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  • Writer's pictureTrent Murray

Learning & Thinking: Pursuing Productivity Through the Spiritual Disciplines



We have arrived at the penultimate post in our series on the spiritual disciplines. In my next post I will hammer home the idea of the spiritual disciplines leading to a productive life while also making my case for productivity as a spiritual discipline. This week we have arrived at learning and thinking. Some resources I highly recommend on these subjects are: 1) Donald Whitney's chapter learning for the purpose of godliness in his work on spiritual disciplines. 2) Think by John Piper. Both of these works give a proper foundation for how learning and thinking are not just gifts from God but crafts and disciplines to grow in over time.


Both of these subjects involve knowledge and before we dive in on the subject matter we need to spend a moment establishing a biblical worldview of knowledge. Though it would seem utterly basic, knowledge is simply anything that can be known. Knowledge is not necessarily truth, although all truth that is out there is knowledge, as it can be known by individuals. In a biblical worldview of knowledge, we are not interested in any information that is not true, but only the pursuit of true knowledge. Learning and thinking cannot serve their God-given purpose if we are learning and thinking about falsehoods. With this said, I will be working from the presupposition that the knowledge we are seeking in the world is truthful and not fallacy.


Learning


In its most basic sense, learning is the intake of knowledge. We cannot know anything that God has not revealed. And for that we should be humbled and grateful that the Lord has 1) Chosen to create us. 2) Chosen to give us complex minds to store and process information 3) Chosen to reveal truth to us in the world through Natural Law, General Revelation, and the Special Revelation of the Scriptures.


Proverbs 2:6 reminds us: the Lord gives wisdom and out of his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Any learning that takes place as we intake knowledge should not lead to boasting but to humility that God has helped us and created us to learn. Habbakuk 2:14 tells of a day where the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the Earth like the oceans. What a day that will be! But until that day, knowledge is a precious resource given to us incrementally as we learn and intake information, using our minds to the glory of the Lord.


God created man to have dominion over the world, and knowledge is power. The more we know about the world around us the more we can cultivate and properly steward the world God has placed us in.

Learning at its heart is an institution of the Christian worldview. Throughout history hospitals, libraries, universities, schools, and scientific research programs have been formed and fueled by Christians searching after the knowledge of this world in fulfillment of the creation mandate to fill the Earth and subdue it. God created man to have dominion over the world, and knowledge is power. The more we know about the world around us the more we can cultivate and properly steward the world God has placed us in.


Our education system is not merely learning of useless information, but in its proper form should be a greenhouse for teaching young minds to learn how to learn.

Education is not the antithesis of Christian learning, they should be friends, hand in hand. Augustine once quipped that "all truth is God's truth." With this in mind, we must view learning as a worthwhile endeavor and not a burdensome task. I have challenged our students to embrace learning as a Godward labor. Even if we will not use the Pythagorean Theorem in our every day life, the ability to learn something and retain it for proper use is something worth celebrating. It sounds redundant but our education system is not merely learning of useless information, but in its proper form should be a greenhouse for teaching young minds to learn how to learn.


Jesus himself walked in flesh and grew in wisdom and stature and favor. (Lk. 2:52) He grew in knowledge as he learned the alphabet and the language. He grew as he learned the scriptures and how to live in his social environment.


Piper expands on this idea in his book Think, where he likens learning to mining for gold. And when knowledge is found we are to cherish it and hold it close to the heart as a gift given from the Father.


Learning is the intake of knowledge and knowledge is a gift that should be mined and cherished.

Thinking


If learning is the intake of knowledge, then thinking is the processing of knowledge. Thinking is the interacting with knowledge that happens within our cranium.


I remember the days of inserting CDs into computers (I saw the death of the Floppy Disc in my youth) but as you insert that CD you can download information into the hard drive. However we all can remember that sound of the computer humming and almost whistling as that CD began to spin inside and the computer began to focus it's energy and attention on that disc. The CD becomes the focus and all of the processing power and RAM are pointed toward the handling of this information in the spotlight. Our thinking is not too dissimilar.


We intake knowledge every day, but we are only able to think on one to two things at a time. In a previous post we dove into this idea of mindfulness and controlling our thoughts so we won't go down that path here. However, it is important to realize that thinking is on a much deeper and expansive level than mere knowledge intake, but it shifts to a processing and wrestling with the information. It is not enough just to store information, it only becomes useful when we can recall it, wrestle with it, and properly apply it. Deep thinking is a gift from God and should not be viewed as something boring or intimidating. Every person is responsible for thinking for themselves, and we need to stretch our minds to spend some time in the deep end rather than relaxing in the shallows.


We are made in the image of God and he has created us to think deeply and to find ways to communicate those ideas to others. My life mission statement is "know God and make Him known." We live this out when we learn about the world around us and think deeply about what we learn in order to share it with others. JT English mentioned in a workshop recently that people retain about 8 percent of what they hear. If we write it down that number jumps between 25 and 30 percent. Interestingly enough, if we wrestle with it and teach it to others, that number skyrockets to around 80 percent!


Our task is not to be hearers of the word only but to be doers of the word. There is a ton of great knowledge to be had in this world and none more important than the knowledge of God through his Son Jesus Christ. Let us seek and mine for knowledge earnestly and cherish it when we find it. Then let us think deeply on the things of God and this world and apply it to live the most fruitful and productive lives for the Kingdom that we possibly can.


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