Learning Backwards – By Ron Oltmanns (2014)
I’ve gotten ahead of myself, tried to learn and know things I wasn’t yet ready for. God has been kind and gracious and allowed me to make my mistakes without getting seriously hurt. I sure have tried His patience, though!
I see it now, even as I’m not yet through trying His patience. God, forgive me! At least I’m becoming aware of it and I’m willing to change. I’m trying to let the Spirit transform me.
Here are a few things I’ve learned. Because I was precocious as a young boy and tried to keep from making mistakes, it has taken me twice as long to learn things, and now I can see I’m learning them backwards.
My ten-year-old son is learning poetry. Just tonight he shared one of his poems with us. He asked me to guess what form it was in. I chanced “free verse”. No. It was acrostic.
I pulled out my Hebrew Bible and showed him Psalm 119. Every 8 verses starts with the same letter, in Hebrew, and works through the alphabet from alef to tav, all 22 letters.
“How many verses is that,Titus?”
“Yes, and see how they are written from right to left?”
“Does that mean the letters face to the left instead of the right, Dad? So, is E written Ǝ?”
“Yes, you can look at it that way.”
“Wow, that would be hard!”
Titus thinks it is written backwards, and he’s right in a sense.
Learning things backwards means I’m starting to grasp what the thing really is after long periods (often years) of thinking I knew it already just to find out I only had a vague concept and not a lived experience of it. So here are some things I’m learning backwards.
Life is full of risk. Relationships are a risk and faith is too. Some risks are worth taking. Others aren’t. True wisdom is knowing which ones are worth taking, and then acting on that.
Something better than knowledge. More grounded, more ancient and usually quotable. Wisdom is what we seek when we have made a lot of mistakes and we’re ready for something solid that really works as advertised. The ultimate wisdom leads us to God.
A tainted word that really shouldn’t be. Orthodoxy popularly means the approved or“right” belief about something. It really means “correct worship”. It’s clear if you want to know what someone truly believes, look at what they worship. We become more like what we worship, which is an important reason we should examine what we worship (really) and how we worship.
God is love. Jesus demonstrates love by dying for us while we were still sinners. The Holy Spirit produces fruit in us if we keep in step and the first fruit is love (Galatians 5:22). Love is more important than just about everything else. Jesus said the most important commandment was to love God wholeheartedly and to love people as we love ourselves.
Knowledge is a wonderful thing, but it can’t replace or displace love. Knowing that something is true or untrue, that it exists, is helpful. Knowing for the sake of relating is much better. To know God is the best and highest knowledge. To know others deeply and authentically is a blessing. To know yourself, your own strengths, weaknesses and tendencies, gives you more ability to choose wisely and grow in love.
God’s favor and undeserved gift. How sweet it is!
God living within the Christ follower. Yes, it’s wild to consider this. God’s audacity is even wilder. The power for Christians and fuel for the Church. Without the Holy Spirit, we are dead and deceived.
So I’m learning these things backwards and it is taking me much longer to grasp them than if I was learning them fresh from a younger age. The benefit of backwards is the humbling that is involved and the chance to share these lessons with others so we can all find our way back home.