Do you remember the day you earned your driver’s license? Was it not one of the greatest moments of personal freedom you ever experienced? It definitively felt that way to me. Finally, after those months and years of wishing and preparing, that piece of plastic with the goofy photo set me loose in the world.
Of course, having a license doesn’t mean one is a very good driver. But at least the license testifies to some basic knowledge, at least some basic skills behind the wheel. And you probably acquired those basic skills the same way I did: Through a terrifying combination of trial and error.
Long-sufferingly, your father, mother, or some other family member put you behind the wheel and began teaching you how to drive. You may have burned out the clutch trying to shift the manual transmission. You probably practiced parallel-parking for hours, crushing a few orange cones in the process. You might have backed into a tree or a trash can.
Driving was not nearly as easy as it appeared, but at least you were driving, something absolutely necessary to passing the driver’s exam, when that patrol officer sat in the seat beside you, and your palms were so sweaty you could barely hold the wheel. Would you have been ready for the test, however, if you knew all the information about driving, but had never driven? I think not.
Imagine a teenager preparing for his driving exam. He starts when he is fourteen or fifteen, anticipating that day when he will take the test. He begins to memorize the owner’s manual of his father’s car – every page. He knows that car from front to back, from the fuel injector to the fuse box. When he finishes all that, we writes to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to get a copy of the sixty-four page Driver’s Handbook. Again, he memorizes it – every page. From there he is referred to the Florida state legislature, where he is given the reams and reams of state laws governing the operation of an automobile.
The Florida Highway Patrol, the police districts of every county and city he ever plans to drive through in his life, Consumer Reports on crash testing and performance, The National Highway Safety Board, Teenagers Against Drunk Driving – he gets it all and memorizes it all. He is the best educated teen-driver in the state of Florida, the entire United States, even. Yet, on the day of his test, he runs over an officer, a senior citizen, and a dog before he even gets out of the DMV parking lot. Why? He never spent any time behind the wheel. He never put into practice, everything he had merely read about it.
Discipleship, Christian growth, spiritual maturity: These are no different. You can earn all the perfect attendance pins, memorize all the Bible stories, win the Bible search contests – who cares! None of this is of any benefit unless you practice what you have learned. It is the only way.
In the United States, we now have 450,000 Christian congregations representing 38,000 different denominations. We spend $5 billion a year on Christian products – everything from books and magazines to music and bumper stickers. We buy 25 million Bibles a year in one of more than a hundred English translations. Churches take in another staggering $36 billion a year into their coffers, spending roughly $5.5 billion on programs designed for Christian growth. We have got plenty of information, but more and more information does not translate into more and more Christ-likeness. If reading books, attending church or a Bible study, or putting a Jesus-sticker on your car could transform the human heart, the kingdom of God would have already come!
We cannot keep the words and ways of our Lord at a distance, at arms length, reading, arguing, and detailing them. We cannot have Bible study after Bible study, sermon after sermon, explanation without explanation without making that leap to practicing what we have heard.
So get behind the wheel and get started.