A Love for the Instruction Manual

How to life a horse with your pinkie! (From Mechanick Exercises by Joseph Moxon)
How to life a horse with your pinkie! (From Mechanick Exercises by Joseph Moxon)

An article in Popular Science caught my eye the other day. The subtitle read: “What does the disappearance of the common manual say about us?” The article by Mark Svenvold describes the demise of the instruction manual that accompanied items and projects throughout the centuries. According to Svenvold, it changed the destinies of people for centuries. Prior to the publication of Mechanick Exercises by Joseph Moxon, the first instruction manual of printing, people were born into families of guilds, whose destiny and profession were defined for them even before their birth: candle makers begat candlemakers, tentmakers begat tentmakers, farriers begat farriers. But with the introduction of the instruction manual suddenly there was a place for DIY projects. People could now learn on their own by reading, what it had previously took someone years of apprenticeship.

We now live in an era of diminishing instruction manuals. The iphone doesn’t even come with one. Outsourcing information is the way to go now. Help and instruction are built into the product. You can download fix it apps and call for tech support. This trend caused the author to ask: “Have we traded away something important, perhaps even defining, about ourselves—a sense of our own autonomy and control over our tools—for the dubious benefit of convenience?” The implications, observed by Svenvold, are that we as a people have traded ease of operation for freedom and knowledge. We traded in our self-reliance for simplicity and sadly enough I have succumb to it in my spiritual life and so has many other men.

My Grandfather refused to let my grandmother drive his brand new 1999 Dodge Dakota pickup until she read the manual cover to cover. He was a calculated man, who studied instruction manuals the way a rabbi studies Torah. He wouldn’t dare own a machine, tool, vehicle, or appliance without studying the manual. If only I had picked up that dedication in my spiritual life.

The life of the Church and the men who in habit it, if they are anything like mine, have left the manual by the wayside in the name of ease. I left scripture behind because Google and Tech support is that much simpler. Why study Proverbs when a Podcast is at my fingertips and John Ortberg, Jim Johnson, or Tim Keller can explain it to me?   Why read John when I can Google a verse? It so much easier to read a devotional than study my Bible; so much simpler to google a verse than study a passage; sign up for text message Bible verses than disicipline myself to read daily.   Svenvold was right on in his commentary that we have traded autonomy for simplicity because I have done the same thing in my spiritual life from time to time.

There is a bit of truth to the observation that we have forgotten study of scripture to the centrality of our spiritual life. Never would I suggest that technology is a bad thing, nor is scripture texts, verses of the day or devotionals, but I can tell you that my own spiritual life is often times starved because of a lean spiritual diet. “It’s a Christian book” or “He’s a Christian author” is often times my excuse for diving into a book and neglecting the reading of Scripture. I am suggesting the we, especially us men and leaders, devote ourselves to the study and ingestion of the manual that God has given us for this life. In the spirit that my Grandfather poured over his chainsaw, bench grinder, and TV remote manuals, we too should have the same passion for the Word of God. Assuredly, this is the passion that the Psalmist viewed of Scripture. A cursory reading of Psalm 119 shows a man that would never relinquish the word of God, the “manual for life”.

  • “I seek you wih all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands” (Psalm 119.10)
  • “My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times” (119.20)
  • “Your statuettes are my delight; they are my counselors” (119.24)
  • “I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws.” (119.30)
  • “Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.” (119.35)
  • “…I delight in your commands, for I love them.” (119.47)
  • “At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws.” (119.62)
  • “The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (119.72)
  • “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (119.103)

These are just from the first half of the Psalm. My prayer is that I may begin to love the instruction manual that God has given me for living this life. My prayer is that men and leaders will begin to read and study the manual for life that we have been entrusted with. I pray that it never becomes obsolete; that it never becomes forgotten and (presumed to be) irrelevant to life. For one thing I am certain, to dispense with the word of God would be far more serious than the manual for my chainsaw!

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