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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Show me, don't just tell me!

I am a people watcher - I can sit quietly, observing their interactions with others, or simply watch as they discover they have been caught in the act of talking to themselves!  We are interesting creatures - full of all kinds of surprises.  We often learn best when we can observe someone else do what it is we want to do.  For example, when I wanted to learn how to crochet, following those "easy illustrations" in the guide didn't help as much as watching my sister-in-law tear through a piece she is crocheting at the speed of light!  She counts stitches, creating a series of in/out movements, and makes it look all so easy.  I take the hook, count a few stitches, looking at what I have done, and it looks a little like what she has done - maybe not with the practiced perfection she exhibits in her knots, but I get closer to the desired outcome by having followed her "example" than by following the illustrations in a book!

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.  (Ephesians 5:1-2 MSG)

A good many of us are "visual" learners.  We like to see what it is we are to do and then we set out to do it.  There is nothing wrong with this - in fact, the scriptures even encourage us to have "examples" to follow and in warns us against following some of the others we would do best to avoid.  In the simplest terms, an example is a pattern we follow - much like the "pattern" I may try to follow in learning to crochet.  We have all kinds of good lessons in the Bible, but for many of us, they are like the "written" pattern we try to use to learn to crochet - we can read them, but we don't really "get them" until we see them in real life.  

When we want to learn what it is like to love and be loved, there is no greater example to turn to than God himself.  In fact, I think we can examine his actions from the beginning of scripture to the end to see the many examples of his love - illustrated for us in graphic form, complete with personal accounts of his love and the actions of his son on our behalf as he took on human form.  Now, the kicker is we have to spend time with our "example" in order to learn from the one serving as our example.  In other words, we get more in the exchange of what is done / said than we do in just taking in the illustrations we are given!

We need both - don't get me wrong.  We need the Word of God to give us the step by step, line upon line, precept upon precept kind of instructions.  Yet, all learning is best when we can take what we have been learning and put it into practice.  Having one alongside us to guide us through the steps is more than helpful - it is prudent!  Why do you think teams hire coaches, workplaces have supervisors, and governments have leaders?  It is because we learn best when we incorporate the influence of the "example" into our learning.  People call me all the time looking for technical support for some report they need to analyze, or some software they need to navigate through in the workplace.  I am not an expert in the software, nor am I "gifted" in the analysis of the report, but I usually end up going to the person if possible because guiding them through in person is much easier than doing it over the phone!

There is something about personal contact which makes any lesson easier to grasp - we get something out of the observations and interactions which was missing when we only considered the written instructions.  When we get alone with God long enough, allowing him to connect the "instructions" in the Word of God with the illustrations of his love in real life, there is a "cementing" of the concepts being taught.  See someone serve another sacrificially, without any desire for recognition or gain, and something comes together which was missing by just reading and memorizing a portion of scripture such as Galations 5:13-15 where Paul tells us we are to use our freedom to serve one another.  We connect the instruction with action - we see the outcome of the action - and something awesome happens - we "get it".

Love is not something we "get" simply by reading about it or memorizing the scriptures which speak about it.  Love is something we "get" when we see the illustrations of it in real life.  I think we will all agree, the real-life example speaks louder than any words written on a page.  Maybe this is why God sent his son - taking on human form as an example of his love.  After all, isn't this what is said in John 3:16-17?  Look at this passage again through the eyes of us needing an "example" of God's love to really connect all the actions of the years (from Genesis through Revelation).  "This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life."  God was saying, "You only need to see the example of my love in my son - he will connect the dots for you!"

So, when we need a little "dot connecting", we only need to ask God for an example to help us really "get it".  He is faithful to point us in the right direction - we just need to ask.  Just sayin!