The year Shakespeare was born, at least 200 people in his hometown of Stratford died from the plague—about a sixth of the town. One of Shakespeare’s neighbors lost four of his children to the plague, and only one out of Shakespeare’s four sisters survived to adulthood. Bill Bryson observes in his book Shakespeare: The World as Stage that “William Shakespeare’s greatest achievement in life wasn’t writing Hamlet or the sonnets but just surviving his first year” (emphasis added).
Physical fortitude wasn’t the only thing required from Shakespeare. Bryson also details Shakespeare’s experience at grammar school—he would have spent 11 to 12 hours a day, six days a week sitting on a hard wooden bench and striving to perform well enough to avoid the floggings that were meted out frequently by the instructor. That comes to 66 to 72 hours of school a week! School was very strenuous at that time. It would have required both physical and mental fortitude. Shakespeare, the greatest playwright in history, had to be quite tough to become the great writer that he was.
How much toughness do we have in our lives? How much toughness do we have in our personal education?
God needs us to be tough, educated teachers for Him. We don’t have an easy job ahead of us. In Epistles of Peter—A Living Hope, Gerald Flurry writes, “Though we are naturally cowards, we must become great leaders for God.” In the Former Prophets book, he said, “We must learn to war and fight like these tough soldiers who had faith in God and who really loved each other. God is telling us He wants us to be tougher.”
The right kind of toughness starts in the mind; it takes mental and spiritual toughness to be educated God’s way. Herbert W. Armstrong said that the third step to developing character is determining to live and do the right, even against temptation or self-desire. That requires toughness.
William Shakespeare became one of history’s deepest thinkers because he worked at it. This wasn’t just natural talent. He was given vigorous mental training in his schooling throughout his youth, and God used Shakespeare to enhance the education and vocabulary of the British people. Shakespeare traveled the world to find more material for his plays through his experiences—he was always hungering for more ideas, more inspiration. No one had a greater imagination than Shakespeare.
Shakespeare mastered the English language, and he used it mightily. We have to really learn the English language and build our vocabulary in order to understand the Scriptures better. Interestingly, Shakespeare got a surprising number of ideas from the Bible! He must have been familiar with what the Bible said, or he would not have made so many references to it in his plays and poems.
Herbert W. Armstrong was also a great example of a man who tenaciously worked to improve his mind. He was primarily self-educated; he never went to college or had schooling past high school. Even though he never received higher education, he was one of the most educated men in history, and he was also one of the greatest thinkers in history—a step above even Shakespeare because he received spiritual knowledge from God.
Mr. Armstrong didn’t come to this spiritual knowledge all at once. God had to first crush his vanity and self-reliance by completely wiping out his career. Then he was faced with a dual challenge that put his core beliefs regarding religion into doubt. His wife challenged him to prove that the Sabbath wasn’t on Saturday, because she believed that it was. At the same time, his brother-in-law’s wife accused him of being ignorant for believing in God instead of in evolution. God had prepared the way for Mr. Armstrong to throw himself into the study of proving for himself whether his religious beliefs were correct.
This study was no halfhearted effort. Mr. Armstrong really worked hard at it; he showed incredible toughness and tenacity. He rose early in the morning and studied. He was in the library when it opened at 9:00 a.m. and often stayed until closing time—and even then, he continued his study well into the night, sometimes to midnight or 1:00 a.m. After six months of intense study, he finally proved evolution to be nothing more than a theory. He also proved that the Bible was the inspired Word of God, so he now had a solid foundation on which to build.
This in-depth study also brought about a total crushing of Mr. Armstrong’s vanity. He had been conquered by God. He called this the toughest battle he ever fought, but he won that battle by surrendering to God. This struggle was Mr. Armstrong’s most bitter pill to swallow, but he acknowledged that it was the only medicine in his life that brought real healing. It would have been tough to be humbled in the way he was, but that humbling was what turned his life around and enabled him to become a great servant for God.
“When I read and studied the Bible, God was talking to me, and now I loved to listen! I began to pray, and knew that in prayer I was talking with God. I was not yet very well acquainted with God. But one gets to be better acquainted with another by constant contact and continuous conversation,” Mr. Armstrong wrote in his Autobiography (emphasis added throughout). Mr. Armstrong grew close to God through constant prayer and constant study. That amount of study would have taken a lot of mental effort and toughness! And the result of his efforts? Mr. Armstrong fell in love with the Bible! He grew to love reading and studying God’s Word.
In Mystery of the Ages, he wrote, “I found the greatest and most absorbing joy of my life in continuing to dig out those gold nuggets of truth from God’s word.” Mr. Armstrong worked diligently to dig out the gold nuggets of God’s truth from the Bible.
Isaiah 28:10 states: “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little and there a little.” Mr. Armstrong scoured the Bible, grabbing a little from here, and a little from there, and then he put all the puzzle pieces together. This takes discipline!
But God’s word was refreshing to Mr. Armstrong. He took great joy from studying it. We too can be refreshed and healed by the Bible, if we are willing to seek refuge in it like he did. Hope from Bible study should abound in us! (Romans 15:13). But that hope won’t just fill our minds on its own; it comes from hours of diligent study. Mr. Armstrong labored for thousands of hours at Bible study, and he was used by God to lead His Work because of his love for God’s Word.
Mr. Armstrong was a wonderful success. His life had direction and purpose. He was a godly leader—a man of strength and masculinity—as well as a man of understanding and wisdom. He was a hard worker—physically, mentally and spiritually. He had these characteristics because he was a man of education. God is educating all of us—just like He educated Mr. Armstrong—to be His teachers in the wonderful World Tomorrow.
So how can we become educated?
In his Autobiography, Mr. Armstrong related a story where he was asking his Uncle Frank for advice about where he should seek his education. Uncle Frank told him, “Education comes from study—from books—from lectures—from contacts—from travel—from thinking about what you see and hear and read—and from experience.”
In that quote, he pointed out many ways by which we become educated. If you travel, you’re not likely to forget what you learn and experience. Travel widens your worldview and makes you more well-rounded, teaching you lessons you might not ever learn if you simply stay in one spot.
We also learn from lectures. In the Church, we hear many lectures from ministers and other brethren in the Church. Don’t let a word drop to the ground! He also talked about thinking about what you see and hear and read. This means meditating.
We also learn from experience. Experience is one of the best teachers. This is about doing. God’s knowledge is practical, and we have opportunities every day to put that knowledge into practice.
We also learn from contacts—every person we meet knows something that we don’t. God stresses the importance of fellowship because He knows that we can learn a lot from others.
But most of all, education comes from reading and studying. Mr. Armstrong learned what he did because of in-depth reading and study that took hours each day. Salvation, as it says in the old Bible Correspondence Course, is education. And education comes primarily from study. It takes hard work. It takes toughness. But it’s worth it.
To know the things of man—to learn, develop and grow—God equipped each of us with the human spirit (1 Corinthians 2:11). But you have to use that spirit; you have to train it and educate it. Mark Twain said, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” We have the ability, but we have to put the effort in ourselves. We need to learn how much we need to learn.
Hearing and learning God’s truth is not enough, however. No matter how much you study, if you don’t apply what you learn in your life, the knowledge is worthless. We must be doers of the Word (James 1:22), and in order to do the Word of God, we must first study it so we can know it. Proverbs 3:13 says, “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.” Wisdom and understanding are things we can attain, but we have to have the initiative to seek them. Digging into good doctrine is where we get our nourishment (1 Timothy 4:6), and that takes effort.
Verse 13 says, “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” The phrase “give attendance” means to attach yourself to or cleave to reading, exhortation and doctrine.
Are you attached to reading?
Studies have shown that young adults age 25 to 34 read an average of 49 minutes a week. That is an average of only 7 minutes a day! Also, the number of hours college students spend studying has been in sharp decline over the past half century. Many college students identify not knowing how to study as the biggest obstacle to their academic success.
Do you know why so many of them don’t want to study? It’s because they no longer read. Many young people hate reading. They’ve grown up in the age of skimming—of cursory reading—of glancing at words and pictures flashing across screens—of cutting and pasting other people’s work as if it is their own. They do their thinking with Netflix on, while doing a Google search, or while texting their friends. This has turned them into shallow thinkers.
You might feel like a shallow thinker as well. Perhaps you’ve never liked to read, and you hate trying to write out your thoughts. You can reverse this trend of becoming superficial. You can rewire your human spirit back to the way it should be—if your desire is strong enough, and you are willing to educate yourself. You don’t have to be shallow like the world (Romans 12:2). God’s purpose is to reeducate, train and renew your mind. His divine purpose for mankind is for them to learn to think and act like Him.
Here are two practical tips that will start you on getting educated God’s way. First, learn how to study by developing a love for reading the printed word. Education goes far beyond school.
Second, get into the habit of turning off the distractions that interfere with your study. God intended our thoughts to govern our actions. You can either set your mind to steer the ship, or you can let it drift aimlessly in the ocean. Most people are merely victims of circumstance, as Mr. Armstrong observed. Control where your mind goes by eliminating distractions and focusing on the material you need to study.
You can become a deep thinker, just like William Shakespeare and Herbert W. Armstrong. Study as hard as you can, and you will become tougher mentally and spiritually. In the World Tomorrow, the young people who are being trained in God’s Church today will be the only physical beings on Earth with any prior knowledge of or training in God’s way of life. That is a huge responsibility—and a huge opportunity—for you! Make sure you are filling your mind with the Word of God today—so you can lead others in the future.