When we look to our Savior’s example of how we should love, we see that “Jesus increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). A proverb that is a constant challenge to me reflects the importance of such growth stating, “The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools feeds on foolishness” (Proverbs 15:14). Put another way, an intelligent person purposefully seeks knowledge, but fools nibble randomly, vacantly chewing on words and ideas that have no value, no flavor, and no nutrition.
What are you and I feeding our minds? Are we heeding this biblical warning about the danger of “garbage in, garbage out?” May we purposefully seek knowledge and guard against spending precious time on things that have no value. I know that I have wished and prayer for God’s knowledge and change in an area of my life only to realize two or three years have passed without my actively taking His advice and seeking it.
I once learned from a friend a practical and fun way to set goals and remind myself to seek God’s wisdom and to guard my mind with His truth. This practice has given me a path to follow and ensure that I am following after God with my whole heart.
1. Each year, I create five files. You’re probably puzzled as this doesn’t sound so spiritual. But, hang with me!
2. Aim at expertise. Next, select five areas you’d like to become an expert in and label a file for each of them. A word of caution: choose areas from the spiritual realm. Remember the proverb? You don’t want to feed on pursuits that have no value. Instead choose topics of eternal value. To help you determine those five areas, answer the questions, “What do you want to be known for?” and “What topics do you want your name associated with?”
I have a friend, Lois, for instance, whose name many people associate with prayer. Whenever we needed someone at church to teach on prayer, lead a day of prayer for our women, or open a meeting with worship prayer, everyone automatically thinks of her. For more than 20 years, she has been studying what the Bible teaches about prayer, looking closely at the men and women of the Bible who prayed, reading about prayer, and praying. Prayer is definitely one of her areas of expertise, one of her five files.
Another friend is known for her knowledge of the Bible. Whenever the women at church needed someone to lead a survey of the Bible or give an overview of the prophets, we would call on Betty. Still another friend speaks to church groups about time management. These three women have become experts.
Through the years, I’ve compiled a list of the files that the students in my “Woman After God’s Own Heart” class kept. Here’s some of the topics to help stimulate your thinking. They range from the practical—hospitality, health, child-raising, homemaking, Bible-study methods—to the theological—attributes of God, faith, fruit of the Spirit. They include areas for ministry—biblical counseling, teaching, serving, women’s ministry—as well as areas of character—the devotional life, heroes of the faith, love, virtues of godliness. They center around lifestyles—singleness, parenting, organization, widowhood, the pastor’s home—and zero in on the personal—holiness, self-control, submission, contentment. Wouldn’t you love to sit in on the classes these women may teach in ten years—or read the books they may eventually write? After all, such personal spiritual growth is all about preparation for ministry. It’s about filling yourself up first so that you have something to give in ministry!
3. Fill the files. Start putting information into your files. They’ll get fat as you diligently search and collect everything on your subject… articles, books, specialized magazines, and news clippings… attend seminars… teach on the subject(s)… spend time with those who are the best in these areas, picking their brains… seek and sharpen your expertise.
Most importantly, read your Bible to see firsthand what God says about your areas of interest. After all, His thoughts are the primary knowledge you want. I even code my Bible. Pink highlights passages of interest to women, and you’re probably not surprised to learn that one of my five files is “Women.” Besides marking those passages in pink, I’ve put a “W” in the margin beside them. Anything in my Bible that relates to women, wives, mothers, homemakers, or women of the Bible has a “W” beside it. I did the same thing with “T” for teaching, “TM” for time management, etc. Once you pick your areas and set up your code, I guarantee you’ll be so excited and motivated that you’ll wake up before the alarm clock rings eager to open God’s Word, pen in hand, to look for His wisdom about the areas where you want wisdom!
4. Watch yourself grow. Never let months or years pass with half-hearted hope that something will change in your life or you will grow closer to God without any preparation and input on your part. You will be overjoyed and amazed when you look back over your subjects and realize that God has worked in you, growing your confidence that His truth will never leave nor forsake you.
5. Spread your wings. Personal spiritual growth is all about preparation for ministry. It’s about filling yourself up first so that you have something to give. As you continue your quest for knowledge about five spiritual topics, remember that you are working on this personal growth in order to minister to others.
As my praying friend Lois filled her mind with the things of God and her lifelong study of prayer, she then allowed that fullness to fill others in ministry. Serving others means being full of things eternal, things worth sharing. Our fullness becomes the overflow that is our ministry. It’s what we have to give and pass on to others. As a dear mentor constantly drilled into me, “Nothing going in equals nothing going out.” May Jesus be living and shining out of you and me!
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Dr. Clemons Is a 21st Century visionary in Business and Church growth.