What Can We Learn from Those Who Came Before?

Last week, while attending my son’s middle school jazz concert, I found myself out in the foyer due to back problems. Thankfully, my son’s choir was the first in the program which allowed me to watch him sing before I had to head to the back. Once I exited the auditorium I made my way over to the window. This allowed me to be close enough to the music but still out of the way.

The window I stood by had stained glass panels, each depicting a different company. They were there as a “Thank you” for their help in building the school back in 1934, a school originally built to be a rural high school before the new high school was built and the middle school took over its halls. This school is the one in our district commonly referred to as “the castle” due to its appearance.

As I admired the panels with the light streaming through, I began to think about what else these panels meant. Forever ensconced in the north wall near the auditorium, they brought more than a “thank you.” What they brought with them was a reminder that someone came before us, before many of us were even born, to create a place of learning. All of these men worked hard to create a beautiful space where kids would learn reading writing, and arithmetic, for generations to come.

These men knew what they were doing, what they were building, but I began to think about those that came after them. Each of these companies, the architects, bricklayers, plumbers, electricians, have passed down their knowledge to the next generation. Though these particular companies may no longer exist, their crafts continued on. How many people were taught how to design a building, lay brick, place flooring, install lighting or plumbing fixtures? Teaching and learning went beyond the school.

We learn from those who came before us whether we have met them in person or have read about them or their discoveries, their lives, in black and white.

I’m thankful for the stories in the Bible. As I read I’m struck with truths from those who walked this land long before even my grandparents or great grandparents were a thought. Reading about their lives helps me to learn how to (or how not to) live my life. Stories from Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Ruth, Esther, Paul, Stephen, and most especially from Jesus, weave their way through the Good Book and stick with me. I look to those from ancient times to be my guides.

I have learned patience, faithfulness, love, selflessness, and so much more. Though I have not mastered any of these and slip up a lot, I have a foundation and an example to learn from.

But it’s not just those in the Bible from whom I can learn. I can look at how my parents, my grandparents or my great grandparents have lived their lives, learning from their example. Though I have never met my great grandparents, I can learn from the stories passed down from my parents and grandparents. And although all of my grandparents are now gone, I still remember much of what they have taught me and at times regret not learning more from them when I had the opportunity. This is also true of my father. So many things I want to ask him, to learn from him, but am no longer able.

My lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to learn from you who will sit on the throne of my lord the king after him.

1 Kings 1:20

And it’s not just family members who can teach. Like those who helped build my son’s school, we can learn from others in the profession of our choice. As a writer, I have many to learn from even if I’ll never have the opportunity to meet them. At the moment I am reading Stephen King’s On Writing. I also have a list of books like it to read once this one is done. I am a member of a writing community that caters to the published author as well as the person just learning to say, “I’m a writer.” We learn from each other, finding the skills that we lack in those who can teach it.

This is true in anything that you want to do. Find those who have been there and learn. Seek to learn all that you can to be the best that you can.

In Christian circles, we look to the older Christians to teach us the way. Older in this sense does not necessarily mean age, though it can. We need to look to those who have been walking the path longer than we have, those who have done things right, and those who have done it wrong. We can learn from both. And while we are learning, we can also be teaching.

God equips all of us with the skills we need to follow the path He has made specific to us. We are given gifts that are not meant to be hidden away but shared. One of the hardest things to do is to be confident in our gifting, but we need to be. It’s not pride, it’s knowing that what we have, what we can do, is from God.

Where would we be without those who came before us? What if they never stepped out in faith? What if they never taught us what they knew? What if they hid their mistakes? How could we learn? The same is true for us. We need to live out loud in the knowledge of Christ and in that which He has given us.

Maybe no one will remember our names, but does it really matter? What matters is the message, the skills, the love that we teach to even just one person. What matters, is how we live our lives while on this earth.

Lord, I thank you for the gifts that you have given to each and every one of us. Help us to learn from those who have gone before, Lord, and help us to teach those who come after us.

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