Whining

There was a frantic tone to her email.  “My students keep asking me ‘Why do we have to learn this?!’  Please help!”  So I composed a dozen responses for her recalcitrant Christian school students.  Ready the next time the whiney retort erupted from her classroom, she began with the first, “If this is God’s world, He made it, and it is important to Him, it should be important to us.”[1] As she recounted the story,

“I just started reading down the list.  By the time I finished number four, students were crying out, ‘We get it!  OK!  Stop!’  But I kept on going.  As I finished number six they were groaning.  Past eight, audible moans emanated from their lips.  I was on a roll.  By number ten, heads were down on desks.  When I completed the twelfth Christian reason to learn anything, there was dead silence.  Mark,” she reported, “the list has never had to be read again.  But I read one point each day.”

A Christian view of study must take into account The One who made us, reminders of our responsibility in His Word, and our collective desire to find excuses for our lazy thinking.

Imagine a parent having just witnessed their son “whiffing” at the soccer ball, kicking at nothing but air.  “Hey, stop the game!” they call.  “My son practiced so long and hard for this event!  Give him a do-over!”  I can hear you laughing now!  Yet this happens at some point during every school’s parent-teacher conference.  “Johnny spent so much time on that assignment!  His effort should count for something!”

Here is a story of one of the many times the “time-equals-grade” argument was proposed to me.  “Imagine your son in welding class,” I was connecting with a mom whose son took vocational education in the afternoons.  “He’s just attached a hitch to the bumper of his truck.  To test tensile strength, the teacher links a boat trailer to his vehicle.  Asked to drive it around the parking lot, the weld breaks, and the trailer falls off.  Now do you think that the welding teacher is going to give your son an ‘A’ because he spent so much time on the project?”  The question hung in the air for about ten seconds.  The mother looked confused, then desperately announced, “But studying the Bible should be different!”[2]

Though the mother’s attitude would never be condoned by an athletic coach, educators must put up with incessant parental, then student, whining.  Unfortunately, culture has conditioned Christian thinking.  Excuses unacceptable on the athletic field are condoned in the classroom; the physical trumping intellectual pursuit.  What can be shown at the end of the day is more important than the conditioning of someone’s interior life.  The opposite of whining in Christian academic rigor must be what biblical writers referred to as “inclining one’s heart.”[3] Athletes prepare hard: “there is no off season” goes the saying.  “Suit up!”  “Get your head in the game!”  “Dedication,” “commitment,” and “all in” are statements adorning school practice jerseys.  The same ideas reverberate through the First Testament phrase “incline your heart.”

“Incline[4] your heart” means to bend, stretch, or extend, clear connections to the physical world.  Like coaches, wise people were to be heard.[5] The figurative usage of the phrase can mean the negative—one has shifted their loyalty, apostatized, or “been swayed.”[6] Jeremiah is constantly linking lack of listening and so obedience with “inclining their ear toward God.”[7] The command is active and urgent: “put away foreign gods and incline your heart to Yahweh, the God of Israel!”[8] But what strikes me in this study is the believers’ command to God to make us incline our ear. Psalm 119:36 is one such case: “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not unto profit-making.”

George Zemek in his article “Aiming the Mind: A Key to Godly Living”[9] cites multiple passages that necessitate God taking initial action, making us bend toward Him because of our own recalcitrant hearts.  Zemek suggests that God knows our hearts, does surgical heart transplants, and then directs our hearts.  Lamentations 5:21 completes the idea: “Turn us that we may turn!”  Our mindset must be changed.  While we bear responsibility, we rely on God’s Spirit to motivate our interior life.

Colin Duriez examines Francis Schaeffer’s “crisis” as he reevaluated his whole Christian belief system in the early 1950’s.[10] Schaeffer was driven in his spirit to reconsider his commitment.  Having been convinced again of biblical assumptions and evidence, Schaeffer inclined his thinking and teaching toward Yahweh the rest of his life.

One of the most brilliant minds in Christ’s Church was Blaise Pascal.  After his death, a parchment was retrieved, having been sewn in the lining of his jacket.  Marking the time, date, and place of his salvation, large letters contained his one word summary of the event: FIRE.[11] Pascal’s passion wrote these words for every parent, all students, and ME who attempt to wriggle free from our true bent, proper inclination toward our Maker:

In short, we must resort to habit once the mind has seen where the truth lies, in order to steep and stain ourselves in that belief which constantly eludes us, for it is too much trouble to have the proofs always present before us.  We must acquire an easier belief, which is that of habit.  With no violence, art, or argument it makes us believe things, and so inclines all our faculties to this belief that our soul naturally falls into it.  When we believe only the strength of our conviction . . . that is not enough.  We must therefore make both parts of us believe: the mind by reasons . . . and by habit, not allowing it any inclination to the contrary: Incline my heart.[12]

Mark continues to yearn for and learn to “incline his heart.”  Mark is Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Crossroads Bible College.


[1] Genesis 1; 1 Chronicles 29:11; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalms 33:6-11; 50:9-12; 89:11.

[2] I taught what I called CLAWS or “Christian Life and World Studies” in Christian high schools for seventeen years.  Most Christian schools refer to this as “bible class.”

[3] “Academic rigor” is an educational phrase that should be heard more often in school halls.  See, Louis Markos. 2005. Wrestling in the Academy: How Christian Professors Can Train Their Students to Grapple with Ideas.  Intégrité: A Faith and Learning Journal 4:2 (Fall 2005): 16-22

[4] Marvin Wilson. 1980. natah. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Moody): 2:574.

[5] Proverbs 4:20; 5:1, 13; 22:17.

[6] 1 Kings 11:2-4, 9; 2 Samuel 19:14.

[7] A few examples include Jeremiah 7:24, 26; 11:8; 17:23.

[8] Joshua 24:23.

[9] Grace Theological Journal 5:2 (Fall 1984): 205-27,

[10] Colin Duriez. 2008. Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life. (Crossway): 103-26.

[11] For the full manuscript see Mind on Fire: A Faith for the Skeptical and Indifferent, ed. James M. Houston. (Bethany: 1989, 1997): 41-42.

[12] Blaise Pascal. Pensees, number 821.

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