Building on our understanding of the Christian's fundamental self-image as a disciple, and some of the positive implications we've worked out together, I'd like to sketch out one or two of the effects of losing focus.
Or you are explaining something, and you (say) define a word, or give the word that goes in a blank. Or you suggest jotting down a reference. You repeat it, slowly and clearly, once... twice... a third time. And you see, if you're watching, many motionless hands. In fact, they may not even have taken the outline you offered, nor have brought one of their own.
So first, let me give a clear disclaimer. There may be a hundred legitimate reasons for this, truly there may. Every pastor also knows this. They range from eidetic memory, to physical writing problems of many kinds, to English as a second language, to lack of sleep, to preference for other styles of learning. For instance, to take only the latter, perhaps a worshiper prefers to experience the service as a flow, and then goes back later at home to the online mp3, with pen and paper and Bible in hand. Or the person may be a brand-new Christian and have enough of a struggle finding the Gospels, or he may know that he is not a Christian. It's never wise to assume.
HSAT, this post isn't about any of those situations. This post, as a glance back at the title would serve to remind, is about Christians who never take any of these measures simply because they do not see themselves as disciples.
A disciple never feels he knows his Bible well enough. A disciple knows that he is on a learning-curve that literally has no upper extremity. A disciple never forgets that God has expectations, that privilege obliges, that he is morally obligated to be heading to the point where he himself both practices and can explain the deeper truths of God (Heb. 5:11-14). Further, he is vividly aware that it was failure to advance in just such a way that gave birth to one of the most terrifying passages of Scripture (Heb. 6:1ff.).
"I will never need to know that" is the thought of a non-disciple. It means, "This doesn't interest me right now, so I won't make any effort to strengthen my grasp of what the Word says about it." It signals a willful ignorance of the implications of passages such as Prov. 2:1, that wisdom requires that we treasure up what we are taught right now, even though the application may not be right now. The disciple is like the hardworking, forward-looking ant (Prov. 6:8), not like the aimless sluggard (Prov. 20:4).
Let that last image haunt and motivate. Winter is coming. Need approaches. Tests loom. If we are entering the Kingdom of God at all, the path necessarily lies through many tribulations (Acts 14:22). A godly life is a persecuted life.
And you know the most dolorous aspect of tests, trials, tribulations, persecution? They rarely send advance warning. It isn't often we'll get notices such as...
- "Your lost loved one will give you a golden, perfect opening for the Gospel, if you are studied up on what God has said on Topic X; you now have three weeks to hit the books and prepare."
- "Your child is about to be savagely tempted to walk away from Christ, and you will have one shot at giving a word from God's Word, if you know what it says, so that it comes from Him and not from you. You now have two months to study up."
- "You are about to be more severely tempted to sin and shame Christ than you ever have been, and you will see it plain and clear — if you have refined your senses to discern good from evil by hard and rigorous practice. You now have one month to ready yourself."
- "A brother/sister at church will be in a severe crisis, and will give you an opening to be of critical help that (s)he will not give the elders at this point... if you have the maturity to recognize it, and the Biblical knowledge to step in to meet it. Six weeks from this second."