What My First Week of Seminary Taught Me
I stood on the curb like a frozen statue staring at my brand new world from across the street. Less than a hundred yards away was my future. The last pieces of my previous life had just boarded a connecting flight back to Tampa, and here I was about to embark on perhaps the bravest journey I’d ever endeavored. God called, and I had answered.
I had been working in my contented life, a safe and comfortable ministry in the place where I grew up. The endless miles of my road were stretched out in front of me, and if I were honest – they didn’t look half bad. But many years ago, I made the dangerous promise to follow wherever God would lead me. He brought me to the most unsuspecting of places . . . seminary. I packed up the stuff that makes up 30 some odd years of existence and drove to Texas with empty notebooks and high hopes.
So here I was, 1138.3 miles from home, standing on the edge of a cement curb that felt like a living diagram of my unknown precipice. Across the street was none other than New Student Orientation, representing both the inauguration and culmination of months-worth of wrestling with this call.
Truthfully, everything about my new life feels like New Student Orientation, learning how to begin all over again. To carve a life out of the unfamiliar and adapt to an ever-changing state of normal. Nothing is more crisp in my mind than the first week that I set foot on this campus. Like the unprecedented first week of a newborn’s life, I took in more knowledge and experience than I even knew what to do with at the time. Like the curriculum of my new education, this is what my first week of seminary taught me, and perhaps it’ll be an encouragement to you:
You must be certain that God called you.
When undertaking the dangerous calling of biblical education, you must live in the certainty that God designed and designated this time for you. At my New Student Orientation, President Dr. Paige Patterson said in his opening address, “Seminary days are unique days. They will never come again.” Even if you’re unsure where your diploma will lead or what your concentration should be or even why you are in seminary in the first place, may you be certain that God in all of His great wisdom is a God who desires and wants to be known. Jeremiah 9:24 says, “but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.” If we are to have any confidence in our time at seminary, we begin with the understanding that God in His tenderness desires to be known by the creation in which He imprinted His very image and breathed His own breath.
The certainty of your commitment to this cause must live in your bones and flow out of your every movement because many things will attempt to derail God’s good work before it has even begun. A recently-made friend of mine who has lived a few more years through this educational crucible said, “I feel like if you don’t want to quit at least once a semester, you’re probably doing seminary wrong!” In my few short months here, I can say with certainty that biblical education is not for the faint of heart. You have willingly enlisted yourself to having an Enemy target on your back. But remember Jeremiah said that the Lord “practices steadfast love.” If the lover of your soul has called, He will woo you through the most uncertain of moments.
You’re never prepared, no matter how much you prepare.
I bought all the right things. I brought all the right things. I had prayed, fasted, saved, calculated, and categorized everything in my world. All the boxes were packed, my housing was ready, my classes were registered, and I had a plan. But as I walked across the threshold on that first day, I abdicated my noble intensions and surrendered not just my plans but my will. I was abandoning the parachute of my previous knowledge and experience for the blind faith that it would take to see the day of commencement. You’re never prepared for what will come no matter how much you prepare for what’s coming. The great mystery of life with Jesus is that He doesn’t want to spoil the surprise on the other end of what is waiting for us. First Corinthians 2:9 says, “But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Scripture literally says I have no idea what God has in store!
When I got to seminary, I knew that I knew nothing. That was the part that I thought I was prepared for. The interesting thing I learned is actually how much of the “nothing” that I knew. But, the beautiful result of embracing humility is that it exists as the premise to God’s illumination of Himself. Somewhere within our preparedness we must also account for the margin of the incomplete. It is vital that we come to this great encounter with a humble heart. My education should never surpass my humility.
Seminary is actually about Jesus, not about me.
Doesn’t this one seem the most obvious? But knowing something from the intimacy of experience is different than reading the manual about it, or in my case, the Academic Catalog. I knew that seminary would be about Jesus, but it was my education after all, right? Surprisingly, nothing could be further from the truth. It is God’s knowledge about Himself that He chooses to disclose to those who seek after Him (?) with whole hearts. Seminary is about what Jesus wants from my life because He claimed my life before I ever lived it. I died to myself when I accepted Him as Savior at the tender age of 6. Here, I am slowly learning to walk in the newness of a life born out of theological understanding and not just experiential knowledge. The roots of this intellect come with so much richness that it is almost like meeting Jesus in a new way all over again! But seminary is not necessarily about the education, although I should strive to get one while I’m here. It is not about finding what I want to do after I leave. Ultimately, it isn’t even about my degree or collected insight. Seminary is about finding Jesus, not only as the Savior of my soul, but now as the Lord over my theology. It is about diving in to the unsearchable “more” that exists innately in the person of Jesus Christ.
I have been at seminary for 101 days, and there are a few things that I have learned for certain: this adventure will take everything that I have, I’m certain I’ll want to quit, and I have no idea what is waiting for me on day 102 or day 732. But isn’t that what all great adventures are about – the unknown, that becomes the experienced, that transforms our destiny!