When I am studying the Bible, reading a book, hearing a sermon, or listening to a lecture, I constantly ask three questions.
#1 What does this say?
Whether it is a biblical author or a contemporary lecturer, the first concern is to allow the speaker or author to speak for himself. What he is trying to say? What is his main point? It is our default to filter new things through the lenses of our pre-knowledge and experiences. Pedagogical (the science of learning) theory suggest that people can only learn something new when they connect it to something that they already know. When we encounter new information, our brain frantically searches for a filing cabinet in which to store it. Therefore, it takes intentional effort to allow a text or a lecture to speak for itself. We must discard our preconceptions and try to determine what the communicator is really trying to say.
Perhaps an example might help provide some clarity. My wife, Sarada, is from Trinidad. The first time I went to visit her I was startled by all of the honking car horns. From my experience, people only honked the horn when they were upset at another driver. However, she explained that it was customary in Trinidad to honk for a variety of reasons. People honk to say hello, to inform that they are coming into your lane, to permit you to come into their lane, etc. The length of the honk conveyed the message- a short honk says “hello” while a long honk says “get out of my way.” The point is that I interpreted the constant honks through the lens of my previous experiences. I thought that the drivers in Trinidad were in a constant state of frustration. However, Sarada helped me interpret the experience through the proper lens. I missed what was being communicated because I immediately stored it in the wrong filing cabinet.
How much do we miss because we aren’t really listening to what others are saying?
#2 What does this say to me?
After we take the time to find out what the author/preacher/lecturer is actually trying to say, we should then apply it to our own lives. Note the order- we can only properly apply it after we understand it. Understanding and application are essential to the learning process.For example, we all understand that a street sign with the numbers “55” on them mean that drivers should not drive over 55 miles per hour. However, we don’t always think that those numbers apply to us. To borrow language from the Apostle James: We can not be hearers alone, must also be doers. Those of us with an academic bent can love knowledge for the sake of knowledge. However, there is nothing more powerful than practical.
#3 How do I share this with others?
This final question is the one that is the most overlooked. We learn best when we share what we are learning with others. You know that you truly understand something when you are able to transfer that knowledge to someone else. How do I share this truth that has impacted my life with someone else? Knowledge is wealth. Share the wealth.
A person who only asks Question #1 runs the risk of becoming isolated in that proverbial ivory tower. He understands the author’s intent but sees little practical transformation in his life or in the lives of those who are around him. The person who only asks Question #2 risks sliding into subjectivity and selfishly misapplies the author’s intent. Because his understanding is so personal, it isn’t transferable to others. The person who only asks Question #3 becomes the hypocrite who wants to help you rid the speck of dust from your eye while ignoring the beam in his own. He is the kind of person who rigorously debates theology while displaying little Christian character.
Now let’s practice. What did I say? How does it apply to you? And you can share it with others by linking to this blog on your social media accounts!