A friend of mine who leads young people on short-term mission trips, gives a daily challenge each morning to the group. He tells them, “You will be in God’s classroom for the next twelve hours, now pay attention!” Before bed each night, he then asks them to share lessons God had taught them during that day. Indeed, we can learn much even by merely looking at nature, if we pay attention. The writer of Proverbs tells us to “go to the ant” to learn perseverance and delayed gratification. Jesus tells us to consider the “lilies of the field” and the “birds of the air” to learn not to worry. Over 300 years ago, a monk named Brother Lawrence learned about God’s providential care by looking at a leafless tree in the winter and thinking about the blossoms and fruit that would come in the spring.
Living the learning life turns every person whom you encounter into a potential teacher. A newborn child can teach you about dependence and a homeless person about gratitude, and a person from another culture can show you your blind spots concerning your culture or your theology. Recently I read about some South Korean Christians who said American Christians seem to be afraid of persecution and death—and I was stung when realizing the truth of their evaluation.
My mentally handicapped younger brother has taught me how to welcome people. My two grandchildren have taught me how to smile and enjoy life. Even people who are bad examples can teach us what not to do. If Genesis 1:27 is correct in saying that every person is created in the image of God, then we can even learn things about God from atheists or agnostics, who still bear some of God’s image even in their fallen and unbelieving state.
We also have much to learn much from dead people—those who have gone before us. When I teach intercultural studies classes, I often remind my students they are standing on the shoulders of Christians who have lived during the previous 2,000 years. We would be arrogant to go about our twenty-first-century mission work without first learning from them.
Being a learner is the essence of being a disciple of Jesus. In fact, that is what “disciple” means: learner and follower. If you have a teachable heart, you can learn from everyone and everything around you. There is always something new to learn if you are paying attention. Face it: You will never know it all, but you can ask God to help you learn as much as possible during the short time he gives you on this amazing Earth. You and I have no excuse for failing to add to our learning until our final breath. I have a feeling that God is going to ask us someday: “What did you learn in my classroom on Earth?”
Reflections: Every morning, ask God to give you a teachable heart for that day. Ask him to help you pay attention to everything he wants to teach you through interactions with nature and people in his classroom today.
Let the wise listen and add to their learning.