You won’t appreciate the fact that you took a deep breath an hour ago unless you’re still breathing. A great meal you ate a month ago won’t do you much good if you haven’t eaten since. Likewise, delighting in God through taking in his word isn’t an annual, monthly, or even weekly event for the healthy Christian, but a daily rhythm.
Keeping Your Soul Alive
There is more to seminary, and the whole of the Christian life, than the necessity of pursuing daily soul survival in the Scriptures, but this need must not be overlooked. An otherwise impressive theology degree is utterly unimpressive if your soul has shriveled in the course of study.
As Christians, daily Bible intake is to our souls what breathing, eating, and drinking are to our physical bodies. As the incarnate Word himself says, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Our souls will die without the word of God....
Make Your Studies Devotional
First, seek to make your seminary studies devotional. Pray for God’s help before class, before studying, before writing a paper or taking a test, and during all these activities. Continually consecrate your studies to Jesus and ask him to freshly meet you in them, keep your spiritual blood flowing, and keep you soft to his grace.
It is important for every Christian, and perhaps especially for seminary students, to never come to the Scriptures with anything less than a devotional approach. Whatever the assignment, intentionally seek the growth and warming of your soul. There’s no spiritually neutral gear when handling the Bible. You don’t need to learn the lesson far too many have experienced about trifling with holy things—you either survive or shrivel.
Keep Space for Daily Devotionals
Second, set aside at least a brief season daily to focus on feeding your soul. Find a good patch in the Scriptures (maybe through an annual Bible-reading plan), one you’re not studying in preparation for a class, a test, or a sermon, and graze a while, just for your spiritual well-being. Crumbs from such a meal will inevitably bless those to whom you minister, but try not to make your future flock (or present ministry) your explicit focus in this feeding. The aim is the daily strengthening and sustaining of your soul.
An often-helpful reminder to seminary students is to not read merely for information. Such information, glorious as it is, won’t keep your heart soft and your soul breathing. What we desperately need is spiritual sight of the living Christ. We need the person of Jesus himself, whom we find in and through the Scriptures. Our souls long for a living connection with the living God-man. We were made for this.
Therefore, be on the unashamed lookout for Jesus and his gospel, for soul-satisfaction that runs up verses and doctrines to a person, the God-man, rather than terminating on concepts and ideas. In an explicitly “devotional” time, set out to explicitly enjoy Jesus in the Scriptures as your great end, not as a means to anything else, whether it is a class assignment or ministering to others in some way.
Reading Scripture Through the Right Grid
John 5 shows the folly of fixing on the Scriptures while ignoring the God of grace. Jesus crossed paths with a troop who liked to think of themselves as soaked in the Scriptures, but they were getting them all wrong, taking them in through the wrong grid. What an epic tragedy: they had God himself in the flesh, standing in their very midst, and they missed him because their Bible reading was going awry with self at the center. Jesus says to them, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40).
The lesson for us is to never disconnect our searching of the Scriptures from a conscious awareness and pursuit of Jesus as our Savior, Lord, and Treasure. The gospel of Jesus is the core, culmination, and meaning of the Scriptures. No matter how passionate the study, regular Bible intake that is not in accord with the truth of the gospel is akin, at best, to zeal without knowledge (Rom. 10:2).
Displace the gospel from the center, and studiousness in the Scriptures soon becomes a massive self-salvation project.
Bible Intake and Preaching to Yourself
As you keep the gospel in view, don’t miss this: God does not intend for the message of the gospel to be cut loose from the Scriptures. Regular Bible intake—whether it’s reviewing memorized Scripture passages, enjoying Bible-infused conversations with fellow believers, or receiving the public preaching of God’s word—serves to shape, strengthen, and sustain your daily preaching of the gospel to yourself. The Scriptures, rightly understood with Jesus at the center, nourish your heart and sharpen your mind, so that you are able to rehearse the truth of the gospel with texture, edge, and definition, with freshness and power.
The message of the gospel is not meant to be something you “get,” carve into canned lines, and tell yourself over and over for a lifetime as some sort of magic mantra to fight sin. God means for you to be regularly pushed and formed, hurt and healed, challenged and encouraged by passages you’ve never heard before, haven’t given enough attention to, or haven’t considered in a while. He means for you to understand even your best-known verses at new depth, and know the power of his grace more deeply, through new applications, as you encounter situations in life you’ve never faced before.
Seminary can be thrilling, with the potential to inspire and equip church leaders for a lifetime of faithful ministry. But it’s not without its risks. For many who have ignored the perils, seminary has been crippling. But with an extra dose of intentionality, and God’s help, this season of preparation can invigorate your affections for Jesus. How to Stay Christian in Seminary takes a refreshingly honest look at the seminarian’s often-neglected devotional life, offering real-world advice for students eager to survive seminary with a flourishing faith.