Most students we come in contact with are excited to learn about Scripture so they may follow God’s call on their lives by encouraging the body of Christ. Vocationally this looks different for various students, but the passion is almost always present. Yet for many students, it doesn’t take long before seminary starts to take a toll on their spiritual life and excitement level.
The hours in the day do not change when you pursue a seminary education. You still have only twenty-four hours. In the past you were able to spend thirty to sixty minutes a day keeping your spiritual life vibrant, growing, and healthy. However, in seminary, a typical day may consist of reading about the Reformation for two hours, reading about the Synoptic problem for another two hours, then spending another hour taking what you read and preparing an assignment for class the next day. Here you have spent five hours on “spiritual” activities; as a result you are tired and your mind needs a break from staring at words on a page.
So when given the opportunity to add devotional time to your studies, it is easy to make the justification, “I just spent five hours on spiritual things. Why spend another hour in Bible study, meditation, and prayer?” This can happen for days and weeks (hopefully not months) until you realize that you are in a spiritual desert. Yet, oddly enough, you are spending more time in study about the word and in the word than ever before in your life.
This is the story of many seminarians. It is a temptation that we ourselves have fallen into at times. You must guard yourself against this temptation now so that you are ready and able to stand against filling your time with study, telling yourself it is the same as devotion. Instead, prioritize spiritual disciplines as you pursue your call to both know and become. You need to be deliberate about taking care of yourself spiritually, even in a seminary context.
Your number-one priority
It seems hard to imagine that someone studying to go into ministry could have a poor relationship with God, but this is a reality for many seminary students (and too many pastors as well!). Throughout your seminary education, your relationship with God must be your number one priority. This prioritization should carry forward throughout your entire life and ministry. When you make your relationship with God your main priority, the rest of your priorities will properly align.
Too often we recognize the need to be balanced individuals and yet incorrectly define balance. Balance does not mean equal investment in all aspects of life. Instead, biblical balance is proper investment in the right things of life. This means that some of your favorite pastimes and hobbies might not make the cut of what is defined as proper investment. We are not going to tell you where the line is regarding recreational activities, such as city league sports teams, fishing, hunting, yoga classes, video games, or whatever else you do. Instead, we want to help you prioritize the foundation stone that leads to successful balance. In the time left over after the foundation stone of your relationship with God is inserted into its proper spot, then you will get to fit secondary priorities, like your family and schoolwork, and tertiary ones, such as your hobbies and interests.
After years of fumbling through our devotional disciplines, we have learned the importance of purposefully spending time with our Lord. We both find our best is when we give God the mornings. This is challenging with small kids at home, but small and deliberate changes over a long period of time have led to extraordinary results.
This post is adapted from Surviving and Thriving in Seminary by Danny Zacharias and Ben Forrest (Lexham Press, 2017).