Burn your books: It's not about what you know
I've heard people say things like this:
‘I don’t know that much in the Bible though....'
This phrase is usually accompanied by an idea that you need to be the most knowledgeable person in the room to live a ‘proper Christian life’. We feel like our limited knowledge leaves us under-qualified. It’s worse when you see someone who seems to have more insight that you; an instant measuring stick appears in the back of our mind to gauge whether or not we are really cut out for this. It's a common experience, after-all, life tends to reward us for what we know.
For the first decades of our lives, we move through an education system where knowledge is power. We're raised on the assumption that as our knowledge increases so does our worth. How important we are and how in demand we are hinges heavily on what we know. Children who demonstrate better knowledge of the curriculum are swiftly separated from their peers into the 'top set', by taking extra credit classes or even sometimes skipping a year. When applying for your first ‘real job’, companies want people from ‘the best schools’; as it evidences their aptitude for learning (i.e. the ability to know, and recall). (I know there are some fields like sports and arts where what you do outweighs what you know, bear with me for now). While knowledge is of course important, when it comes to living an effective Jesus-led life, it's not the trump card we might expect.
Unravelling and unlearning
As to you may have gathered, the Christian life can be quite counter-cultural. It’s a lifelong journey of unraveling, unlearning and putting things back together the way they should have been. Knowledge is important; and curiosity is what ushers us from one phase of life to the next, so don't go and burn all your books just yet. (I admit, the title of this post might be a slight exaggeration, but what's life without a few theatrics?). Sometimes we get so caught up in learning more, pouring over the next vlog, blog, inspirational quote, TED talk or piece of advice, that we miss the point. We forget that for knowledge to be truly useful it needs to be turned into action. This is rarely an automatic process, your knowledge needs to be activated. In this case of living out this abundant life, that is through faith.
In the words of Beth Moore, faith is where our ‘reality meets our theology’.
The tricky thing about ‘faith’ is that we've talked it into oblivion, and it's become elusive. It’s this funny intangible thing that sometimes gets wrongly called ‘blind faith’. Actually, faith isn’t blind at all, you don’t just cling to whatever comes your way. Faith is about understanding a principle and living it out in your real life. It’s not enough to say ‘I have faith’, the next question is in what? And what does this look like in our lives?
I’ll start by answering the second question first: What does a life of faith look like?
Faith is the bedrock on which you base your life, it's the difference between retreating and surviving the unpredictability of life. It’s something that you’re able to stand firm in, especially when you’re faced with facts that look completely contrary, like Abraham. In short; if you're not living by it, you probably don't really believe it. Staying focused no matter the circumstance is what counts. In our world where we get information pretty instantly, waiting can be frustrating, but most times it stops us from messing up a good thing.
"These words I speak to you are not mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on" - Luke 6:46
Back to question one: Faith in what?
It's simply God’s word. That’s what works for me, that’s why this website exists. The Bible isn’t a list of unrelatable laws on how to live the most boring life known to man; it’s actually a treasure chest full of tools, advice and promises for you to use right now.
I get it. There’s a lot to get through, and we struggle with wanting to know it all before we can start applying it. The truth is, it’s more effective to apply the little you know right now, than to try and read everything cover to cover with no application. That’s the crux of the principle ‘faith without works is dead’, the two go hand in hand. Again, if we’re not comfortable to act on what we believe, do we really believe it?
Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything?
Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it?
Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works?
- James 2:14-26 (extracts)
So where do we start?
One book that works for me is Psalms. It's filled with promises, examples of who God is and what is his intention are towards humanity. It was written by David, one of the wisest most accomplished kings in the Bible. As a king, shepherd and poet, he was the ultimate multipotentialite, but his life was still full of near-death experiences and self-inflicted drama (remember this one?). In the midst of one of these experiences, he ends his letter to God by saying this:
“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (NIV)
And in the MSG version for good measure…
“I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness in the exuberant earth. Stay with God! Take heart. Don’t quit. I’ll say it again: Stay with God.” (MSG)
The ‘land of the living’ part stood out to me. So much of what I had heard about Christianity was that the after-life was the thing to look forward to. I wondered whether that meant that we should expect only the worst while on earth. Pretty depressing. Seeing this David's affirmation reminds me that God’s goodness accessible and guaranteed in this life, as long as we stick with this truth and bravely embrace every situation that comes our way. Living in a way that relies on this hope has been way more relevant for me than mindlessly reciting endless verses of the Bible with no real meaning or connection.
“If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God, “I’ll get you out of any trouble. I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times; I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party. I’ll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!” - Psalm 91:14-16 (NIV)
Trusting is having faith, getting to know God is about relationship. Knowing it all, having all the answers or even ‘being good' isn't the number one priority. How many Bible verses you know is completely irrelevant if you're not living and believing it. So start somewhere, and start small*. Even if there’s only one part of the Bible you remember, if you take the step to live by it and practice it today, you won’t be disappointed. That is when you'll see true change and transformation in your day to day.
*Note: This doesn't mean that you can cherry pick parts of the Bible, it simply means you take the emphasis of storing up knowledge without truly applying it. As we begin to practice the little we know, we grow and mature and our knowledge increases as a result. It comes comes after, not before, living by faith.