By Pst. John Musyimi
‘..And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength..’-Mark 12.30 (Emphasis mine)
A common criticism that has been made about African Christianity is that it is ‘a mile wide and an inch deep.’ This is to say that though African Christians are generally zealous about their faith, it is a zeal that is not grounded in depth of doctrine. That part of Christianity that requires deep thought seems to be largely unexplored amongst many of us. We are vibrant in our faith and in the various expressions of it. Don’t get me wrong, this is a crucial element in Christianity. Paul said we should be ‘not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord’ Romans 12.11. However, it does seem that we are not very keen on loving the Lord our God with our minds. There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking, I think the criticism holds some water.
So, what do we do about it? Here are some simple suggestions to help us love God with our minds:
1. Practice Active Reading of The Bible: What passes as Bible reading for many of us is actually passive reading. It results in us sometimes making statements such as ‘I didn’t get anything from reading my Bible today’ Why do we say that? Because we were hoping that something would leap off the page and strike us with such insight as to turn us into theological Ninjas. That will not happen. We must switch from passive to active reading.
Active reading calls us (with pen and paper, of course) to think through a passage’s message, meaning and implication for our lives. It requires more than a brief glance at a passage. Active Bible reading is like drilling for oil, it requires time and concentrated effort. But when you strike oil, O’ how sweet it is to the soul!
2. Master a book of The Bible every year: Beyond active Bible reading, choose one book of the Bible every year and master it. Become an expert on its authorship, themes, purpose, message, style and place in redemptive history. All the tools for such an undertaking are readily available online and there are plenty of Bible reading software available for free download.( eg, E-sword Bible software)
3. Read a book of Theology: Many Christians have been sold a lie. It is this. ‘Theology is for pastors only.’ The problem with this statement is that it suggests that only pastors should know God. Theology literally means ‘God knowledge’ – Everyone, then, is a theologian; for they all hold some notion of God in their minds. The question is whether those notions are true or false, deep or shallow.
If our knowledge of God is to be right, we must every so often pick up a book whose content is meant to help us progress in that area. J.I Packer’s, ‘Knowing God’ comes to mind. There is also A.W Tozer’s ‘Knowledge of The Holy’ and ‘Attributes of God’ – These are but some examples.
4. Think about the words of the songs you sing on Sunday: A friend once dropped this gem on me. I will be forever grateful to him for it. He said, ‘in worship on Sunday I want every emotion a song makes me feel to be tied to a particular truth, I am skeptical of feeling things as we sing that I cannot trace to a specific truth that my mind grasps’ – Simply put, my friend was saying this: let us bring our minds into worship. Don’t all need to be rebuked here? I fear that many of our emotions during worship on Sundays are due to everything else but truth. (the voices, harmonies, riffs etc) Let us train our-selves to think about the words of the songs we are singing.
5. Follow the sermon on Sunday on your Bible: This is an excellent way to maximize sermon time at Church. Instead of taking the posture of one waiting for a movie to begin, assume the posture of a student eager to learn. As the sermon is going along, follow it on your Bible. Note how the points being made arise out of the passage being handled. Remember, the preacher is not called by God to entertain you; He is called to teach you God’s word. His Job is to lead you to the pasture, your job is to eat it, not marvel at how green it is.
Here is the bottom line – There is a mental investment needed to deepen and widen your knowledge of God. Loving God with the mind takes work. William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army said, ‘an unthinking faith is a curious offering to present before God who gave you a mind.’ Could it be that many of us have been presenting the blemished offering of an unthinking faith to God?