Are We Learning From Our Experiences?

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward,” major league pitcher Vernon Saunders Law observed. The test may not be enjoyable, but the important part is learning from the experience.

While it is possible to have grown in wisdom from 20 years of experience, it is also possible not to have benefited from one year of experience even if repeated 20 times over. Do we learn from our experiences or do we repeat the same mistakes over and over again? The thing about the school of experience is that it will repeat the lesson if we flunk the first time. As Archibald MacLeish observed, “There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience and that is not learning from experience.”

We each are given 24 hours a day during which we make choices, things happen, and we busy ourselves with our activities. How do we deal with the challenges that come our way, the calamities that may befall us, the illnesses, the miserableness of human nature in ourselves and others? What lessons are we learning from our day-to-day experiences? Are we learning the lessons that the Lord wants us to learn?

Paul tells the believers in Rome,

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.”

What does Paul mean, that we glory in tribulations? Because, as he explains, we benefit from them. We may find it hard to actually thank God for our troubles, but we can bear them with a better spirit when we realize that our loving heavenly Father is sending them our way with a good purpose: so that we learn patience, gain experience, and become full of hope for the coming age of glory. Paul continues his explanation, “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.” We learn to love God more because we are so thankful for the hope of the kingdom that God is lovingly preparing us for.

James also encourages us to rejoice in our troubles: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” He helps us to recognize, as Paul did, that we learn patience from our troubles, and this learning is essential to our development towards perfection.

We read in Hebrews that we should be “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The trials Jesus endured are much more than what we have to face, as the book of Hebrews explains: “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.”

Although we may not relish pain or trouble, we read in Hebrews that we should be pleased that it is happening and learn from it:

“And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.’ ”

Chastening is difficult while it is happening, but we need to look past it and realize that God is using it to teach us valuable lessons for our eternal welfare. The section from Hebrews continues,

“Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.”

What a wonderful privilege, to be partakers of his holiness! We flawed, weak creatures can be granted this gift only after our characters are refined. We know that Jesus, God’s own beloved son, learned by hardships: “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” How did Jesus deal with it? As we just read, “for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross and despised the shame.”

We know all his suffering was worthwhile for our Savior because his loving father, God, was training him, and we need to accept the trials we are now enduring by realizing that we also are being trained. We must learn the lessons God is teaching us and follow the example of our Lord, looking beyond our present troubles. As he did, we can visualize in our mind’s eye the glorious time soon to come when Jesus will bestow upon his faithful that crown of righteousness. Paul summed up the benefits of the hardships in his life when he said, “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Robert J. Lloyd