image was exposed the day I was informed that the one-on-one, who I understood would be my “mentor” in the YWAM training program was a single, 19-year-old kid. I was a married, 32-year-old father of three. I could feel the walls going up inside. It was clear to me that there was nothing of value I could possibly gain from this arrangement. God had obviously stepped out of this one. And that was the attitude of my heart for quite awhile after that.
Receiving the Words of Jesus
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” (John 8:31 NIV). I have always appreciated learning. I study the Bible and have sought to educate myself on all its contexts. The words of Jesus are the foundation of the Christian faith, so of course I want to comply with what He says. This is what it means to be a follower of Christ: agree with the teachings of Jesus, right?
Jesus’ words above sound great to my ears until an uncomfortable reality pushes in. He wants to drill deeper than mere intellectual acceptance. He often seeks to plant His teachings in my heart through instruments and circumstances I don’t like—painful events or people who seem unfit for imparting wisdom. I resist. This forces me to then ask the question, am I truly teachable? Can I absorb God’s truth for my life regardless the situations through which it is delivered?
To Be a True Learner
For a long time, I understood “learning” to be the accumulation of information. The more facts I could memorize or clever processes I could emulate, then the wiser, more stable and effective I would be in life. But the amassing of data and life experiences alone does not make an effective disciple of Jesus. Holding to His teachings requires a truly humble heart ready to always ask a simple question: “Jesus, what are you wanting to teach me through this person or in this circumstance?” Whether I’m in the middle of great pleasure, pain, confusion or despair, the ability to ask this question and wait for and interact with His response is a very powerful indicator of whether or not I am truly a disciple of Jesus.
Thus, a disciple is a learner, and a disciple of Jesus is one who is committed to interact with Him as the number one method of learning. To be a growing disciple I have to learn to recognize His commitment to never let a single circumstance in my life be wasted. He may not cause everything to happen, but in His sovereignty He certainly desires to use everything to teach me His ways. I have to choose to receive it and respond in a way that keeps my heart open to Him.
Humility Allows Me to Receive
Another word for being receptive to His ways is “humility.” One of the characteristics of a child is the humility to ask questions and learn, not assuming she knows the outcome and the answer. We need Jesus’ interpretation of everything that happens to us. Jesus’ call for His followers to be like children in order to enter the Kingdom of God (Mt. 18:3; Mk. 10:15) surely includes this readiness to learn in every circumstance. Because that’s what a child naturally does.
The late philosophy professor and spiritual formation teacher, Dallas Willard, gave us three “do nots” for moving toward humility:
1) Don’t pretend; let yourself be known for who you really are. You always have something you can learn. Don’t hide that fact.
2) Don’t presume you should be treated in a certain way; see yourself as a child, surrendering the expectations of being honored as a sophisticated adult.
3) Don’t push; stand firm for what is right, but let God do the pushing, particularly for change and responses in other people’s lives.
Regardless the Packaging
Looking back, I realize now that there was much to learn from my 19-year-old “mentor.” He was a young man full of faith, desire for God and a commitment to obey Him. Jesus knew what I needed at that point in my life, more than I did. Unfortunately, I did not always respond in humility. I pretended I knew more than I did. And I presumed my life experiences should have been honored more than they were. At least I held back from pushing for a new mentor, though I wanted to. Fortunately, God didn’t give up on me. I eventually saw how much I yet needed to grow and that my Heavenly Father was committed to helping me do just that.
In the end, resisting what Jesus wants to teach us because we don’t like the circumstance through which it comes is like ignorantly refusing a valuable gift. The external wrapping is unattractive to our eyes, so we say, “no thank you.” Thus because the bow isn’t tied just right or the hue of the paper irritates us we end up poorer people. In what ways have we missed out on treasures intended to enrich our lives simply because they didn’t come to us in the way we preferred?
I choose humility. I choose to be a learner!