Understanding Study


*Originally published at Renovare.org by Richard Foster

Study is the process whereby our minds take on an order conforming to the order of whatever we concentrate upon. Garbage in, garbage out; or conversely, beauty in, beauty out. It really is as simple as that. This is why the wise old apostle Paul urged us to set our minds on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable.”
What makes study a Christian spiritual discipline is the content of our study as well as the spirit by which we engage in our study.

The content of our study consists in all those things that lead to the glory of God. For the Christian, our study focuses primarily upon two great “books”: Scripture and “the book of nature.” With regard to Scripture, we begin by quieting ourselves until we can be attentive to the Word in Scripture. Then: We read. We reflect. We absorb. We allow Scripture to read us. We apply Scripture to our living. With regard to nature, the process is much the same, except that our “reading” comes by way of observing and listening. Then: We reflect. We absorb. We allow nature to read us. We apply the lessons of nature to our living.
The spirit in which we engage in our study is an overall spirit of humility. We come with open hands and open heart. We become subject to the subject matter. We come as student, not teacher. We come as wholehearted learners. We stand under the text of Scripture, under the book of nature. Without this pervasive spirit of humility, study will only produce arrogance in us. A haughty spirit undermines humility of heart. Arrogance and a teachable spirit are mutually exclusive.

There are four well-recognized steps in study. The first is repetition. Repetition regularly channels our minds in a specific direction, thus ingraining habits of thought. Ingrained habits of thought can be formed by repetition alone, thus changing behavior, even if we do not understand what is being repeated.

The second step in study is concentration. Concentration centers our minds. It clears away the clutter of a thousand stimuli and forces us to focus on one thing only. This focus allows us to be truly present where we are.

Comprehension is the third step in the discipline of study. All of us have had the experience of reading something over and over and then, all of a sudden, we understand what it means. This “eureka” experience of understanding catapults us to a new level of growth and freedom. It brings insight and discernment.

The final step in study is reflection. While comprehension defines what we are studying, reflection defines the significance of what we are studying. Reflection allows us to see things from God’s perspective.

Study produces joy. Like any novice, we will find it hard work in the beginning. But as our proficiency grows, so will our joy. Study is a discipline ordained by God for the training of the mind in “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

-Richard Foster

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