Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.
Sometimes I find myself wondering if I genuinely make a difference in my work. I teach History in a prep school and sometimes I do question if the lessons a teach have a profound, lasting impact on the children I teach. That has particularly been the case today as I tried to work through the intricacies of the Wars of the Roses with Year 7. But then I remember that History is a vital subject that plays a central role in the education of all young people. We learn about people, who they were, and why they acted the way they did. We learn about the world, how we got to where we are. We learn vicariously what it means to be human. We also learn how to write, how to frame arguments, how to research, how to… Well, you get the idea!
The truth is, though, that actually it is hard to measure quite what impact a school-based education has on a typical person. Education is life-changing. Education is world-changing. But the same education will affect different people in different ways. Some people will be profoundly impacted by their school days, others less so.
Solomon, the writer of the Proverbs, clearly understood this. He recognised the importance of knowledge (he did, after all, ask God for wisdom). But he knew that knowledge in and of itself is only part of the equation. This is the message he seeks to convey in the proverb above. He commands his pupil to “apply your heart to instruction.” Solomon knows that it is not enough simply to have knowledge in one’s head. The truly wise person will allow teaching to percolate through their head and into their heart. Once teaching lodges in the heart, it will change a person deeply and profoundly. Teaching in the heart will shape a person’s actions as well as their thoughts. It is when knowledge transcends the brain and enters the heart that it can truly impact a life, and through that life, the world.
How does one acquire this life-changing, world-changing knowledge? In the second part of the proverb, Solomon tells his pupil to apply his ears to words of knowledge. Knowledge isn’t received intravenously. It requires an action on the part of the recipient, namely listening. Listening seems to be something that we find rather difficult these days; we’re so keen to get our own voice heard, our own viewpoint across that we can sometimes forget to listen. Knowing what to listen to can also be challenging. With dozens of television channels, a similarly large number of radio stations, and an increasingly large number of digital media outlets, there is just so much choice. Not only do we need to listen, but we also need to be selective in terms of what and who we listen to.
This proverb, though short, gives us much to think about as we strive to follow Christ. We need to seek out good quality sources of Christian teaching, and we need to listen carefully to those with a gift for explaining scripture. Our churches play a key role here, and we need to ensure that we are settling in churches that strive to teach God’s word diligently and effectively. We also need to ensure that the teaching we receive does not simply slosh around in our heads but reaches our hearts. We need to allow God’s word to transform our lives as we seek to mould our lives to more closely resemble our saviour, Jesus Christ.