Excerpt from The Making Of An Ordinary Saint

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.”1

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.”2

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Fos­ter, Nathan. The Mak­ing of an Ordi­nary Saint: My Jour­ney from Frus­tra­tion to Joy with the Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines. Bak­er Pub­lish­ing Group.

For each chap­ter in Nathan’s book, Richard Fos­ter writes an intro­duc­to­ry essay — like this one from the chap­ter on study.

[1] Philip­pi­ans 4:8

[2] Romans 14:17

Originally published October 2014