Five Lifelines for Seminary Students

Today’s guest post is from Cristian Garcia. He studied at Universidad Israel, Universidad Corporación de Tecnologías Digitales, and is currently studying at Mid-America Reformed Seminary.

Seminary is one of greatest privileges (besides that of bringing the Word of God to different congregations) that you can have. It is a great blessing from the Lord and we should be grateful to Him for that opportunity. Those who are already enrolled in a seminary know by experience that the life of a seminarian is full of time-consuming activities. Classes to attend to, piles of books to read, papers to write, and sometimes sermons to preach. Added to that, seminarians sometimes have the responsibility of families. That is why the life of a seminarian can be difficult to manage, and sooner or later coffee becomes your best friend.

I consider these five things to be important for all of us in seminary. Some may seem obvious, but you might be surprised about how easily you can forget them on your daily life on seminary. We all need reminders!

The Lifeline of Prayer

Prayer brings with it, as food does, a new sense of power and health.  We are driven to it by hunger, and, having eaten, we are refreshed and strengthened for the battle which even our physical life involves.  For heart and flesh cry out for the living God.

— Peter Taylor Forsyth

Praying is one of the essentials of the Christian life. It is so often taken for granted by us—but not by the Bible. The Bible in many places exhorts us to have a life of prayer. “pray without ceasing…” is one of Paul’s exhortations to the Thessalonian church (1 Thess 5:17). We also see Jesus’ example throughout the Gospels. Jesus was usually praying: for children (Matt. 19:13), to recover strength (Matt 14:23), during difficult times (Matt 26:36, Heb 5:7) and he taught His disciples (and us by, inference) how to pray (Matt. 6:9 ff.).

We can easily multiply examples of the people of God in the Bible praying or being called to pray. How else shall we show gratitude to God ( Eph 1:16, Col 4:2)? How else shall we seek guidance, power, and help in our ministry and for others (Rom 1:10, Col. 4:3)? Prayer is even an instrument for evangelism (2 Thess 3:1), and benefits our society (1 Tim 2:1).

But when you come to seminary there is this big temptation to immerse yourself in your readings and usually at the end of the day your eyes feel so tired that you just want to sleep. (I’m speaking from very personal experience.)

No matter how important your readings are, and no matter how tired you may feel, you need to always remember to pray. Separate a time in your daily schedule (morning or evening, or both) to pray, so you start the day or finish the day in conversation with the Lord.

The Lifeline of Scripture

The Word of God I think of as a straight edge, which shows up our own crookedness. We can’t really tell how crooked our thinking is until we line it up with the straight edge of Scripture.

— Elisabeth Elliot

Is this too obvious? Then why is it so often neglected, alongside prayer, by us seminarians? As Bible-believing Christians and future pastors (God willing), we understand the importance of the Scriptures. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (1 Tim 3:16-17)

We believe that. We affirm that. We even defend that earnestly against many attacks in our papers and daily conversations; but when was the last time that we had time to read our Bible—to really read it?

Perhaps many of you are thinking, “I read the Bible in family devotions, or in my studies.” Family devotions and academic studies are important (in fact I’m going to talk more about family worship in a moment), but it is not enough for someone who is studying to enter in the ministry.

Reading plans can be a great tool for many to start. But I have witness in my own life how easy it is to loose sight of the general context of the Bible in some of those plans. Since one day you are reading from one book of the OT and the next one you jump to other book perhaps in the NT, the context is easily lost. I commend to you reading the Bible from cover to cover (of course it is not an original idea). I usually try to read ten chapters of my Bible daily no mater how long (except Psalm 119, of course).

You can do that, or you can simply reduce it to 5, 2, or 1, it’s up to you of course. But I have discovered that the longer you read, the easier will be for you to find connections, arguments, and usually the flow of thought in a book is easier to find. I understand that this also demands time, but you need to find a moment for God’s word, remember the words of Psalm 119:105! So set yourself a goal of reading, and follow it until you finish it, and when you finish—start all over again. It will benefit your soul and your mind.

The Lifeline of Family Worship

Those families wherein this service of God is performed, are (as it were) little churches, yea, even a kind of Paradise upon earth.

— William Perkins

Personal devotions are a blessing for your heart, but you also need to bring those blessings to your family. Remember the words of Deut. 6:7 “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

The obligation of every Israelite was to tell God’s great redemptive acts to his family and to instruct his family on them. God’s mighty acts deserve to be shared, and deserve to be told to our families! We owe it to them. If we don’t share God’s word with our families we are depriving them of the greatest good that they can have for their lives.

Family worship, with a portion of the Bible being read, is a great opportunity to minister to your family, and a great opportunity for you to learn as well. If you can explain a Bible passage to your 4 year-old child and he understands what you said, then you will find easier to teach God’s word to God’s people! Children force us to be imaginative, creative, and colorful in the ways in which we speak, and that can greatly benefit your sermons in the future.

Find yourself and your family a spot to gather and have devotions. After lunch, after dinner, or before bed—whatever works, and whatever you make consistent. Don’t use this time as an excuse to examine your children and wife, but also as an opportunity to bring them the Gospel. That’s what real leadership in your family looks like.

What about the single guys? Being single is a great opportunity because you can have little bit more of free time. Apply that time to create a group, find other single men like you (on seminary or on church) and read the Bible together, pray together and explain the Scriptures to one another. Cultivate habits of corporate worship and devotion outside of Sunday morning.

The Lifeline of Family Connection

The most remarkable thing about marriage today is not that it can be troubled but that we still have this privilege at all. When God justly expelled us from the garden of Eden, he did not take this gift back. He let us keep his priceless gift, though we sometimes misuse it. But what every married couple needs to know is that their marriage is a remnant of Eden. This is why every marriage is worth working at, worth fighting for. A marriage filled with hope in God is nothing less than an afterglow of the garden of Eden, radiant with hope until perfection is finally restored.

— Ray & Jani Ortlund

Family worship is a wonderful source of connection, but it should not stop there. Your family needs time with you, and you with them. We need to learn how to balance those times.

I usually give myself an hour to play with my daughter every day (from 6-7 pm), then we have dinner, devotions, and send our daughter to bed. After that I take time to talk with my wife or maybe to watch a movie together. Sometimes we as a family go out for a walk. There are precious moments in your family life that you will never recover. Become a diligent manager of your time so you can enjoy them together!

My daughter sometimes joins me in exercise. Or when I’m grilling, she hands me the meat. Plan activities, even mundane ones, with your family. Go grocery shopping all together (the more kids you have, the more your wife will appreciate this!), run simple errands — be creative!

Single brothers, you have a great advantage! You can manage your time with more freedom, and therefore can meet with friends, or give yourself and your significant other a good date! Go for a walk, talk to your friends, serve someone who is too busy to cook a good dinner. It is a great opportunity to show concern for others and to bless others. But be balanced, too much of free time and you can be wasting precious time of reading, or working. Be wise!

The Lifeline of—wait…Vocabulary?

Languages are the sheath in which hides the Sword of the Spirit — so although the faith of the gospel may be proclaimed by a preacher without the knowledge of the languages, the preaching will be feeble and ineffective. But where the languages are studied, the proclamation will be fresh and powerful, the Scripture will be searched, and a faith will be constantly rediscovered through ever new words and deeds.

— Martin Luther

B.V.D. “Build your Vocabulary Daily!” This was introduced to me by one of my language professors. You know how it is: you learn Greek, Hebrew, and Latin and as soon as you leave the classroom, it’s gone. Few are the ones who can retain their languages without practicing, but the vast majority of us mortals need to walk through our vocabulary frequently.

It was terrible to discover how much vocabulary I already forgotten when I arrived after my summer assignment. I found myself trying to guess some words that I previously easily knew and recognized. Now I try to run through my flashcards on Quizlet almost every day, it has helped me a lot, but truthfully, I am still playing catch-up.

If you’re not honing your vocabulary, you won’t keep and progress in the original languages. Not only will it help you excel as a student, but it will contribute to your ability as a scholar down the road, and will deeply enrich your personal life as you begin private devotions in the original languages.

Jonathan Watson

Jonathan Watson