Some of the most difficult Christian people to engage with are those who are knowledgeable but who have an attitude that they are the final arbiter of truth on the matter. They are like Job’s comforters to whom he sarcastically said, “You people really know everything, don’t you? And when you die, wisdom will die with you!” (Job 12:2). In contrast, some of the most delightful people to engage with are those who, despite their vast knowledge and experience in life, are teachable.
One of the most important purposes we can have is to live a teachable life. As Pastor Chuck Swindoll says, “Our acute need is to cultivate a willingness to learn and to remain teachable.”1
Teachability has four components.
Humility: an admission of limitation
Only God is all-sufficient. Only He knows and can do everything. Teachability begins when we know and admit our limitations in ability or knowledge. “There is more hope for fools than for people who think they are wise” (Proverbs 26:12).
Teachable people approach life with an understanding they can learn from anybody regardless of that person’s state, status, or station in life. Such a spirit requires humility and such humility keeps the door open to gain knowledge and truth even if it comes from the most unlikely source. If you have humility, you’re able to take advice, be coachable, and never stop learning.
With humility comes an honesty that recognizes when we have done something wrong or poorly. The humble learn from mistakes and screwups. Failure is education. They don’t dwell on failure but rather learn from it and move on. To say, “I messed up” or “I don’t know” requires honesty with oneself and others.
How do we get that kind of humility? In addition to admitting our limitation we recognize and accept that we (and others) are what we are and have by the sovereign grace of God. We are not better or worse than others, just different. And we are people in process of growing and changing.
Hunger: an appetite to discover and grow
Teachable people have an appetite to discover and grow. They have a desire and willingness to listen, learn, unlearn, relearn, and apply. I believe Jesus wants us to have this kind of hunger. He said “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you…” (Matthew 11:29). He also told us to “ask…seek…knock…” (Matthew 7:7 NIV).
Solomon said, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, to search out a matter is the glory of kings” (Proverbs 25:2). Proverbs was written to provide instruction for life. But instruction’s only useful if you want it. Proverbs 2:1–4 is full of verbs urging discovery: “listen…treasure…tune your ears…concentrate…cry out…ask…search…seek….” If we are hungry to discover and grow, we will discover opportunities for growth in every situation.
This involves asking questions of ourselves, others, and situations. That’s the best way to deepen understanding. Cultivate the habit of asking questions before making judgments, assumptions, statements, or declarations.
Another aspect of the hunger is a high curiosity quotient. God uses human curiosity to expand our knowledge and understanding. Teachable people place themselves intentionally among people, events, cultures, and thoughts that will challenge their status quo.
Hearing: an aptitude to listen
Humility and hunger are essential to teachability but so is an aptitude to listen. There is no point in asking a question if you do not intend to listen. As you go through each day, remember that you can’t learn if you’re always talking. Being a quality listener requires personal discipline and a high regard for others. Listen attentively and ask questions for clarification. Don’t lecture or pontificate. Listen to learn, not to reply. Learn more by talking less.
Help: an acceptance of feedback
Becoming teachable requires being willing to seek help and embrace the correction, counsel, and instructions of others. It requires humbly admitting limitation and inability to others who can teach and help. It requires a desire to grow and being ready to listen to them.
Teachable people love feedback. They seek and embrace what others have to say because they know it’s going to make them better. They aren’t defensive at constructive feedback and they receive it in love. They know they don’t know everything therefore they listen to learn rather than to reply. They put into practice what they learn from wise people.
Find those whose counsel is helpful, mentors you can tap into regularly. Listen to them. Learn from their experiences. Develop the skills they have you admire. Tap in to their substantial networks of friends and associates. Make note of what they have learned from both failures and successes.
Make it your purpose to live a teachable life.
1. Charles R. Swindoll (1997). Esther: A Woman of Strength and Dignity, p.60, Thomas Nelson