Transformed through Study

Perhaps, it is that unplanned moment that best describes the true spiritual discipline of study. It is the heart inclined toward God saying: "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." (Brad Dudley, 3, “The Spiritual Discipline of Study”)

For many the idea of study conjures up unpleasant and boring things like slogging through pages of densely written text, taking challenging tests, trying to stay awake in less than scintillating classes, and so on. Dudley tries to dispel the notion of that image of study as what the spiritual discipline of study is about when he writes:
Too often study utilizes the mind as a filing system or a factory with its cogs turning in exhaustion and sometimes in futility…Study's ultimate production is the spirit remaking the will and transforming the mind. (2)
As with all spiritual disciplines the goal of study is transformation of our lives so that in all that we say, think, and experience, God’s presence and will becomes our constant guide and companion.

“But I’ve never liked to study,” some may say. “Study has always been a chore,” others may chime in. “I can’t stay motivated to study,” still others may claim. Let’s begin, then, by re-framing how we look at study as a spiritual discipline. Study is about illumination, not instruction (Dudley, 3). It is about changed hearts and lives, not the acquisition of information (although facts will be acquired along the way). Study is about all of life becoming our classroom – offering continual ways to reflect on how God is experienced and at work in our lives and the world around us. Study is about contemplating how God is present and active in all of life and how, by this reflection, we can learn more and more about who God is, about God’s love, and about what God is calling us to do and to be. Whether we are reading a book, exploring the scripture individually, listening to a sermon, enjoying a sunset, participating in a Bible study class, sharing time with family and friends: the questions that the spiritual discipline of study have in mind are, how is God present in this moment?; and what is God saying to me through it? Dietrich Bonhoeffer had some helpful insights about this when, reflecting on meditation and study, he wrote:
In our meditation we ponder the chosen text on the strength of the promise that it has something utterly personal to say to us for this day and for our Christian life, that it is not only God's Word for the Church, but also God's Word for us individually. (Life Together, 82)

The spiritual discipline of study is never a call to slog through anything nor to participate in boring exercises. It is, instead, a call to see opportunities in all that we say and do for transformation and learning and encounter with God and God’s love. Join me in the adventure of study. Join me in seeing all of our lives as spiritual classrooms and in then praying with the psalmist: "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Dave Fetterman is the Director of Christian Education and Spiritual Formation at Westminster Presbyterian Church.

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