If there's one thing I should know about, it's STUDY. I mean, the State of Texas required me to study for 12 years in grade school, and then my parents and I went in together to help me study another 4 1/2 years in college, spanning three universities and three majors (I always say I was touring the Southwest Conference). And as any of my family will tell you, I'm the kind of person who, if left to his druthers, will always end up with his nose in a book (that is, when I'm not staring at the computer screen blogging, which has become quite an addiction of late).
So, study? Yeah, I should have this down pat. But now, when you get all sneaky and introduce that longer phrase, the discipline of study...well, now...do I study in a disciplined way? Is there any rhyme or reason to how and what I study? Could I even tell you what I hope to accomplish by all my study, except to stave off the ever-present threat of dreaded boredom? Hmmm...
Author Richard Foster reminds us in the opening line of Chapter 5 what our trek through this book is all about when he says
"The purpose of the Spiritual Disciplines is the total transformation of the person. They aim at replacing old destructive habits of thought with new life-giving habits. Nowhere is this purpose more clearly seen than in the Discipline of study...The mind is renewed by applying it to those things that will transform it."Now, by Foster's definition, my study, especially in things spiritual, has counted for very little so far, because I admit that all those hours spent with my nose in the works of C.S. Lewis or John MacArthur or Charles Colson or Pilgrim's Progress have changed me very little. I tend to be one of those people who can read a book, even a good, engaging one, and a week later I can't tell you more than a few scattered anecdotes regarding its message and content. My brain, I lament, is too often like a sieve sifting flour. (On some days, broth).
Foster makes it clear that the kind of study he's calling a discipline is not reading or thinking for entertainment or to kill time. It's "a specific kind of experience in which through careful attention to reality the mind is enabled to move in a certain direction." It's goal is making the mind move and change, the same thing as Paul's plea to "transform" the mind. And Foster makes clear that by "study" he's not referring to just reading books, but studying people and events and nature as well.
According to Foster, what we study is also of extreme importance, because that "determines the kind of habits that are formed, which is why Paul urges us to focus on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and gracious."
Here, then, is the big distinction Foster makes between casual and focused study:
The principal task of study is a perception into the reality of a given situation, encounter, book, etc. We can go through a major crisis, for example, without any perception of the real nature of the tragic situation. But if we carefully observe and reflect upon what has occurred, we can learn a great deal."Bingo. I can relate to what he's saying.
I got my college degree in broadcast journalism, and so I was trained as a journalist -- someone who theoretically does not participate in events or seek to influence them or even analyze them, but simply reports on them, factually, unemotionally, and in a disengaged manner. That's all well and good for reporters, and I wish more of them kept to that ideal standard these days, but I think Foster is saying that to be effective in the Kingdom, we can't just keep a "Press" badge on and be content to watch the world around us. That's not study as he defines it, but mere voyuerism.
If I see friends in need -- maybe going through an emotional crisis, a marital spat, a weakening of faith, or even a confusion about the future -- if I see that, and am content to merely observe that as an intellectual curiosity, then I'm not using the brain God gave me to "think on these things," as Paul said. Too often, I know I have failed to take a situation and really think about it. Why is this person so upset? Could there be a hidden reason I don't see? How could I help them right now? Is there someone I know I could appeal to for advice? How should I pray about this right now?
All too often, though, I'm too tempted to play reporter, just listening quietly and filing the facts away in my mind.
As far as book learning goes, I didn't need Foster to tell me that casual reading of Christian or even "serious" literature is a waste of time. If I'm just reading for fun, I think I'd honestly get more bang for my buck with a Stephen King novel or an Ann Rule true crime book than Romans or Lamentations. Definitely Lamentations. But I'm glad that Foster has written about how important it is that we use our time reading books of eternal knowledge and inspiration to change ourselves in some way, for the better.
I must confess: this has not been one of my better reviews of this book. I've left out a lot of great things in this chapter, such as tips for being a better student, and the importance of simply observing nature and God's creation, and ruminating upon His greatness. I have not "studied" this chapter as well as I should have, in all honesty. I didn't concentrate enough, or take the time to reflect enough to write comprehensively, as Foster would have advised.
But if I'm to redeem myself, and not fall short as Foster says the Bible defines that to be, I must begin to change my college test-cramming ways when it comes to study. I must use the Word and the world as tools to sharpen my mind and lead me toward being a better, more prepared, more effective Christian. That's what I see as the point of study. Otherwise, bring on P.G. Wodehouse, a couch and a cold glass of Dr Pepper.
Here's what some other bloggers said about Chapter 5. Hopefully they did a bit more comprehensive job than I did:
The Village Muse