Three learning traps to avoid
“He who has a why can overcome any how and you shall become who you are” - Nietzsche
In the scriptures we read Apostle Paul’s incredible clarity of heart and motivation. He knew his why. He had a profound understanding of God’s grace and calling on his life. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” - Galatians 2:20 “my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” - Romans 10:1
These verses are all the more powerful, when we consider the integrity of Paul’s words. More than just the desire of his heart, Paul was lead to faithful action. We all desire the spirit to work through us and bare fruit in our lives, but how did Paul do the heart work to become this man of action? Paul wasn’t born this way and he had to learn just like you and I. We can commit to the same path of learning that Jesus has called us to.
“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” - Mark 1:16-18. In one sentence, Jesus summarizes his plan for saving men and the destiny for our lives. Jesus is calling us to become someone new; someone we can never become on our own. Jesus wants to be deeply involved in our hearts, so that he can bare his fruit in our actions. Rather than handing out a list of what to do, Jesus is concerned with who we will become. The doing becomes a part of our nature, when we focus on who we are at the heart level.
Jesus commands us to follow, and calls us to fish. Becoming a fisher of men is a byproduct of closely following Jesus. How could it be possible to not fish for men if we have a deep and genuine relationship with Jesus, if our heart matches his heart for seeking and saving the lost? If we are not committed to this calling, then how closely are we really following Jesus?
It takes faith to believe in this calling of becoming, to accept this destiny. It takes hope each time you strike out to commit to another swing. Satan wants to discourage you from becoming before you can experience a home run in the Lord. The only way you can ultimately fail on this path is by refusing to try again. We must fail forward as we follow christ in order to learn and mature. As we take on Jesus’ path of becoming in 2021, we must commit to having the heart of a learner. It’s important to discern where Satan wants to inhibit our becoming. Let’s look at three passages and three learning traps to avoid this year.
Trap #1: the world will teach you to become like the world.
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” - Acts 4:13 How did these unlearned men become who they were? What caused these ordinary fishermen to become courageous evangelists? They had been with Jesus. We need to have fresh encounters with Christ and always return to the gospel to learn how we can more closely follow him. The apostles were not always this courageous, but they were committed to Jesus’ process of becoming more like him and less like the world.
When I see the acts of the apostles, I tell myself that that just isn’t who I am. I am afraid and don’t like being uncomfortable or embarrassed in public, so how could I become a great fishermen? Is Jesus telling me I have to be someone I’m not? Certainly the grace of God teaches us to say no to our worldly passions and to deny ourself when we take on a new nature and renew our minds. The world has already taught you to be someone you’re not. Jesus wants us to unlearn those ways, just as the apostles did.
In acts 4, they tried to reteach the apostles and convince them to renounce Jesus. The world will try to do the same to us. The world teaches us to desire its approval and live for its praise. The world teaches us to please people rather than being concerned with pleasing the Lord. The world teaches us to fear people rather than fearing the Lord. We please those we fear. Fearing others more than God results in pleasing people more than God. Christians who try to please people fail to please God. If we are to become fishermen, we must learn to be God pleasers and not fall into the trap of being who the world wants us to be or acting how the world wants us to act.
One thing the world taught me that I had to unlearn for Jesus is the habit of avoidance. My avoidance had developed into the bad habit of not sharing my faith. A habit is a simple system of que - routine - reward. I would see a person [que], avoid the social awkwardness at all costs [routine], and then experience the relief of not having to speak with them [reward]. This habit always wants to return to me, but we can change that routine when we crave the reward of sharing Jesus more than the reward of not. When we become fishermen, with practice our habit loops can be transformed from fear to courage.
Trap #2: impatience
“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” - 2 Timothy 4:2 As teaching the word requires patience, so does learning. Have you ever heard of the marshmallow test? Scientists give children a marshmallow and tell them if they can wait an hour without eating it they can have two marshmallows. Some children have the will power to delay gratification for the reward of two marshmallows. Where it gets interesting, is that across the board those children who were patient end up having more financial, academic, and relationship success in life.
Will power is the single most important keystone habit for individual success. This self discipline predicts academic performance more than IQ. The good news for us is that with patience, will power is a learnable skill. you can strengthen your willpower by making it into a habit. You can make it automatic, without you having to think about it. Will power can be trained like a muscle. The muscle gets tired when it’s overworked and weaker when it’s not worked enough. It can be taught, and is being taught in emerging curriculums around the world. You can take that marshmallow and paint a picture with it in your mind or imagine it tucked away in a cage. The most important strategy to learn is imagining the two future marshmallows that you will receive. Future intent often determines present actions. Unlike animals, humans can imagine the future and live for tomorrow. We can rediscover and recreate ourselves.
“Hope does not define the last stage of grit. It defines every stage. It is inestimably important to learn how to keep going when you are knocked down. If we get up grit prevails.” - Angela Duckworth.
Grit rests on the hope and expectation that our efforts can improve our future. We resolve to make tomorrow better. When we follow Jesus, we have a future hope in him and who he intends us to become. Jesus wants to do incredible things through you. You have to believe this, even when the results and changes aren't immediate. Take Jesus at his word, when he calls us to action fueled by faith in becoming who we are.
Trap #3: Nothing fails like success
Hebrews 5:8 “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered”
There are two meanings to the quote: "nothing fails like success". First, there is a competency trap, when success or knowledge can become a liability. We begin to assume we know how to do something and the golden medals of yesterday become the iron clad chains of today. With the competency trap, the most successful are often the least receptive to learning. There’s a difference between knowing how to play basketball because you played as a child or read a book and knowing how to play basketball because you're currently in practice and learning. It's the same with God's word. We have to always be relearning the fundamentals and growing in the gospel, without our knowledge or past achievements blinding us.
Paul was probably in soem form of a competency trap before God humbled him. We've seen the same example in our modern world with industries like Netflix and Amazon overtaking Blockbuster or Barnes and Noble, who failed to learn how to innovate. This is where the second meaning of "nothing fails like success" applies. You have to overcome countless failures before a success occurs. You have to be willing to fail and learn from that failure. In this way, failure turns into blessing rather than a burden. In Hebrews 5:8 it mentions that Jesus learned in suffering, James 1 tells us to take joy in our sufferings. What trials and sufferings did you experience in 2020, that you can learn from to become better in 2021?
Ultimately, most failures come from insufficient daring. The frontlines of the Kingdom were never forcefully advanced by men and women of fear or caution. Learning to become who we are in 2021, requires both daring greatly and failing greatly. I once read a hypothetical quote by Jesus that both comforts and challenges me: “I expect more failure from you than you expect from yourself”.
Jesus is sufficient for our failures, and our successes. If we are to be a church that dares greatly and fails forward greatly this year, we must become a people who extend understanding and grace like Jesus would. Where failure is expected, we also need to depend on the forgiveness of Jesus and the grace of oru brothers and sisters. If that were absent, why would I be encouraged to innovate or take a risk and fail in becoming a fisher of men?
Without understanding, failure becomes a burden not a blessing. Satan wins if we are a culture that shames one another from messing up in our endeavors to step out on faith. Satan uses failure to discourage us, to make us feel like we’re not measuring up to God. Discouragement from failure is just a barrier Satan erects between great disciples and great achievements, between great followers and great fishing trips. Remember, when you are called to action by Jesus and you first go out and fail that Jesus is the Lord of the harvest, not you. Jesus is Lord, not the church, or the mission. Both church and mission will fail you, and you will fail in your church and mission.
Before any pinnacle of success there’s a pit of disappointment. Bamboo can barely be seen for the first five years of its life as it grows its roots. Then without warning it shoots hundreds of feet into the air in just a few short days. Our efforts often appear to make no difference day by day until you cross a critical threshold. Many fail to see tangible results with the small changes so they decide to cease learning. Habits need to persist long enough to break through that plateau of potential.
People will see your achievements this year as a dramatic overnight success, but you know it’s the work you did long ago and the progress that you made to make it possible. It is geological pressure mounting up to a massive earthquake. Big things come from small beginnings. God has big things planned for you in 2021! Let's learn from 2020 and commit to following Jesus through this year.