READ THE DIRECTIONS

At one point when I was growing up, I learned a very important lesson, one that I try to remember but frequently forget–and when I forget this lesson, I generally have problems. The lesson came one Christmas Eve after I had reached my teen years and was considered mature enough to understand the real truth about Christmas. That truth was that the toy assembly workshop was not at the North Pole but at our kitchen table and Santa and his helpers were Dad and me.

That wasn’t the key lesson though. The key lesson came as I watched my father try to assemble various Santa gifts from the “that looks like it goes there” perspective. After a significant tension developed which put the expensive potential gift at serious risk, I began to sneak peeks at the direction sheet and make suggestions based on the revelations I saw there. It helped–we got the toy assembled and the tension dissipated. In my mind, I wrote down a rule: Read the Directions!”

The rule worked well, when I remembered it. But I am male–and we have a well documented dislike of reading directions. I am also a tinkerer and think that I can figure things out because there are really only a few ways things can work. Overall, reading directions works better.

I discovered a few years ago that I needed to revise my rule. Instead of just reading them, I need to read them until I understand them. Again, a good rule and one that works well when I remember it–and always causes problems when I don’t. I recently got a new tool for my workshop, one that I had been wanting for awhile. I opened the box, grabbed the instructions and read them–well, I actually skimmed them because what could they say that I didn’t already know?

I mean, I have been working with tools for most of my life and while I have never owned this particular tool, I know lots of people who have it and I have stood beside them a lot and seen the tools in action–so a quick skim of the directions would fulfill my prime directive–but I didn’t really need to do much more than that. I wanted to use the tool.

So, prime directive finished, I unpacked the tool, found the power cord and was ready to plug it in when I realized that when it had been packed for shipping, it was secured in a strange position and would have to be released to use it. I poked and prodded, loosened and tightened stuff, pulled and pushed–but nothing worked. I skimmed the directions again but found nothing to help so in frustration, I left the tool–that was a better option than throwing it in the garbage before I used it.

Eventually, I went back to the instructions, slowed down my reading and discovered the line in the instructions that told me how to release the tool from its shipping position. In my defence, the instructions were a bad translation from some other language, the illustrations were poorly drawn and the relevant line was hidden in brackets in a long paragraph. But with some work, I found it, followed it and used the tool as it was meant to be used–to make nice boards into sawdust.

So now, I have three prime directives: read the directions, understand the directions, follow the directions.

On another related topic, a significant percentage of Christians have never read the whole Bible. Many don’t read it at all. Even some Christian leaders haven’t taken the time necessary to read the whole Bible. Some of those who do read it don’t actually seek to understand what they are reading–something that becomes painfully obvious when they quote the Bible in inappropriate contexts.

There is a direct connection between Biblical literacy and effectiveness and value of personal and corporate faith. The more we read, study and follow the directions, the more we are able to make our faith an effective part of our lives. Certainly, we believe–but when we don’t give the directions the time and effort they are due, we aren’t able to experience the full benefits of our faith. It will still be more useful than my unpacked tool but it could be much more valuable to us and others if we remembered to read the directions, study the directions and follow the directions.

May the peace of God be with you.

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