Summer is over and it's back-to-school time here in America. That reality settles over many students like a heavy bank of fog. The fun and freedom of summer months give way to the discipline of study and attending classes.
Our family's back-to-school ritual goes something like this: I try to encourage my kids that going to school is not only important but can be fun. They quote me the Bible verse: Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh" (Ecclesiastes 12:12). I quote back another Bible verse: "Study to show thyself approved unto God…" (2 Timothy 2:15). It is all part of getting into school mode.
Learning truly is a continuing process that pleases the Lord and brings honor to Him. Growing in grace includes positioning ourselves to be life-long learners.
When I graduated from Moody Bible Institute, our commencement speaker preached from 2 Timothy 4:13, "Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments." The point stuck with me. Paul, writing from prison near the end of his life, wants books and parchments. He is still studying, still learning, still wanting to grow even at this stage of his life. Do you know people like that?
One of the many things I appreciate about our founder, Moishe Rosen, is his seemingly insatiable curiosity. Moishe is always wondering about things, asking questions, probing to understand. His interests are quite diverse. For example, one day we were driving together in Northern California and he began to wonder about the giant windmills on the hilltops east of the San Francisco Bay Area. He even wrote to our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, asking them to write about the windmills. He later informed me that although the Chronicle never did, the New York Times happened to publish an article that answered many of his questions regarding those windmills.
I like Moishe's energy and enthusiasm for learning—even about things that don't seem pressing. That kind of curiosity and breadth of interests is something I covet for myself and the rest of our missionaries in Jews for Jesus. Curiosity and the desire to learn and grow help people stay young at heart and agile of mind, whatever their age.
Someone once said when you stop learning you start dying. But then why does 2 Timothy 3:7 warn that some are "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." According to verse 4 this text speaks about lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. The knowledge they seek is not for the purpose of serving Him. Those words remain completely relevant to today's age of information.
With all the data surrounding us, it is amazing that open investigation of truth seems so rare in our society. It is easy to become intellectually lazy in a culture that tends to be oriented more toward entertainment than education. Ideally, learning is a means to an end: the end being truth and the ability to serve God and those around us. But for most people, learning is a means to power, position, wealth—and more access to entertainment.
Then there are those who are so enamored of asking questions that it does not occur to them that the object of asking is to find answers. True learning is not only the asking of questions and the gathering of information, but the acquiring of understanding that enables us to grow and have more to offer.
That growth process is not limited to intellectual exercises. Many of the most important lessons we learn and the most profitable seasons of growth come from the promptings of the Holy Spirit and from the difficult circumstances of life that shape our minds and hearts in ways that books and study never can. Yet the lessons we learn from books, and especially from the Bible, are necessary throughout our entire lives.
We Jews are sometimes called "the people of the book." God used the Jewish people to transmit the sacred Scriptures that now benefit people from every nation. Yet today, most Jewish people are ignorant of our own sacred Scriptures. That ignorance has caused much trouble and heartache. So when I see a Jewish person hungry to read the Scriptures, it usually means that God is at work in their heart; the Holy Spirit is prompting them to open their minds.
There is a parallel for believers as well. When we become satisfied to be passive in our surroundings, to feel we know enough to do whatever we are called on to do, or to depend upon the knowledge of our leaders rather than exploring important issues for ourselves, it does not bode well.
A former Jews for Jesus staff member once told me, "David, I have been with Jews for Jesus long enough to learn all I need to learn. No one is going to make me learn anything else. You can't teach an old dog new tricks." That man was in his early 40s but in his mind he was already an "old dog." Soon after that conversation, he chose to leave Jews for Jesus. Today he is no longer in ministry. When we insist that we are "full grown" we begin to disqualify ourselves as vessels for the Lord's service.
God wants us all to submit to a healthy and vital growth process. Jews for Jesus has always been committed to continuing education. We have provided Bible college and seminary training for many staff members. We have an Associate Student program that provides encouragement and training for college students who want to grow in their knowledge of God's Word and of evangelism.
This fall we are launching a cooperative venture with Western Seminary to provide graduate level opportunities for our staff and others in specialized ministry to Jewish people (see page 5).
We also provide continuing leadership training for missionaries, including three-day Council meetings three times a year. During these Council meetings we encourage those attending to bring "learning curves." This provides people with an opportunity to tell something they have learned that may help the rest of us—it may be something from a book, it may be something from their own experience.
Much has been written over the years on the importance of developing a culture of learning in a corporation. How much more important is it for us who are seeking to make Christ known, to keep our minds sharp and our hearts open to what He wants to teach as He equips us for His service? We need to be students of God's Word, and to take note of what goes on around us, alert and attuned to every opportunity God provides to bring Him glory and bring others to the Savior.