Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long…
Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way…
Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?
He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.—Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 12
I have a lot to learn.
The above verses from Psalm 25 are written by David, a man who was gifted, intelligent, successful, and powerful. But David clearly thought that he had more to learn. These verses say, “God, teach me and guide me. Show me the way.” They say that it’s a good thing to be humble and to fear the Lord. In other words, it will go better for me if I’m humble enough to realize that I don’t know everything, and if I remember that God is far greater, wiser, and more powerful than I am.
All of that sounds good, and most of us know it already. But can we be honest about the fact that as we get older, it’s harder and harder to maintain the posture of a learner? The saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” exists for a reason. When we’re young, our minds are flexible. Things like learning a new language or how to play an instrument come far more easily to young people than they do to adults. As time goes on we get “set in our ways,” as they say, and learning new things becomes harder. As it becomes harder, we become less likely to try, because we don’t enjoy the awkward feeling of not being good at something, of having our patterns disrupted, and of being laughed at by younger people to whom it comes easily.
I am guilty of this. My wife and daughters make fun of me because I still prefer to listen to CD’s in my car. They insist that a streaming service like Spotify or Pandora is better in every way, with unlimited options, etc., and they’re probably right. But I like the way I do it, and I don’t see a reason to change. When I came to Community Church, I switched from a PC to a Mac, but only because my brother made me. I love it now, but I probably wouldn’t have done it if someone hadn’t forced the issue.
There is one area where I’m proud of myself for trying something new: diving into water. I’ve written before about how I became a swimmer late in life, within the last 5 years, and how I still use a snorkel and noseplug, to the great embarrassment of my children. But even after I learned to swim, I was still not a diver. It has always seemed like the most unnatural thing in the world to me to jump headfirst toward something, even if it’s water. Somehow I avoided diving my entire life, but I always secretly envied people who could do it, because it looks like fun. Last summer I decided I’d had enough. “This is ridiculous,” I thought. “I’m a grown man. I can climb mountains and preach sermons. My 7-year-old son is learning to dive. I’m tired of being held back by fear. I’m going to conquer this.”
There was a problem, though: by the time I made that decision, my body had spent 46 years not diving. I am now officially an old dog, or at least a middle-aged dog, and new tricks don’t come easily anymore. The first time I tried to dive, my body and mind rebelled at the last second and the results were ugly. I’m getting better now, but there are still times when I smack my face or my chest or my belly or my legs, or times when I get a bunch of water up my nose and come up sputtering and frustrated.
But I’m better than I was. Last summer I started with crouching, then standing upright. This summer I managed to dive off the side of a boat, a couple of feet off the water. Maybe next summer I’ll work up to the diving board. I still have to stand and think for way too long before every dive, and I still get nervous flutters in my stomach. If I manage to execute a decent one, I come up and look to see if anyone was watching, just like my son does. “Did you see that? I did it!” It’s silly, but I can’t help it. It feels good to have conquered something new. I’m proud of myself, but to get to this point I had to humble myself. I had to be a beginner, and take on the attitude of a learner. It’s something I probably need to do more often.
I have a friend who was a regional director for a large denomination of churches. Part of his job was serving as a sort of pastor to pastors, traveling around and encouraging church leaders who were discouraged or in crisis. I asked him what it was like, and he said, “well, it’s hard, because a lot of these guys I’m unable to help.” When I asked why he couldn’t help them, he said “Because they’re done learning. You can’t teach someone who has all the answers.”
Pride kills growth. A lot of people get past a certain age and start to believe that they have arrived. I’m content with who I am, and I know enough to get by. I’m no longer a student of life, I’m an expert on life. This is the opposite of what David said: Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. As a believer, my attitude should always be that I have much to learn about the ways of God. I am not an expert on life; from God’s perspective I’m very much a beginner. If I don’t let my pride get in the way, He has so much more to teach me.
Have you believed the lie that you’ve arrived? Are there new tricks God wants you to learn, even if they might not come easily at first? I hear people say things like “I’m not much of a Bible reader,” or “I’m not really a praying person,” and I think of what a difference it would make if they added the word “yet” at the end of the sentence. Maybe you’ve never taken part in a small group. Maybe you come in and out of church on Sundays without going out of your way to have conversations with people. How different might your life be a year from now if you tried something uncomfortable? Dive in! Be a lifelong learner, even if it’s humbling at first. Don’t let pride keep you from anything God might want to bless you with.