Have you ever taken a trip? Did it go just like you had planned?
Chances are, if you’ve traveled much at all, at some point you’ve found yourself dealing with unexpected delays, detail changes or maybe even a complete cancellation of your plans.
For those of us in ministry we often joke about schedules and plans and how they never work out as you expect. I believe in schedules, I believe in plans. Last night my wife and I were discussing this topic, and I am convinced that we must plan and prepare more than I thought was necessary as a younger man in ministry.
I recognize that our plans are not something to be set in stone with no opportunity for deviation, but rather a guided structure that bring us back on track when the unexpected occurs.
Very rarely do we plan a trip and have everything go exactly as we expected. The challenge with planning a trip with others or doing ministry and life with others is that ‘others’ are involved. Pre-conceived plans, notions, ideas, rabbit trails and thoughts are quickly thrown to the side once someone presents a perspective or plan that you and I never thought of. I think it is a blessing to be able to stop where you are, acknowledge and accept a better plan and proceed down that path.
God gives us the responsibilities to pray, plan and proceed. Then He accomplishes His purposes through us, even when we think nothing is going ‘as planned.’ I am pretty sure Joseph did not plan on spending time in Egypt as a slave prior to becoming second- in-command over Egypt. I am pretty sure Moses did not wake up one day and plan to kill an Egyptian, live in the desert for 40 years, hear God speak to him and then lead an entire nation to freedom in Yahweh’s name. It can be a very good when things do not go according to our plans.
Seminary is not an ‘according to my plans’ time. I’ve spoken with several other students and we all have experienced this dry, the-sap-of-life-is-being-sucked-out-of-me feeling around the second or third month of the semester.
I think we have figured out what it is. For some reason, although I and others have spent years trying to spend daily time, communing with God, asking for guidance and digging into His Word in the desire to have our lives, thoughts and actions shaped by it, we came to seminary and seemed to forget what is important in our personal lives, relationships and specifically, in our relationship with God. Around October I began to wonder why I was so stressed, where my peace had gone, and why I didn’t feel connected to God.
I guess prayer, accountability and personal reflection have something to do with that. I and many classmates traded those things for more study time, more reading and Greek vocab cards.
I hope you are reading this thinking, ‘this guy is an idiot.’ Good! Don’t do what I did. Maybe you are reading this and it is hitting home with you, like it has with so many students I have spoken to over the last month. That is OK, too.
Many other students I spoke with said they, like me, came here and for the first time in years were just students – not the guy leading a Bible study, youth group or ministry. Between not setting aside a quiet time for reflection and not being as active the Church body as we had been for years, we began to feel like the most pious, spiritually numb people in the world.
Seminary is tough. Life is tough. If your seminary experience is pushing you away from God, something needs to change. And here’s a hint – it’s not God; it is always us.
I do not know exactly what this looks like, but I can tell you that we are not alone. Most of the students I have asked either have struggled with this, are struggling with it, or even face it every semester. This is my first semester. I would love to get the answer right the first time, but that rarely happens for me.
I met a student last Sunday who gave me a word that summarized all this, reflection. He told me his struggle had been to reflect upon what he was learning each semester. Once he recognized it and reflected upon how this new understanding should change the way he lived, he was able to apply the lessons to his life and grow in his personal relationship with God. He graduates in May. I am sure he has a better answer than I do. Please leave comments, suggestions, advice, verses and prayer requests.
Welcome to the Journey. It’s ok if you forgot something, do not finish in the time you planned, are led into youth ministry when you wanted to be a lead pastor or go on to be successful in business. The important thing is that when you leave you learn to love God and serve others more than when you came.