The Value of Tedious Details
In an article entitled "Facts are Boring but Useful," an author by the name of Rachel Wolfe writes, "There are great riches in the realms of boredom."
That's the second time this year that I have encountered this same proposition.
In his book "Atomic Habits"author James Clear writes, "The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over and over. You have to fall in love with boredom."
Here is the point I hope to make today. If you really want to master something, you have to spend enough time doing it (or studying it, depending on the subject) that you begin to notice things that nobody else notices.
I was listening to a sermon today by Dr. Craig Edwards entitled "When God Moves to the Rear" and noted that the bulk of the meat of his sermon came from him noticing significant minutia in the text and finding correlations between those tiny details and extrapolating applications for our lives today. That kind of biblical acumen doesn't come easily or in short order. It takes years of pouring over the same material over and over before one begins to notice such riches.
It's true in every area of life that I'm familiar with. Whether I'm cooking, playing guitar, preaching a sermon, growing peaches, riding my longboard, solving my Rubik's cube, or talking to my wife... it's only through repetition, repetition, repetition that the finer points; the nuances, the shades and hues of improvement that make the difference between good and great are discovered.
It's like the greatest college football coach of all time says (probably quoting someone else though), "Everybody thinks you practice something to get it right. You really practice it until you can’t get it wrong." (FYI - the GOAT of which I write is none other that St. Nicholas himself, Nick Saban; head football coach at the University of Alabama).
Back to the point of emphasis today.
It's the person who cooks fried chicken everyday for 40 years who figures out all the little tricks that really makes the drumstick scrumptious.
It's the individual who has played lead guitar on tour playing the same crowd favorite several times a week for 20 or 30 years who knows all the adjustments that can be made to really make the song sound special.
It's the man who has studied his wife for 50 years who knows how she likes her breakfast even better than she does.
It's the master craftsman who has handmade hundreds of pieces of furniture who best knows the tricks of the trade.
It's the person who is willing to repeatedly compare the names, places, numbers, and timelines of biblical characters and events that really begins to notice and find some of the greatest truths to be discovered in the sacred text. The tedious work of combing through the Scriptures yet again and meditating once more on the same familiar texts that brings the reward of grand discoveries and divinely hidden clues.
In 2005 Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, published a book entitled "The Universe in a Single Atom." Regardless of the postulations of the actual work, the (shall we say) anecdotal concept is worth noting. One won't know about or notice the parallels between galaxies and atoms until one hones in and focuses in on a narrower and narrower view of reality until only the smallest parts are being considered. Supposedly there are around 100 different kinds of atoms. But it would take me years and years of reading, studying, testing, and learning to become a world class chemist. And it's probably only then that I would be able speak intelligently and authoritatively about the similarities (if there are any) between the universe and a single atom.
In every field and subject there is something called jargon. It is specialized vocabulary. It is technical terminology unique to that realm of knowledge. And, experts in each field may be as comfortable with their strange language as you and I are with terms that are used on our social media feed. But that kind of familiarity doesn't happen overnight. It takes time. It takes tedious hours, days, weeks, months, and years of moving around in the same environment constantly; examining and reexamining the same stuff for the umpteenth time.
Recently I've noticed that things I thought I had mastered were becoming increasingly enigmatic to me. While realizing that I know more than ever about some particular thing, that very thing begins to become a greater mystery.
I think it was Dr. Jordan Peterson who I heard give a little speech on what the average person knows about a helicopter. He astutely postulated that most of us know almost nothing in reality about a helicopter, other than some kind of generic symbol in our mind, the icon of which we would probably not be able to even reproduce very well on paper. Try drawing a helicopter and then deduce what percentage of the information about helicopters it is that you likely know. Could you even say 1%? If you were to begin to study them, I mean really study them so that you could fly one, or so that you could engineer a better one, then likely you would soon decide that the 1% of the information on that topic that you thought you knew was vastly overestimated. It's only when we really settle down to learn about a thing that we start to realize just how much we don't know.
As Thomas A. Edison was supposed to have said, "We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything."
So it is true of Deity.
I imagined once that I knew God. I knew who He was, and where He was, and what He could be expected to do. I knew what He was like and what He liked. And, I knew what He expected of me.
I thought I knew some things.
While I am convinced that today I know far more now (about God) than I did back then, I'm also convinced that I know very little. What fraction of God's infinity could I possibly comprehend? I believe. Oh, I believe. As far as I can believe, I believe. But I also believe that that belief is only a miraculous product of what should be called infused grace and divinely cultivated faith. I know the love of God that surpasses knowledge. But I only know enough to know that I don't know much. And the closer I get to The Clean One, the more my idea of cleanliness changes.
Like Paul, I don't know how to pray.
Like the hymn-writer, I don't know much at all
I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.
I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.
I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.
I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.
I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I'll walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.
But “I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.”
(Daniel W. Whittle, pub.1883)
Thankfully, I do know WHO! But the longer I spend with Him, the less I know about Him. I mean, the quantity of data increases. But the quantity (and hopefully the quality) of my questions seems to increase even more.
We've all heard it said, "The devil is in the details." Google claims that this old phrase means that "something may seem simple, but in fact the details are complicated and likely to cause problems."
Well, in that sense, this is even true of my worship and fellowship with Jehovah. There is simplicity in Christ (2nd Corinthians 11:3), but that is because of His consistency and His condescension. It's not that He is easily mastered or that we can fully comprehend Him. His ways are past finding out. He is incomprehensible in the sense that nobody has ever arrived at the end of what is true of Him.
What can be known of Him is addressed in Romans 1. "That which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has showed it unto them [the heathen]. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse..." That is, there is enough evidence in nature to show us that God exists and that we will have to answer to Him someday. But that is not all there is to know about God. That's only enough to get us into trouble, or at least to show us that we are in trouble. The depths of His nature are unfathomable.
He is The Infinite One.
I hope and pray that God will grant me the time, the mental discipline, the resources, the experience, the influences, and the grace for me to fall in love with the "tedious details" of who He is and how He does what He does. I hope God will give me 50 more years to learn to walk in His ways. I hope and pray that I will fall in love with Him to such a degree and with such sincerity that the facts about Him that are the most tedious and boring (to those who do not know Him) will shine with great splendor and glory in my heart and mind. Surely this is part of what heaven will be like: to revel in and relish the smallest of the ways that God reveals Himself to us.
Moses was forever changed by the aftereffects of God's glory. He didn't even get to see God's "face." He was only exposed to the afterglow of God's presence, but it was enough to make Him a brand new man with a brand new visage.
"The weakness of God is stronger than men." (1st Corinthians 1:25)
Surely there is significance in the smallest and simplest of details in the story of the incarnation of our Savior. We should become enamored with the intricacies of His story and with the smallest of the traces of His wisdom, power, presence, and purposes.
Oh, Dear God! Make it so in my life! Help me to mine and refine Your constant revelations of Yourself to me. Preserve me from weariness. Prevent me from becoming proud. Help me to be humble and hungry. Always hungry to know more about You. Hungry to know You more. Cause me to see eternal value in the tedious details of spiritual things.