March 3, 2012

Slow Learner

When I was six years old, my mother signed me up for piano lessons. My sister went on with them and still plays the piano. My brothers learned some piano, then guitar and banjo. I struggled for about a year. My mind would not let my left and right hand do two separate things. Finally, my teacher, my mother, and I all gave up at the same time. Even though I regret my lack of perseverance, the piano was not for me.
The past few weeks while reviewing old spiritual journals, I’ve been appalled at my slowness to learn obedience to God. Every old lesson has been repeated and repeated. Things that I have relearned this year were first learned decades ago. Why didn’t they stick? Why did it take so long to get God’s truth into my head and into my life? As I’ve pondered this question, God amazes me with today’s devotional reading. (Yet I’m sure He has told me this more than once also.)
It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea. (Deuteronomy 1:2)
One simple verse describes how far it was from where Moses and the people of Israel left Egypt and began their journey to the promised land. As the devotional reading says, it was only eleven days away, yet it took them forty years to get there! 

Why did this journey take more than 1300 times as long as it should have? Because this is the way of humanity and the depth of human sin. Even when we give ourselves to God and to a life of faith, sin in us resists every step of the journey and instead of moving on, we fumble and stumble, even go backwards. 

In the same way, just as it took them far longer than it needed to go that short distance to freedom, so has it taken me far longer than it needed to move from salvation to a set-apart and sanctified life. My sin also has resisted God every step of my journey. I’ve fallen and gone backwards so many times.

The reading says, “How slowly we get over the ground! What windings and turnings! How often we have to go back and travel over the same ground, again and again. We are slow travelers because we are slow learners.”

I think about the way my mind works. I live in the “now” and am easily distracted. That means I do not dwell on the stuff of the past, good or bad, or think much about the future. Worse yet, when I think about anything, my mind doesn’t stay there very long. For example, reaching for my calculator to figure out that 1300 number took me into a shelf that contained a document that grabbed my curiosity. Instead of the calculator, I picked up the document and looked at it for a few minutes. Easily distracted.

Very little meditation and being easily distracted means that lessons barely scratch the surface before I’m off to something else. As today’s reading says, “God is faithful and wise, as well as a gracious and patient teacher. He will not permit us to pass cursorily over our lessons.”
Just when I might think I have mastered a lesson because I “got” it, my wise Teacher knows better. He sees the need of deeper plowing. He does not want me to be a mere theorist with a smattering of this or that in my head. Instead, unlike the music teacher, He will not give up. He keeps me year after year playing scales because He wants me finally making music.

God, as I read the Old Testament account of Your people wandering in the wilderness, I see myself engaged in the same complaining and rebellion. I also see how You wanted to put an end to their resistance before You allowed them to get to the real work of receiving the promised land and conquering their enemies. 

You are doing the same with me. On one hand, I’d like to forget the past and press on, but on the other, it would be prudent to at least remember the lessons. Layer by layer, You keep teaching me. Has anything finally permeated deeper than the surface, deeper than merely “knowing” what kind of person You want me to be and how I should live? Sometimes I don’t think so. I could sit here and rue all my mistakes, weeping and regretful. Or I could remember the lessons, even the repetition of each one, and simply be obedient, allowing You to finish all that You started and keep moving toward a fuller victory.

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