It was that dark winter, living with my parents, fighting to find joy. Dutch was a crying baby. I had no car or cell service. Everyday it rained. Flipping through my seminary catalog, I circled which classes I was slated to take next. The short title of one stood out: Prayer. I took a deep breath. Forget the rigor of Advanced Hermeneutics, this class would be tough.
Our first assignment was simple: Describe your present prayer-life. There was nothing to do but admit the truth. After being a Christian twenty years and having consistent quiet times for nearly ten, I confessed the overwhelming feeling in my heart and began the assignment like this:
“Honestly … I am a beginner.”
There, I’d said it. After finishing the writing assignment, I pulled out our text, checking the syllabus which pages had been assigned. Flipping to the correct spot, my eyes immediately fell to this same familiar word. Tears welled up as His kindness was clear:
One cannot begin to face the real difficulties of the life of prayer and meditation unless one is perfectly content to be a beginner and really experience oneself as one who knows little or nothing, and has a desperate need to learn the bare rudiments. Those who think they “know” from the beginning never, in fact, come to know anything … We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners, all of our life.1
If you feel in over your head, Congratulations! If you feel like a beginner today, Rejoice! This is a gift. Your utter desperation “to learn the bare rudiments” places you smack dab in the richest soil of all. You are bound to grow. The truth is, we’re all beginners. So if you are blessed enough to know it, rejoice. Yes, you are a beginner. We’re all beginners. We must be.
But this truth cuts straight across the grain of our culture, doesn’t it?
Me, a beginner? As a nation we recoil from the notion. In our world, Knowledge is Power and Power is our god, so Information is the idol to which we bow. Admitting ignorance is avoided at all cost. So with pride and fear nipping at our heels, we’re driven on toward the appearance of expertise, as Tozer says, living “in secret fear that some day [we] will be careless and by chance an enemy or friend will be allowed to peep into [our] poor, empty souls. So [we] are never relaxed.”
“And to the victims of the gnawing disease Jesus says, ‘You must become like little children.’”2
In other words, You must be a beginner.
When Jesus came to earth, He passed over the religious experts and revealed Himself to the lowly in heart. The lost. The prostitutes and tax collectors.
We cannot learn until we admit, we need to. We cannot grow until we confess that we must. “Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much” (1 Corinthians 8:2).
If, today, you are convinced you are a beginner, rejoice and thank God for His grace. And if you suspect, deep down, you are perhaps the expert, then ask God, by His gentle grace, to remind you you’re not. *smile* Thanks for reading.
1Don Postema, Space for God
2AW Tozer, Pursuit of God, 114