Working with youth and young adults for over a decade, I’ve heard a lot of excuses for poor choices. One excuse is repeated far more than any other: you can’t just tell me what I should do, I have to learn it for myself.
It’s a stupid excuse.
It’s also one that I have used myself. A lot of us say something like this, thinking that we hear so many conflicting ideas and different opinions of what we should do that we just can’t trust any of them, even when they come from people we trust. We learn best through experience, so we have to learn what is best through our own personal experiences. In other words, instead of learning from the experiences and stories from others who have made mistakes so that we don’t have to, we are choosing an insane path by repeating those mistakes to see if the same actions will have different consequences. Or, I think more commonly, we are choosing to be lazy. It takes effort and engagement to learn from the past, and generally speaking we have become extraordinarily good at being lazy and avoiding responsibilities.
The writer of the book of Hebrews covers this. He spends an entire chapter (Heb 11), talking about faith and how figures from Old Testament history displayed faith in God’s plan. Each of these individuals proved that trust in God would never be misplaced. The writer then says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1, ESV). We have such a great group of witness, of examples, to learn from and follow that to ignore and not learn from them can only be described as idiotic. Their stories show great and brave decisions that they made and how God took care of them even in the face of adversity, as well as extremely poor decisions that they made repeatedly and the horrible consequences that those decisions brought.
That “cloud of witnesses” does not end with the close of the Old Testament or with the addition of the New Testament. Church history continues these examples of flawed people attempting to follow God and, through good and bad choices, we see stories we can learn from if we choose to throw off the laziness that we so often embrace and live with purpose for God. Augustine, a great thinker and teacher, struggled with sexual temptation and was haunted by decisions he made as a teen. Jerome was a grumpy, argumentative man who was passionate about the Bible. John Wycliffe lacked a sense of humor and had to walk a line of pushing for reform in churches that had become more focused with power and control than with following God, and Wycliffe himself becoming entangled in regional politics. John Wesley was run out of America because of women troubles but used his new circumstances to build a group of passionate Christ followers in England that would become a worldwide movement. The list can go on and on.
And it doesn’t stop with historical figures. We are called to be a part of a church for a reason. Churches are filled with flawed, hypocritical, arrogant human beings just like me who are trying their darndest to be followers of Jesus despite our own sin and the temptations around us. By coming together we can encourage and support each other, which sometimes means giving someone a hug when they’re having a tough time and sometimes mean smacking someone in the back of the head (in love, of course) and telling them they know better. And, if we are brave enough to accept that we can follow Christ alongside people that we don’t completely and totally agree with, we can benefit from an even greater community by coming alongside others in our community beyond the walls of our home church.
This is hard. It means that we have to get over the “I have to learn it myself” mentality and humbly accept that others have something to teach us – and we have to actively look for opportunities to learn from them! We have to get over the laziness that we have all grown accustomed to and learn. If we learn and grow, if we then choose to live life with a purpose beyond our own agenda, God has proven that He will faithfully respond and do amazing things through flawed-but-faithful people. Gideon was short, Moses stuttered, David was an adulterer, Luther was melancholic, and Billy Graham struggled believing the Bible was true. God used groups of young adults to launch the Reformation and The Great Awakening. I pray that we would be humble, willing to learn, and eager to study God’s Word as we seek to be followers of Christ.
This article was first published in the Fairmont Sentinel on February 28th. Check out the Sentinel online.