Some events in life prove to be particularly teachable moments. Many of these come upon us unexpectedly: the unexpected death of a young person; the unanticipated loss of financial security; or the sudden diagnosis of a dread disease. When these arise without warning, we may be left floundering, wondering what we should learn from them or how we can use them in our engagements to point to biblical truth. To make the most of teachable moments, it is helpful long before the moment to reflect on truth, which may be highlighted in any given moment.
Take a simple example. In the society in which we live, we do all we can to avoid thinking about death. We alter our language: “died” becomes “passed away” or “went to be with the Lord.” We avoid the subject in polite conversation. We shield our children from the reality of death and try as hard as we can to avoid thinking about it. When I was a kid, my parents always left my brother and me at friends’ houses when they attended funerals. Even when a dog needed to be put down, we were never allowed at the vet. My parents worked hard, it seemed, to shelter us from the reality of death.
A better way of facing the reality of death is to develop a good theology of death and then use providential opportunities to teach others. The death of a pet, for example, might be a good opportunity to instruct children in the realities of life and death.
In a culture that virtually idolises education, we tend to believe that everything that we need to know can be carefully planned in a curriculum and taught at appropriate points during our development. This stands at odds with how cultures have embraced teachable moments throughout history, how many cultures still do so today, and how Scripture encourages education through teachable moments.
Scripture encourages education via teachable moments throughout the day. We should discuss the truth of God “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:4–9). We should always look for opportunities, in other words, to teach and learn truth. Joel 1 is a case in point.
Judah was about to face a devastating locust plague. Locust plagues were somewhat common in the ancient Near East, but God used this particular plague to highlight some important truths that his people needed to reflect on. We should similarly be on the lookout for opportunities to highlight truth.
We should allow God’s strange providences—positive and negative—to be teachable moments. What is God teaching us through the things that he allows to happen to us? What does the sudden windfall of an unexpected inheritance teach about providence and financial responsibility? What truths can you draw on after experiencing a housebreaking or vehicle hijacking? If we allow these moments to pass us by without learning anything, we have likely wasted a great opportunity.
It is helpful in this regard to remind ourselves that it is usually better to be proactive than reactive. That is, rather than scrambling for theological meaning in God’s providences in the heat of the moment, it is usually more helpful to be thinking through theological categories as a matter of course as a means to properly interpreting strange providences. Proactive theological reflection forms a far better basis for life than reactive personal experience.
We can safely assume that Jews who had carefully thought through categories of divine chastening were far better equipped to handle the locust plague than those whose prosperity mindset always led them to believe that God would shower them with unending blessings.
As you meditate on Joel 1 this morning, ask God to help prepare your heart for crucial life lessons by helping you to meditate frequently on biblical truth. Having done such meditation, look for opportunities to learn and teach truth in life’s teachable moments.