Be Careful, Clever Teacher, What You Teach

by Michael Kelley July 7, 2015

“Lord, please give me an original thought.”

I’ve prayed some version of this prayer fairly often. That’s because in large part, I communicate for a living. Whether with my co-workers, through the blog here, through writing, or through teaching and preaching, most of my life is spent in communication.

When you spend that amount of time crafting and delivering messages in various forms, you find yourself praying things like this, hungering for something creative and original to put before people.

It’s frustrating, then, when I begin to plan or write to realize that most of what I’m going to say has already been said by someone else.

I feel this especially since writing a work of fiction is one of my dreams. So I start dreaming about a story, a character, or a setting, only to find myself drifting into plagiarism:

What if there was this little boy who discovers that he has magical powers? Dang it. Potter.
Okay. But what if the animals talked? And what if there was one great animal, maybe a lion…? Dang it. Aslan.
Alright. What if this story happened in the future, maybe in a dystopian future…? Dang it. Everything.

So it goes. You think you’re onto something and you start teasing it out and you figure out that someone else at some other time was already onto it, so you pray:

“Lord, please give me an original thought.”

While that might be a fine and even nobly God-honoring thought in terms of creating a work of fiction, it should cause us to have a check in our spirit when it comes to the biblical text. We might have the best of intentions in praying such a thing, and certainly we might mine the text for every nugget to be found therein, but each and every time we come across some tidbit and feel like we are the first to arrive there, we might well wonder why that is. Is it because throughout the years of church history no one has been quite as insightful, quite as clever, or quite as studious as we are? Or is it because the reason that thought is so original is because it didn’t arise from the text at all, but instead from our own idolatrous and insecure hearts that want to be the one who finally found “it.”

Beware the lure, preachers and teachers. Beware the temptation of cleverness. Don’t be willing to sacrifice faithfulness on the altar of originality. Instead, find the glorious freedom of knowing that God has spoken, once and for all. And then say the same thing again.