Today I was talking to a student about idols. I asked him why he constantly talks even when I have asked the students not to, even when it is against the rules to do so. He thought for a while and then answered that it was because he likes to talk to people. I proposed that perhaps talking to people has become an idol of his. A complicated proposal for a first grader, but I explained.
“Do you know what an idol is?” I asked him. He shook his head no. “It is something that we put above God in our lives.” Then I asked him, “What should be above everything in our lives?”
He knew the answer to that one. “God.”
I nodded. “Right. So an idol is when we put something else in the most important place in our lives.” I used my hands to show a hierarchy or a ladder. This hand is God, right up top where He should be. This hand is something else usurping the throne of importance.
The thing about theology is that it can so easily be twisted. The thing about sin is that it can so quickly consume. The thing about life is that it takes discernment to do it well. I want to teach my students that even in first grade they are responsible for discernment. So I explained to my student, “God gave you the gift of talking. You are a great talker. And maybe one day you will use that gift to be a preacher or a teacher or a story teller. Right now you use your talent to be a good friend. Liking to talk to people is not a bad thing. But is talking more important than God?” He shook his little head.
I went on to draw lines between God as most important thing and obedience. “If God is the most important thing in your life, what are you going to do?”
“And God has placed me in your life as your teacher to help you learn to obey. God has placed me in your life as someone you should obey. If God really is the most important thing in your life one of the ways you can love Him is through obedience.”
These talks are the most important talks in first grade. Even more important than when we recite the alphabet or the silent-e rule and more important than counting by twos or learning the parts of the body. More than anything I want to teach my students to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Most of them have not prayed that prayer, made that commitment, decided to follow Jesus, but when they do (oh, and I pray they do) I want the list of things they have to unlearn to be very short. I want them to be thinking and discerning and questioning and processing and growing little disciples.
Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:13, Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
God could’ve created us as mindless drones who did exactly what He asked right away without question. He could’ve created us just to praise Him, to sing along with the saints and angels in heaven all day and all night: Holy, holy, holy. But God didn’t do that. He created us with useful minds and then instructed us to use them.
Prepare your minds for action. Peter says, be sharp, be intelligent, be discerning. Be sober-minded, be wise, be calm. Think before you act and then think again after you act. Why did I do that? Why did I keep talking even after my teacher asked me not to? Why did I say that mean thing to that person even though I knew it would hurt them? Why did I shirk my responsibility even though I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do? It is an active mind that leads the rest of the self to change.
Throughout all of our self-assessment, we are sober-minded. We are doing the best with what we’ve got but oh so aware of how short we fall. We are working hard to serve and love those around us while totally knowledgeable of the horrors of many people’s daily lives. We are active thinkers, searching out the why and coming up with a plan of action for change. We are sober-minded, self-controlled, and mostly calm. And we are filled with hope. Hope for more grace. Hope for more Jesus. Hope for more revelation.
I practice what I teach (sometimes). I ask myself Why did you do that? (occasionally). I practice sober-minded self-control (most days) and I prepare my mind for action (when it’s convenient). I teach myself as I teach my first graders. I examine my life for things creeping up to where God sits on the throne. I set my hope fully on what is to come, believing that it really is the best. I wait, some days more comfortably than others, for the revelation of Jesus. I point to Him (when I remember to) in my classroom.
Why did you do that? If the answer wasn’t Because God asked me to, To glorify God, or To be more like Jesus, whatever it was wasn’t worth doing. And that’s the truth whether you’re seven or twenty-five or any age in between, younger, or older. Active minds and hope in Jesus breed changed hearts and it is only through changed hearts – an inside change first – that our outside selves can be changed.