Tuesday, December 21, 2010

lessons from university - part one

One of the things that I have learned in my studies is that it is really important to give the professor what he or she is asking for. I have read a lot of papers where students have neglected to follow the instructions given for the assignment. No matter how good your writing is, if you don't answer the question or use the specified sources, it doesn't count for much. I have heard a few presentations by fellow students that were impressive in every way except that they were not what the professor had asked for. Unfortunate, perhaps, but you don't get points for being impressive. You get points for giving the professor what he or she asked for. Besides learning about the topic at hand, an assignment is given in order to help one develop the ability to identify what is required and to channel one's efforts towards that end. This is a very valuable skill and not as easy to do as it sounds. It also expands one's mind, heart, character, and knowledge in ways that would never be possible apart from a kind, but demanding mentor who pushes us in directions we would not naturally take ourselves. Left to our own devices, we often settle in mediocrity.

I have been reading Exodus, and this morning I was thinking about the words of the covenant that God gave to Moses and the Israelite people. Genesis starts with God wanting to establish an intimate and loving relationship with humans. This tenuous bond is broken again and again, and in Exodus 34, God gives instructions for living (the commands) as a way to bridge the gap - a concrete way for people to know what it looks like to walk with God. These words are to provide clarity and to give people a focus point for their energies. But in a pattern that is all too familiar, the Israelites prefer self-direction. They build their own version of god (golden calf) and direct their devotion towards it instead.

Many times, we think that we can worship God any way we want (we are free, after all), that we can serve God any way we want (usually at a time and place convenient to us), that we can live any way we want (we usually choose the most comfortable way), and as long as we live a reasonably good life, things will be okay. This is self-direction at its finest (or ugliest, depending on your point of view). It is like the student who ignores the instructions of the professor and goes ahead and does an assignment on whatever topic she likes and in whatever format she prefers. Not only is the assignment off-track, the motivation is wrong. The student is seeking to serve her own interests instead of surrendering herself to the learning process. She is loving herself instead of loving another. When the student is self-guided instead of teacher-guided, the learning will always be selective, and the student's blind spots will never be addressed. Learning is a humbling process. Being self-guided is not.

If I want to become God-guided instead of self-guided, I ask: What does he want? Have I taken the time to find out? Have I directed my energy towards pleasing him instead of making up my own syllabus? Have I surrendered to a learning process of his choosing instead of my own?
This is a photo from my part of town yesterday: frosty trees and beautiful blue sky.

1 comment:

Laura said...

OK, you have punched my midsection with this section. How true! We tend to go the path of least resistance in terms of our worship, our mission, our walk of obedience. What are the minimum requirements to get into heaven and will this be on the test?
Thanks Matte, for challenging my mediocrity! The life I now live needs to be a living sacrifice - not only giving up my rights/freedoms, but giving to God my devotion/attention/will.