3 Commitments for a Christian Student
I am anxious today.
I have a lot of hopes and dreams for my academic career but today I feel particularly aware that I am not in complete control over the future. My own abilities as a student feel feeble.
A long walk helped me to do some praying and thinking about my anxiety. Ultimately, I know God has graciously brought my family to where we are, which has led me to be a student at this particular school, studying these particular things. He hasn't left us before, so he won't leave us in the future. He is the good Father who works all things according to the counsel of his will, for our good and his glory (Eph. 1:11, Rom. 8:28).
Knowing these truths, I wanted to come up with a few points of focus for myself as a student, to help keep me grounded in the present and not worrying about the concerns of tomorrow. While these feel personal for me, I am sure they will translate in some way for any other person who is a student.
Study Coram Deo. For everyone alive today, "in [God] we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). And for those who are in Christ Jesus, our loving Father is working all things together for us to look more like Christ. He is active in our lives. I can trust this today, not just in general in life, but in every particular area knowing that what I am doing is Coram Deo--before the face of God. So I can begin by thanking God that he has allowed me to pursue another degree and have so much fun doing it. And as I study, I will strive for excellence, knowing that he sees my work and cares how I go about doing it. And I can take comfort in the fact that he knows me and loves me in Christ, and is present in my life and in my studies. My life as a student is not absent from his mind or from his sovereign hand. When anxieties come about where I will study or what will happen when I graduate, I can express those cares to my Father in heaven. A commitment I intend to come back to is to study before the face of a loving and sovereign God.
Focus on Formation. A theme here is how much I get caught up in thinking about the future. My mind tends to think of all the possibilities and make plans. Where should I apply for PhD's? What GPA do I need to have in my current degree? What is the admission process like? How much would it cost my family to move and live there? Would it be wise? Am I good enough student to get into that program? What job will I have during and after the degree? While there is a place to think about each of these questions intentionally, I tend to dwell on them too long at the expense of investing in the current academic tasks in front of me, squeezing all the growth out of it that I can. I have heard from multiple people recently that the process of learning is just as important as the outcome (i.e. degree). I am in the process of getting a master's degree right now, and my efforts and energy should be directed toward growing as a student this semester in this degree. Basically, I need to run the mile I am in. So when I sit down to read an article for my Foundations in Theological Method class, I need to ask, "How can I be the best student I can be as I read this article?" Or when I begin anxiously thinking about when and where and how to apply for a PhD, I need to ask "what responsibilities do I have right now as a student that I can focus on to equip me for whatever God has for me?" And in general, I need to ask "Where is the Lord growing me as a Christian and a student, and how can I, by his grace strive for his purposes?" The growth will be just as important as the outcome, but in the end, the growth will have the longer lasting affect on my day to day life, all the while preparing me for whatever God has next for me. So I am committing to focus on the formation and let the Lord dictate the outcome. I will need his grace to do it!
Be Patient. A third commitment is to be patient in both the big and small things as a student. In the big things, I need to not get too ahead of myself in thinking about next steps, like I said in point #2. Trust God with the process and let him lead, while I focus my attention on what God has currently in front of me. Tomorrow will be here soon, and today will be gone--focus on today while it is still here. But in the small things too, I can be patient. My temptation in study is to see all the books and all the knowledge I need (or just want) to acquire, all the writing and research I want to have done, and to rush through the process. The reality is that I am limited. I can only do so much. So whatever is in front of me, whether a chapter on Greek adjectives, a short treatise by Calvin, or a writing prompt on properly reading the Bible--whatever it is, I can sit and prayerfully put all my focus on what is in front of me, not speeding through to get things done as quickly as possible, but again, recognizing that God, whose face I am living before now, has put this very subject before me, and I must do the best that I can. And he will use it for my good and for his name.
All three of these commitments are ultimately related to the Father's love and sovereign care for me in Christ. He cares not only for the way I lead my family or that I work hard at my job or that I love my neighbor and invest in the church he has put me in, but he also cares for the academic training he has placed in front of me today. So these are my prayerful commitments I intend to put on my desk at home and in my planner for easy reference: Study Coram Deo. Focus on Formation. Be Patient. The Lord knows I need his help to do these.