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An Equation for Understanding: Knowledge + Experience = Understanding

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An Equation for Understanding

Knowledge + Experience = Understanding

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Okay, don’t get freaked out. This isn’t an article on math. But math and other subjects in our lives can be guided by this formula. Thomas Edison used this formula to help guide him toward some of his greatest inventions. History shows that many scientists, royalty, inventors, explorers, politicians and others used it. What an advantage for us if we can learn it while still young! Just what is it, anyway?

K = Knowledge

We have knowledge when we know something. We get knowledge from many places, but as teens we get most of our knowledge from school. We attend classes, and our teachers instruct us in various topics. But we also get knowledge from talking with other people, reading, looking stuff up on the Internet, watching YouTube videos and in lots of other ways.

Having knowledge is important. It gives us facts and figures to which further knowledge can be added. Most of us don’t just start doing algebra. We have to learn integers; then how to add and subtract; then how to multiply and divide and a whole bunch of other math concepts first.

We don’t usually write essays in kindergarten. We learn the alphabet first, then words, then how to write sentences, then active voice and passive voice, then . . . well, you get the point. Knowledge builds on knowledge.

But just because we know some facts doesn’t mean we know what to do with them, does it?

E = Experience

Let’s go back to our math class example. When we learn a new math concept, let’s say dividing fractions, do our teachers just tell us how to divide fractions and then we move on? If only! They first explain the concept, and then they might show us how to work a problem or two. Then what? You got it—we get 25 problems for homework! The teacher knows that we won’t fully understand the concept unless we gain some experience by working, sometimes struggling, through problems dividing fractions.

Experience is critical for any profession. You don’t want someone who has read about cars but has never taken an engine apart to work on your first car, do you? And you probably don’t want a doctor who has only read about bones in a book to set your broken arm! You want to know he or she has both studied the topic and practiced it before working on your car or your arm. You want to know they have experience. Just about every profession requires both “book work” and some period of time where you watch and work under others who have experience. Why is this experience critical?

U = Understanding

Understanding is mentally grasping something. It’s the “ah-ha!” moment for inventors. It’s the “I get it now!” point in anything new we finally grasp. You’ve been there, haven’t you? It’s a pretty good feeling when it happens. But getting to Understanding takes both Knowledge and Experience. There are no shortcuts.

That’s why we should all be patient with ourselves (and with each other!) when we’re learning something new.

Ever know someone who won’t try something new because he is afraid of failing? Kind of sad, isn’t it? He isn’t patient with himself. What he doesn’t understand is that the failing (experience) is part of the learning. It’s part of understanding something.

When Thomas Edison was struggling to tackle the problem of creating a long-lasting incandescent lamp, he is famous for saying (depending on the source quoted): “I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work” (www.cbsnews.com/news/dealing-with-failure).

If it doesn’t go against God’s law or way of life, we should never be afraid of failing. But we should be afraid of never trying something in the first place!

Spiritual K + E = U

K + E = U is an important formula to keep in mind in every aspect of our physical lives. But what about our spiritual lives—does it apply there as well? You bet it does! Actually, it is so important to our spiritual lives that it forms the foundation for our physical lives. What do I mean by that?

Let’s start with Knowledge by looking at Proverbs 1:7. Here, King Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” King Solomon tells us where knowledge begins—from fearing God. This kind of fear isn’t about running away from something that frightens us. It really means to have reverence or respect for God. He did create us, after all. There’s a good chance He has a thing or two to say (some knowledge to give us) about how we work and what will make us happy. Actually, the book of Proverbs is a great place to gain some of God’s knowledge!

Experience? Hebrews 5:14 (New American Standard Bible) speaks to that. “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (emphasis added). Let’s break it down. When the writer says “solid food,” he is referring to more complicated spiritual concepts or spiritual knowledge. The “practice” is experience. So what the writer is saying is that we gain a little spiritual knowledge, then we practice using it until we begin to understand what is good and what is bad. As we gain experience, we will begin to learn more complicated spiritual knowledge.

That will in turn be applied and still more experience gained until we reach a new level of understanding. The process continues. Of course, God can help us gain understanding faster when we ask through prayer and continue reading the Bible.

This is what God intended for us to do in this physical life, and He gives us both physical and spiritual opportunities to gain understanding. Why? Well, while we may not know everything we will be doing, the Bible gives us clues that God plans to give us some pretty important jobs in His Kingdom. It appears that some or all of us will be judges (1 Corinthians 6:3). We know that the whole universe is waiting for us (Romans 8:19) to complete our training. And don’t forget that you and I are going to have a room or office right in God’s house (John 14:2). This all seems pretty big, doesn’t it? And it is!

But just like you want the doctor or mechanic to have gained knowledge, experience and to understand their jobs before they do something for you, God wants people who have learned His way of thinking, practiced it and understand it before He turns over these important positions to us.

Let’s remember K + E = U today as we learn, experience and ultimately gain understanding every day. As King Solomon reminds us in Proverbs 4:7: “In all your getting, get understanding.” We are going to need it.