After the post on guarding hearts at a Christian conference (or ministers gathering), I was asked about Bible School. Here we go…
The opportunity to study in a Bible School (college, seminary, divinity school, etc.) is a real privilege. I thoroughly loved my experience at two great seminaries. To spend your best hours receiving instruction in the Bible, maybe in the original languages, in theology and church history, in personal spirituality and in pastoral equipping to better serve God in the church and in His world, this is a wonderful privilege. Add in new and sometimes lifelong friendships, numerous answered prayers, extended conversations and seeing growth in yourself and others, and it can sound like a glorious utopian experience for the man or woman who loves Christ and wants to love him even more.
Solomon was given great wisdom, and what did he say? Above everything, guard your hearts . . .
1. Walking with Christ is not the same thing as academic exercise. You will be hearing and reading wonderful material. You will hopefully be expected to read your Bible and other good books. You will be required to research, read, think and write about God. You will also enjoy spiritual conversations with faculty and fellow students. And you will be tempted to let all this be your devotional life. But walking with Christ is “with Christ,” not just “about Christ.” Be sure to keep the conversation going with God in the midst of your studies. Why not talk to Him about this question: “Father, why is it that so many passionate Christians grow dry and cold in Bible School?”
2. Human glory is toxic. The academic environment is not positive, or even neutral, for maintaining devotion to God. I certainly loved being on campus and enjoyed some great times with God there. But don’t let a beautiful campus or warm atmosphere distract you from the dangers inherent in the system. Receiving grades for your work will feed the competitiveness of your flesh. Receiving speedy feedback and affirmation will feed your flesh’s desire to build its identity in itself and its own achievements. The comparative environment means that you may stand out in some class or other, and thus feed the autonomy impulse of your sinful flesh. Glory from other humans (students, teachers, and outside friends) is both toxic and addictive. Beware.
3. Pride is profoundly destructive. Jesus warned the scholars of his day that seeking glory from humans is mutually exclusive to a healthy relationship with God. (See John 5:38ff) Why? In part it is because glory feeds the prideful tendency of my flesh which thinks I am a god, and as a result push God away. God opposes the proud, even in Bible school. Beware of reinforcing the glory/pride system. Seek to pray and guard the hearts of fellow students and faculty as well as your own.
4. Keep relationally Bible saturated. Never settle for required Bible reading assignments. Make sure that you are soaking your soul in the fresh water of the Word and maintaining that conversation with Christ throughout your studies. Do a fast-paced Bible read through. Keep talking with Christ about the lure of sophisticated speculation (arms length playing with ideas that no longer stir your heart). What you need most is not successful education, or sophisticated knowledge, or academic awards. What you need most is Christ. Share your Bible highlights with others, other people will need to be re-infected with a simple love for Christ too.
5. Christ loves the church, stay connected. The people at church may not know about the things you are learning. The leaders at church may not do things the way you’ve been taught to do them. The sermons at church may feel lightweight compared to your lectures. Nevertheless, you need to stay connected at a local church. Serve where you can. Don’t be an annoying critic. Do look to love others whenever you can. (Incidentally, pursue learning from faculty who are actively loving the church, not distant destroyer-critics.)
6. Let the stresses push you up against God. There will be stress at Bible School. Deadlines. Financial strain. Impossible verb paradigms. Schedule overload. Pressure on your family. You will be tempted to grow your independence and determination muscles, as well as your ability to function on little sleep. Instead, let the pressure push you up against God. And by faith get some sleep! Remember that your stress impacts your spouse, your children, your room-mate in the dorm, your church, etc.
7. Value relationships carefully. You may think it is really just about you and God. But human relationships matter. Value every student, not just the impressive (or attractive) ones. Speaking of attractive, beware of the extra emotional electricity in a high spirituality environment – it is a great place to meet a spouse, but guard hearts, don’t damage them. Value faculty and care for them, they are real people too. And finally, know that there will be attacks from the enemy – yet another reason to stick close to Christ and draw others with you.
What would you add to this list? I know there’s plenty more . . .