Concentric learning

I just recently heard the phrase, “concentric learning.” It was attributed to J.I. Packer but I haven’t been able to find out where exactly it comes from, as far as which of his books, or else I’d give proper credit.

The idea, as I heard it, is that we are continually cycling through phases of learning, coming back to the same things again and again, but going deeper each time around. We grow in competency with every cycle. This made total sense to me.

Have you ever wondered why you keep circling back around to the same issues, situations, or questions, which you previously thought you had resolved? Have you noticed that each time you have to wrestle something out with God, you come away with deeper understanding than you had before?

I certainly have.

I’ve discovered that there are deep places in me where I thought I had come to resolution, only to find that, no, I still had more work to do.

We are also prone to hide from pain or temptation or seemingly unanswerable questions, thinking we have successfully dealt with it if we don’t think about it any more.

That’s not how this thing works.

Our ultimate goal is to know God, and to know Christ. That’s the definition of eternal life in John 17. We can’t really know Him if we don’t seek Him out, let Him dredge up the stuff down at the bottom of our hearts, and dialogue with him (pray) about it.

I’m beginning to see that my deepest fear has not so much been what others could do to hurt me, but rather, my own darkness.

Maybe I’m not the only one.

We wonder, “What am I capable of? What could have become of me? What if people knew the depths of my own past sin? Why can’t I get rid of that temptation? Am I forgiven?”

“What if I never change? Is something wrong with me? What does it say about me that I was treated that way? Did I somehow deserve it or cause it?”

I think that’s what many of us are hiding from, whether we’re conscious of it or not. It’s shame.

Some are better than others at compensating for it, by performing and being perfect. I have no such capability. I’m coming to see that as a gift.

Others get trapped in addiction. There are many ways to mitigate pain, but none solve the problems. Usually we end up creating new ones.

The good news is that if we are allowing God access to our hearts, there’s no way we won’t change and begin to see more clearly. There’s no darkness too dark for Him (even the darkness is not dark to Him – Psalm 139). “There’s no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still,” says Corrie ten Boom. Even a pit of your own making.

Maybe the reason we keep circling back around to the same old hurts, temptations, situations and questions is that He is diving deeper and deeper into our dark hidden places to bring greater healing and cleansing.


If we are wise we will pay attention to these stirrings and turn to God in them. We’re free to come boldly to Him, like brazen toddlers who won’t be deterred. He’s a good father and wants to heal us and make us whole. He wants us to see like He sees.

We can trust the Holy Spirit to do his work. (We need to remember that for the other people in our lives, too.)

If we choose to ignore these opportunities, they will come back around. Might as well just face them.

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