Are You Smart?

– Henry Neufeld

97Oh how I love your instruction (Torah),
I meditate on it all day long!
98Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,
Because they are always mine.
99I am smarter than all my teachers
Because your testimonies are in my thoughts.
100I understand things better than the elders do,
Because I work according to your decisions.
101I keep my feet away from every evil path
So that I may keep your word.
102I don’t turn aside from your judgments
Because you have taught me.
103How pleasant to my palate are your words
Better than honey to my mouth.
104From your decisions I gain understanding
So I hate every deceitful way. — Psalm 119:97-104 (HN)

Every so often someone will tell me that I’m smart. It’s usually the result of amazement that I have learned to read Greek and Hebrew, or that by merely passing nearby I appear to have repaired their computer. The first is the result of a great deal of hard work, and the second is surely a coincidence. But the Lord has given me some gifts for learning certain things, and for that I am thankful.

But there is another part of being “smart” that is not something that just happened, the result of genetics and of God’s plan. Did you know that there is a Biblical way to make yourself smarter? There is, and if you read the text today, you’ve just been reading about it.

The formula is simple: Study God’s word and you are going to become more intelligent and wiser.

I was given certain gifts to start out with, but then in addition I was given the gift of parents who introduced me to God’s word in the Bible early, and not only encouraged and required me to learn, but also demonstrated doing this themselves. I have a pocket Bible that belonged to my father that is close to falling apart and has notes pretty much on every page. Many of them I can’t read, but they show that he was “meditating in God’s word.”

In elementary and high school I was again required both to study and to memorize the Bible. The result is a facility in both reading and in memorizing that has helped me in almost everything I have done. I take our passage seriously. I believe that I am better off intellectually because I spent so much time in my youth studying and memorizing scriptures.

I would extend this concept beyond just studying the scriptures. God’s word is displayed not only in his written word, the Bible, but also throughout all of creation. There is an attitude shift that should take place here. When we study nature, we should realize that we are examining God’s thinking. We’re seeing how God works. That attitude of study can, I believe, make us more careful and more thorough in our studies, and can also make us more intelligent. (It often does not, because some of us decide we have to make God say what we want him to, rather than listening to what he has said and looking at what he has done. The trouble, as C. S. Lewis once noted, is that when you try to be stupider than you are, you very often succeed!)

But for today I’d like to focus on the Bible. There are two aspects of the approach I teach to Bible study that are very generally ignored. First, I talk about multiple readings. Today I started on the next week’s lectionary texts, because I just left the discussion class I attend for the last set. I made myself a list of those texts in the notebook I carry so I can read them over. I will read them many, many times during the week. In this way I both get an opportunity to look at them from different angles, and also to fix the key points in my memory. That way I can meditate on those passages and listen for what God wants to teach me from them. Most of these devotionals come to me during times of meditation, and not times of formal study. Meditation can happen at a set time, but for me it often happens when I’m walking the dog or doing the dishes. If I didn’t read the passages and fix those high points in my mind, I wouldn’t be able to meditate, would I?

Second, however, is memorization. I do this less regularly, but it is also a help to meditation. If I can say a text while I’m driving in the car, that helps me to think about it and to hear what God may have to tell me about that text. Many people don’t want to memorize. It’s hard work. But there is a blessing there for those who use one or another of these means of meditating on the text.

I would urge you, especially those who are younger, to spend some time, serious time, meditating on God’s word. I’ve only given a couple of pointers here. There are many more. Find the way that works for you to really let God’s word work on your mind. It’s the Biblically guaranteed way of making you smarter. I believe it works.

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