Not every class I take involves scripture reading, and when they do it is with a restricted agenda. Ironically, in Bible college, I read more about the Bible than I do from the Bible itself. As a result of this, I often drown out God’s voice with thoughts of homework.
My journal assignment for class this week is how to avoid letting the Bible become just another textbook, and how to live in the text as opposed to above it. This topic comes at an opportune time, for I have been reflecting on the issue lately. Recently our small group did a study in Jonah, and we were asked to identify what our Tarshish is. Tarshish is the city to which Jonah fled to escape God’s calling. While I am in school pursuing God’s calling, I frequently run to homework to avoid reading the Bible or volunteering at the food pantry. I have noticed it has had an effect on me, and the time between devotional Bible study and serving the community not only gets greater, but it becomes easier to neglect. Next, it affects my prayer life, and I start talking less to God. There is a chain of events that occurs which leads a person away from God, and I can see why so many people lose faith in seminary. This is termed seminary or Bible college burnout. I feel this form of stress is more dangerous than other forms of academic burnout because it affects not only your studies but also your relationship with God, and may lead to your rejection of Him.
I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and inerrant in all that it teaches. If I thought otherwise, I wouldn’t have devoted my life to the study of it. This belief is not just an empty Creed I recite to make myself feel better; it is a belief justified by the evidence. So, why do I sometimes act like the Bible is just a book?
Jesus states that we should “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (English Standard Version, Mk. 12:30). Notice the conjunction in his statement? We are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. I think this suggests that there needs to be a balance between these areas. Academically, I am loving God with my mind, but what about the rest? I need to let my academic study build up my devotional life rather than let it build over it.
This is an area in which I have been actively working to improve. There are certain steps I have recently taken to correct this imbalance between the academic and devotional love of God. I would recommend these three steps to anyone considering pursuing academic study of the Bible.
- Pray! Do not let your prayer life slip! If your prayer time begins to slide: pray for more time to pray! Pray for balance. Pray for guidance. Pray continually (1 Thess. 5:17). A good tip for if you notice that you have gone through most of the day and have forgotten to pray is to leave yourself sticky notes on your desk, or in your car to remind yourself. Schedule time and make prayer a habit.
- Schedule time for devotional Bible study. It sounds simple, but it is easy to let homework deadlines, day-jobs, and family obligations push this area aside. My family and I work through a devotional Bible study together before school in the morning and before bed at night. Another area I have found time for this is on lunch at work. I use to bring homework but never accomplished much in 30 minutes. Reading the Bible for those 30 minutes, however, accomplishes so much more. This action also has the bonus of witnessing to your co-workers. I have lost count of how many discussions this has sparked, and how many other people have been inspired to read their Bible again simply because they saw me reading mine.
- Try to read part of the Bible not directly related to your current homework subject. I have found that when there is an overlap, my devotional reading takes on more of an academic mindset and instead of asking how I can apply it to my life I am looking at how I can work it into my paper.
- Get together with a friend, share your fears and desires, and keep each other accountable. Do something non-academic together. Recently I just ran errands with a friend of mine, and it was refreshing to be able to share that time with him.
- Keep a journal. These journals for class have been fantastic for not only helping me gather my thoughts and think through issues but also making the lessons practical. I hope to continue with the journal once the class is over.
These few actions have helped me to begin to live in the Bible, rather than above it. How about you do you have any suggestions on steps one can take to avoid becoming burned out spiritually?