Last week, we began a new series by an anonymous contributor, a recent PhD recipient who has been involved with ESN and wanted to share lessons he learned during graduate school. Earlier this week, I received word that our guest writer has accepted a new faculty position at a
state private Christian university. Praise God!
Here is Part 2 (of 4) of “13 Ways of Looking at Graduate School.” Click here to read Part 1. ~ Mike
5. Look for the “poor and needy” to befriend and invest in
Jesus said in Luke 14:12-14:
When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
I have been learning to look for the unbeautiful people, the unpopular people, the lonely people in the corner of the room with no one to talk to, the people who can’t help you in return, the boring people, the physically handicapped people, the international students who can’t speak good english, the nasty people who don’t have any friends, the poor people, the people who don’t have any connections, the weird janitor who never smiles, the frumpily-dressed grad student who smells like he rarely showers, etc… to seek to befriend them in order to point them toward Jesus… to agape-love them, to pray for them, etc.
I have a long way to go to consistently obey Jesus’ directive. As an aside, I have noticed that many benefits and wonderful friendships have come my way because of this habit. But that’s not a sufficient reason to do it. Rather, let us seek to befriend these people because of love for God.
6. Life is short
So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. — Moses, Psalm 90:12
I’ve been learning to focus on the things that will last for eternity. Namely, God and other persons such as family, classmates, and coworkers. Classes, experiments, papers, and grad school will not last for eternity (hooray!). It is easy to accidentally “depersonalize” fellow hospital personnel, patients, even classmates (because of the multitude of faces in the hallways/sidewalks, preoccupation with personal concerns, constant turnover of students, etc), but people have only a few years on earth, and then they die and will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. So we need to take every opportunity to point them to Christ (Eph. 5:16).
“Sowing the seed of the gospel” is often just as important as “reaping the harvest” of conversion to Christ. An attitude of love (and discernment) asks “How much is this other person ready for right now?” and then boldly progresses up to that point. I need to grow so much in this area.
7. Good works are not enough
I’ve noticed during my years in grad school the crucial, central, importance of the Biblical doctrine of justification-by-faith-alone (Rom. 3-4, Gal. 2, Eph. 2:8-9). There is an insidious tendency to forget/neglect/sideline this truth to make room for lots of social-gospel/good-works/helping-others/missions-trips/being-nice-to-your-neighbor type talk (which, themselves, are also extremely important, but always secondary, just as Romans 12 comes after Romans 1-8).
I notice this tendency in myself as well as others. It’s easy to slip into the mode of trying to make myself “better in God’s sight” by doing more good works and, essentially at the root of that deadly attitude, “more likely to go to heaven” by doing more good works. Even the other points in my own blog post here are primarily good-works focused, which is why I felt the need for this point. Most of our nonChristian classmates and coworkers are Very Nice People, but because they are not trusting in Jesus alone for salvation, their outward niceness is only a veneer over an evil, unregenerate heart.
I need to constantly remind myself that my standing as 100% perfectly-righteous before God is based on Jesus’ righteousness, not my own (2 Cor 5:21). I need to remind myself of this every single day. Because He permanently “justified” me (writing me down in the ‘righteous people list’ despite the fact that I’m a sinner), I can serve Him with joy and gratitude.
8. My identity is in Christ
I’ve increasingly seen the importance of rooting my identity/sufficiency/confidence in Christ and in His unfailing love for me, NOT in academic performance (exam scores), research performance (successful experiments and papers accepted), moral performance (how spiritually successful was my day in avoiding sin and staying close to God?), popularity, or witnessing performance (did I say the right thing in that conversation?), or anything else (Phil. 3:1-14). In this way my days do not have to be emotional roller coasters, but can proceed pegged at constant joy and gratitude.