Did you ever have one of those life-changing, burning bush moments, except you had no idea it was coming?
I was sitting in my advisor’s office. It was my second semester of grad school at Texas A&M. This meeting was supposed to be routine. I was running through my thesis proposal in advance of a big upcoming meeting with my thesis committee. My advisor was helping me prepare. I finished a 15-minute monologue explaining my thesis work. I felt great. I had put in the work. I knew the material. I was patting myself on the back. All I needed was affirmation from my advisor and I could move on with my day.
Then she said it. Two words that left me speechless and that still repeat in my head and heart to this day. She leaned back in her chair, crossed her arms and asked, “So what?” That isn’t exactly the response I was expecting. Excuse me? What do you mean, “so what?” I just told you! It may not seem like a big deal to you. But it was to me. I didn’t understand or appreciate what she was trying to say in the moment. What I presented to her wasn’t wrong. In fact, she would go on to commend me for my hard work and research. But she was challenging me to take it a step further.
Beyond information, knowledge, or understanding—what do we do with what we have? Why does what we know matter? What change comes because of what we know? How are we different because of our understanding? Are we being obedient? Are we putting it into practice?
Can we be honest with each other for a minute? We probably should be asking this question a lot more often. I will take it a step further. We should be teaching our students to ask this question.
Jesus tells the story in Matthew 21 of a dad and his two sons. He tells the first son to go work in the vineyard. The son is like, “Nope. Not happening.” But eventually he changes his mind and goes out to do the work. The dad tells the second son the same thing. This son says, “Yes, father. Anything for you.” But he doesn’t follow through. Jesus asks the question in verse 31, “Which of these two obeyed his father?” If I am being honest, there are a lot of times I am like the second son. I know exactly what the father wants from me. I have the information. I have put in the time to gain the understanding and knowledge. But I am not doing anything with it.
Francis Chan often jokes about this exact idea. How would you feel as a parent if you told your kid to go clean their room and they came back 15 minutes later and told you they learned how to say “Clean your room” in Hebrew and Greek? Or if they told you they sat in a circle with their friends and discussed what it might look like to have a clean room? As a dad of two I can tell you exactly how I would respond: “Yeah, great. But have you cleaned your room?” That seems like a reasonable response. My desire is for obedience from my kids.
James 1:22 says, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise you are only fooling yourselves.”
Sorry, I didn’t mean to make this personal. Trust me, I am writing this one to myself. I am quick to come up with a plan for obedience. Quick to strategize ways to implement truth. Quick to discuss what life could look like in response to what I am learning. But so what? In a life stage where students are applauded for their intellect and knowledge, it is easy to get wrapped up in the pursuit of more. More knowledge. More answers. More truth. More understanding. Those can all be good things. But is that the ultimate goal?
We have all heard John 8:32. Shoot, you may even have a sermon in your library ready to go on this verse: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” But check this out. There is one important distinction in this verse that I often overlook. It doesn’t say that knowing the truth will set you free. It says the Truth is what brings freedom. As I look at my own life, I am often chasing the knowledge rather than pursuing The Truth. Maybe all of this is about being with Jesus instead of just chasing more knowledge about what it would look like to live that kind of life. Or be that kind of leader. Or run that kind of ministry. What if we move beyond the classroom and practice what we preach? What if we challenge our students to do the same?
Maybe we should all take a deep breath and ask ourselves, “So what?”