I remember a cold, windy day in January, 1982. My wife Michelle and I arrived in Fort Worth as newlyweds with everything we owned in a small U Haul trailer. We moved into our little one bedroom, furnished apartment with little materially but great dreams spiritually. I hobbled on crutches from a knee operation. We were broke, but we were called, and that was enough.
That was 35 years ago, but it seems like only yesterday. If you are a brand new seminarian, I have a few things I hope will encourage you to help you for the next few decades.
First, learn well your identity in Christ. Comparison is the thief of joy, and your theological training will be greatly hindered by comparing yourself to others. Take hope in Christ, rest in the gospel, and be joyful. Remember Paul: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus.” Rom 8:1
Second, bring all of you. We can teach you truths and practical disciplines but we have no control over your zeal. This is not a sideshow. This will take every ounce of your life to create in you what God has in store. Don’t be a slacker or a whiner. The old song says, “Give of the best to your master, give of the strength of your youth.” Seminary will be hard at times and will be so in ways you won’t expect. Don’t come to this thing half-heartedly. Come to class prayed up and humbly eager to learn. Cut off the social media and learn. Beg God to teach you. One day you will wake up and realize you aren’t nearly as smart as you think you are. Remember the words ofJim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be all there.”
Third, love the church. Don’t date the church. GET IN A CHURCH. Get involved early, love the bride. Most of your peers will do that well, but some will piddle for months and months before joining a local body. And please don’t be a consumer. No where in his epistles does Paul applaud a great preacher, but he says “one another” a lot. You are in seminary, take off your bib, put on an apron, and serve a local church.
Fourth, be humble. No, really. Be humble. Again, most are, but we all know THAT guy. The guy that has to ask a question every day ostensibly to learn, but actually to show how smart he isn’t but thinks he is. I am a loud mouth, over-talkative, noise machine. But in seminary, I said little, I took notes voraciously, and I really tried to learn. You don’t have to be the next fill-in-the-blank-great-preacher-scholar-missionary-whatever. You MUST walk in humility. Talk less, listen more. Don’t whine about what you don’t like in the covenant, be grateful to be here to learn. Serve well. I’m still learning myself. I hope to learn from you. Remember what James said, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6
Fifth, take risks. Yes, please take risks, especially the kind you read about in the Bible. Pray big prayers that God really has to be the one to answer. Share your faith even when you are afraid. Get some friends outside the seminary bubble, including some who don’t know Jesus. Be a friend of sinners, not of sin. Take that mission trip/hard class/etc. Heed the words of C.T. Studd: “Some wish to live within the sound of church or chapel bell, but I wish to run a rescue mission a yard from the gates of hell.”
Sixth, don’t limit your learning to the classroom. Each semester on the first day of class I remind students you will take two kinds of classes: First, classes for credit. But, you will also take classes not for credit, and these may be some of the most important of your life. Classes in forgiving your family, in facing your depression and getting help, in overcoming your insecurities, and so on. Pay attention to these. Remember Einstein: “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
Seventh, guard your heart. Yes, this is an academic experience in which you will learn many truths and be stretched intellectually. But don’t go all Grinchness by having a shrinking heart while your head explodes. Chapel is wonderful, but it’s not the local church. Class is great, but it’s not your small group. Studying the Bible in a course is super, but it’s not your devotions. Keep feeding the spring. Analyze your habits, and make sure good habits mark your life. As McCheyne reminded a man at his ordination, “A holy man is an awesome weapon in the hand of God;” and, “God does not bless great talent; he blesses great likeness to Jesus.”
Eighth, take care of your body. Paul is right–bodily discipline is not most important. But he is also right that it is of some importance. I’m grateful for an Old Testament prof in seminary who warned me doing a PhD could wreck my health as it wrecked his, so I was careful. We are bought with a price; we aren’t entitled to gallons of sweet tea, fast food binges, or dessert with every meal. I didn’t keep up with my health as I should, and in my 40s I became overweight and generally unhealthy. So I’m reviewing this post on the elliptical. I hope to see you in the gym. We have a really nice weight room now. But if I see you there, sorry, I am pretty anti-social there. I do hope to see you there sometime. Paul also said: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” I Cor 9:27
I hope time will fly for you like it has for me. You will wake up sooner than you think and 35 years will have passed. What happens from now till then has a lot to do with how you start seminary this fall. Start well, run the race, and finish strong.