“Study hard, learn all you can, and remember that when you leave College you will be at the peak of your theological knowledge.”
So one friend at College had been told in his pre-college training. I suppose it is good advice, though I hope we all continue to grow in our biblical and theological acumen for the rest of our lives.
Ideally we do spend our time at College growing in the knowledge and skills we are here to learn. But sometimes life gets in the way.
After all, our academic progress can be hindered by so many things: sickness, grief, family obligations, academic struggles, learning challenges, looking after our spouse or children or parents, miscarriages or infertility, depression or gloominess, financial hardship, relationship difficulties. And these ‘normal parts of life’ can challenge us at College and will certainly challenge us after College. They will slow some of us down, incapacitate some of us, or even stop some of us dead.
So why I am I writing such an encouraging word during your research week? To remind you all of the big picture: As my pastor says, our wise and loving Father allows ‘an unevenly distributed quota of suffering’ to each of us. He allows this for reasons we do not understand. But we know this: He is good, and his purposes for us his people are good.
We may sail through College in health and happiness, with barely a struggle. And we may top our year, be popular, and come out ready for a lifetime of fruitful ministry. And if that is the case, we should bless our Father for that blessing. But many of us will know otherwise.
For reasons often unknown to us, the Father may let us to suffer in our College days or beyond. And when he does so, remember it is normal and right to be frustrated for our now-unachievable goals, and to cry out to him over them. But remember also that he loves us so much that he shapes us in character, in faith, in dependence on him, in humility and lack of self-importance, through our hardships and struggles.
And what might he teach us in troubles? Why, nothing less than that we overestimate ourselves, and that our gifts are not great in his eyes. That he stoops to use us jars of clay to shine his glory into the world. That we depend on him for our fruitfulness. That he is our strength and power, and not we ourselves.
None of us wants an ignorant pastor or Christian leader. And none of us want a minister lacking in character and grace. At College we should do all we can to grow in knowledge and understanding of our Lord and his ways. Study is a calling here. So too is growing in grace, and we must set our sights on real growth in Jesus, and not just in ministry. After all, If I have not love, I am nothing.
Yes, the Lord has you here for learning a body of knowledge, and for developing a set of skills. He also has you here for growing in relationship with him and with others. So if your studies are hampered by life, do all you can to study well anyway. But take comfort, and pray, pray, pray that he grows you in quality.
Pray he develops you into a man or woman who knows their Lord richly, deeply, truly. Pray that you’ll be malleable, and that he will fit you for his service through all your good times as well as all your afflictions. Pray that he’ll make you more godly, and even more pleasing to him. As Robert Murray M’Cheyne (d. 1843) reminds us, “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.” Pray to be endowed with holiness for all your people.
I am reminded of Spurgeon, who reportedly suffered so badly from gout (ouch!) and other chronic illnesses that he could only preach one-third of the time he was scheduled to. And that’s besides his debilitating depression.
And yet he said of his sufferings,
I am afraid that all the grace that I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable… Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister’s library. (He Preached a Big God with a Broken Heart | Desiring God)
So, as some of you sail through this week, and others struggle through it with trials great and small, take heart in these words:
Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. (2 Cor 4:16-17)