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The Difference is Teachability

November 14th, 2008

Focus Text: Proverbs 9: 7-9 (NLT)

 7 Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return.
      Anyone who corrects the wicked will get hurt.
8 So don’t bother correcting mockers;
      they will only hate you.
   But correct the wise,
      and they will love you.
9 Instruct the wise,
      and they will be even wiser.
   Teach the righteous,
      and they will learn even more.


Stop Here and Reflect Before Reading Ahead

There is something I’ve noticed about great athletes.  No matter what sport they play, it can be found in every area of professional athletics.  The greatest of the great have something that no one expects them to need: personal instructors and trainers.

It never ceases to amaze me how sports shows will refer to the greatest hitters in baseball and then mention their batting instructors in the next breath.  Or consider professional football players . . . monsters of the gridiron who can bench press in excess of five-hundred pounds . . . they all have coaches.  Michael Jordan, in my opinion the most dominant and influential basketball player in history, took instruction from the bench from his coach, Phil Jackson.  Shooting coaches.  Personal trainers.  Hey, even the greatest golfer to ever swing a club, Tiger Woods, has personal golf professionals who work with him on his swing mechanics and set up.

What?  Tiger Woods asks advice from another golfer?  That just doesn’t make sense.  Isn’t that like Superman asking one of us mere mortals for wisdom on his flying technique?  Should Tiger be teaching everyone else?  I mean, if he’s the greatest, who can teach him anything?  Hey Tiger Teacher . . . if you’re so great, why don’t you sink an impossible putt at the U.S. Open with a torn ACL?!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been known to equate greatness with complete self-sufficiency.  One who rises above expectations leaves the rest of the herd behind.  We desire to arrive at a place where we no longer need instruction– where we have nothing left to learn.  It’s a place where our wisdom has elevated us above the need to be taught.

Ah, but as this passage reveals: one who can no longer receive correction or instruction isn’t wise at all.  In fact, he’s the opposite.  Those with real wisdom are those who are teachable.  There’s a humility to true greatness.  I’ll never forget my complete shock back in the 1990’s when I learned that my favorite band’s lead singer received vocal lessons after releasing a multi-platinum album.  I was dumbfounded, but the fact that I liked their next record better than the first proved to me that we never arrive.  We must continue to learn.

The difficult part of instruction is when something in us must be corrected.  None of us mind a good tip now and then.  What we hate is when we are told, “Listen, in order to do this the right way, you’re going to have to unlearn the wrong way that you’ve been doing.”  The wise will “love” correction.  Sound weird to you?  It should because there aren’t that many wise people in this world.  To embrace that which points out one’s faults seems degrading to one’s self-esteem, but the wise are more concerned about personal growth than self-esteem.  Sometimes a good kick in the pants is what we should desire, not avoid.

These verses go on to say that if you “instruct the wise, they will be even wiser.”  The converse of this is that “mockers” and those opposed to instruction will not become wiser.  If I were to rephrase the principle of this verse, it could say, “The wise person will get wiser; the stubborn ‘know-it-all’ will continue to know nothing.”  Ouch!  It’s funny how those who possess the wisdom to be taught will possess more wisdom as a result of their previous wisdom.  Is your head spinning yet?  It’s a wisdom cycle.  In like manner, those who reject instruction will perpetuate a cycle of ignorance and folly.  Each person chooses which cycle they will initiate.

If we desire to become people of great wisdom, we must humble ourselves by opening up the avenues of continuing instruction.  Being teachable is more than just the ability to absorb information; this passage interchanges the terms “wise” and “righteous.”  That means that there’s spiritual value in a lifestyle of teachable humility.  At the heart of this is the realization that no matter what level of greatness any one of us will attain, it is still miniscule in comparison to the majesty of the Father’s infinite divinity.  So even if I become the Michael Jordan of the Christian faith, there is One who never misses a shot and I must continue to learn from His tutelage.  

To conclude this thought, I’m reminded of a recent experience in which being teachable was more important than self-esteem.  My pastor and I had the opportunity to be a part of shooting some promo videos for a world-renowned golfer.  Before the shoot, we played eighteen holes of golf.  When we made the turn, pastor reorganized our teams and put the professional golfer in my cart!  I was infuriated!  I’m a horrific golfer who’s lucky not to fall over when I swing the club and this guy’s balancing golf balls on his forehead while levitating in mid-air.  Truth be told, I was afraid of being embarrassed.

I was right to be concerned because I played the worse golf of my life on the first few holes of the back nine.  The golfer noticed how poorly I played, but then he did something unexpected: he offered to correct the mistakes in my grip and swing.  At first, my pride wanted to say no.  But I relented.  By the last few holes, I was hitting straighter shots than I ever had in my life.  It was incredible!  

Could I take credit for getting better at golf by myself?  No.  But I sure got better.  The difference is teachability.  

Oh, and once the great golfer left my cart, I was a horrible golfer again, so don’t get the wrong impression. There’s much more learning left to be done for this triple-bogey wonder!



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