Editor’s note: A powerful piece received a few weeks ago, I encourage you to join the author and myself in prayer for the new term. . . .
I have to admit a certain fear as the new semester approaches. Not so much about the teaching itself. It’s a lot of work, but I’ve done it before. What incites fear in me is the realization that I — with all my insecurities, faults and failures — am again being given sixty-some students for four hours a week for fifteen weeks. This is more time than they will spend with their parents, their pastors, and probably most of their friends. And they will be tested to ensure they pay attention to what I say. I think of the influence some of my college professors had on me, positive and negative, and I wonder what impact I will have when these students look back some day.
This past week registration opened up for the spring semester, and I have been periodically — OK, maybe a bit obsessively — checking the online rosters to see who will be in my classes. With that on my mind, I read the scriptures and my morning devotional readings this morning and processed what was on my mind in my prayer journal:
“Learn to listen to me even while you are listening to other people. As they open their souls to your scrutiny, you are on holy ground. You need the help of My Spirit to respond appropriately. Ask Him to think through you, live through you, love through you.” — Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, Oct. 31.
“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” — John 7:38
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. . . . It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another. . . . Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations —these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit.” — C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
Lord, once again I am awed by the responsibility you have given me, the opportunity to speak into the lives of students this coming semester. Right now I have 55 students registered. I suspect when registration is over, it will reach 65 or so, 65 students from diverse backgrounds with a variety of interests, cares, concerns, expectations, and experiences. They come with a range of attitudes toward you. They come with a range of attitudes toward me and my classes — from enthusiasm and openness to fear and resentment. And I have to admit my own prejudices toward them. Some I like already based solely on their photos and academic records. Others I’m intimidated by. Out of 65 students, some will face health problems, personal problems and family issues I can’t even imagine. Some will be angry at You or bitter toward Christians. Some will be bitter toward the university, or toward me as an individual. Many will be scared as graduation approaches and they prepare to enter a world that feels hostile to them. You have given them to me this semester for four hours a week. I don’t know what you’ll be doing in their lives this semester, but it looks like I’ll be a part of it.
Lord, I give my classroom over to you. I’ve dedicated my home to you in the past, and I’ve even prayed over my office, but this semester I put the physical space of classroom 315 into your hands. I ask for your presence to be felt there, that your love would flow. Help me to recognize that this room you have prepared for me is Holy Ground, and that the students in it are immortal beings. Help me to see that you are there ahead of me, already at work in the lives of each student in the class. This is a huge responsibility and a tremendous honor. I pray for your guidance as I deliver lectures and guide discussions that challenge students and take them out of their comfort zone. I pray for words to speak clearly and explain difficult concepts. I ask you to put the words in my mouth, words of Truth that will nudge students toward a deeper knowledge of you and a better understanding of the world around them. I pray that the classroom be a safe place where students can learn from their mistakes and grow into the men and women You have called them to be.
I pray for protection, Lord, protection against saying things that may hurt students or offend them. I pray for protection against comments that may be ambiguous or easily misunderstood. I pray for wisdom as I intentionally raise difficult questions and challenge students’ worldviews, that students trust me as a teacher even when they do not understand my methods or appreciate my approach. I pray for your grace so that even when I mess up, when I do come to class underprepared, when I don’t know the answer to students’ questions, when I unintentionally offend, that You would redeem my weakness, that these would become moments of learning and grace.
I pray for those students who intimidate me a bit. I pray for the athletes in my classes, many of whom will be missing classes or coming to class after games or tournaments. I pray for their teams, that they would represent our school well, and for the pressure facing student athletes living in the public eye. I pray also for their academic work, that their athletic involvement not hinder their education. Help me to serve and support them.
I pray also for the international students, especially in my classes which require so much reading and writing. I know from past experience that some may cheat or plagiarize, in particular given the pressure to perform well in a foreign language. I pray that you would help me to support them in the extra challenges they face in my class, both language and culture. Help me to recognize what they can bring to the class, new perspectives and ideas that push me out of my comfort zone. May your living water flow through me as they encounter not only me, but You in me.
I pray for the graduating seniors, another group that I’m a bit afraid of. Many are resentful of having to take yet another Gen. Ed. class when they want to be focusing on their senior thesis, job interviews, grad school applications, and their friends. Help me to support them during this difficult year of transition. I pray that my class will provide them with tools and insights that will serve them well in their future, helping them to make the world around them a better place.
I give my office to you as well, Lord, and my office hours. I ask that You reside there, that Your presence be felt in the conversations that take place. Given the kinds of classes I teach and the issues students face, there will likely be conversations that go far beyond the academic. As students “open their souls to scrutiny,” help me to treat them with the respect they deserve, that Your love and Your life would flow through me, that your living water would wash over them. Help me to respect and love them even when they fail to meet the standards set for them by me, their parents, or the university. Help me to pray for them; grant me wisdom about praying with them. I pray that far beyond what they learn about the “nations, cultures, arts, civilizations” of this world — and that’s indeed what I teach — they will come to better appreciate the immortal beings around them — their friends, neighbors, coworkers — and to focus on Your eternal presence in their lives.