Those who get wisdom do themselves a favor, and those who love learning will succeed –Proverbs 19:8

The Army taught us the value of physical fitness. Even now, though pushing 70, we still jump to conclusions, fly off the handle and put our foot in our mouth. Or is that only me? Anyway, we know the importance of keeping muscles toned and the pulse down. We may not work at it, but we understand the principle.

Proverbs 19:8 spotlights another part of our anatomy that requires regular exercise for peak performance, the little gray cells. It says, “To continue to be successful in life, you’ve got to keep on learning.”

Unfortunately, by the time some folks reach their mid-30s they’ve stopped developing new skills. The tragedy is that to quit learning is to stop growing and start shrinking. It’s sad to see people who gave up thinking 10 or 15 years earlier and now let others do their thinking for them. The proverb reminds us, “Never stop learning; keep on expanding – and not just your waistline – by developing your mind and striving for new insights.“

My friend Nick Krawciw, West Point Class of ’59, retired from the Army in 1990 after serving 31 years. In recognition of acts of distinguished service too numerous to mention here, both during and after his military career, West Point presented Maj Gen (Ret) Krawciw the 2006 Distinguished Graduate Award.

Nick’s credentials are remarkable. But just as impressive (and inspiring) to me is the continuing commitment to growing and learning that I’ve witnessed in him over the few years that I’ve known him personally, both in areas of his expertise, such as leadership, as well as in relatively new areas. For example, Nick has become an enthusiastic student of the Christian faith, adding Christian literature to his wide reading repertoire and speaking at faith events and taking careful notes when others speak.

If you and I are to remain intellectually sharp throughout our life – as Nick has into his late 70s – there are a couple attitudes that the Bible suggests are essential. One is openness – The intelligent man is always open to new ideas. In fact he looks for them (Proverbs 18:15). He says openness and mental alertness go hand in hand.

Have you noticed how the willingness to try new things tends to be inversely proportional to age? Who are the folks least likely to embrace new technology? Those of us drawing Social Security. This is the “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” syndrome, often little more than an excuse for a closed mind. Openness to new things and new ways of doing old things is a must for maintaining an incisive mind.

So is humility: When pride comes, then comes disgrace. But with humility comes wisdom (Proverbs 11:2). I’m sure you’ve noticed that another common hindrance to learning is the idea that, “I already know it all.” Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden once said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts” (emphasis added). He was referring of course to how ego can get in the way of learning.

The human mind is an incredible gift from the Creator. Keeping it in top shape both honors him and pays huge dividends. The more we make maintaining a “buff” brain a top priority, the higher the probability that we’ll still be thinking creatively and making a difference well into our 80s, 90s (like my 93-year-old aunt who’s in a spelling bee next week!!) and maybe even beyond. Those who get wisdom do themselves a favor, and those who love learning will succeed.

Dr. Jim Furr