Scholar’s Compass: Persevering in God’s call to Graduate School

Calling Abraham

‘By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.’

Hebrews 11:8 (NIV)

‘God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?’

Numbers 23:19


In Hebrews 11:8, we see Abraham following God’s call to go to a new land, a place where God had promised his family would multiply and influence history. But Abraham had no clear idea of where he was going! The way and the destination were not immediately obvious. What he knew was God’s promise to have a son, but even then he struggled with doubt, as we see in Genesis 15:2: “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless?”

While Abraham believed God and acted on God’s promises, he was far from sure how everything would turn out. He embarked on a life-long journey of trusting God, even though he didn’t understand how God would fulfill his promises.

Sometimes a graduate program, especially a Ph.D. program, can seem like an endless journey in which it’s hard to know if it will ever end, or end in success. The obstacles to finishing are mountainous, and the path treacherous. What if lab results don’t come out the way they are needed for the dissertation? What if the revisions required for publication are enormous and require a whole new direction of research? It’s enough to lead to despair.

Yet, knowing God’s call to your academic career, and remembering his immutability can be an enormous encouragement. Has God called you? Then he will not revoke that call. Has he promised fulfillment? Then he will not revoke his promise. “Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” He is sovereign over lab results, peer reviewers, and academic advisors.

Most people hit a wall at some point in their Ph.D. program, and literally believe it is all over. But they press ahead, finding new research solutions, or even in some cases, finding a new advisor. God is faithful to his call, and if he has called you to your program, he will be faithful to you as well.

In this new year and the beginning of a new semester or quarter, may we remember God’s faithfulness. He is present and immutable, with us no matter what circumstances we face.


Can you remember a time in your own life when you despaired of the outcome, but God was faithful to see you through? What did God do to show you his faithfulness? Spend some time thanking him right now for coming to your aid.

Read Hebrews 8:11-16. Abraham never saw the literal fulfillment of his descendants inheriting the land. What would it have felt like to have been Abraham, and not experienced that fulfillment in his lifetime? What can that teach us about trusting God in the long term today?


Sovereign Lord, thank you that you reign over all. Thank you that you clothe the lilies and watch over the sparrow. No request of ours is too small for you. Help us to believe in your presence and trust in your sovereignty when we face great obstacles. Show us your faithfulness and goodness that we may make your name great.

Image: St. Savin – Calling of Abraham, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved January 19, 2015]. Original source: Images donated by Anne Richardson Womack, Vanderbilt University, and James T. Womack, Montgomery Bell Academy, Nashville, TN.

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Mark Hansard

Mark is on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Manhattan, Kansas, where he ministers to Faculty at Kansas State University and surrounding campuses. He has been in campus ministry 25 years, 14 of those years in faculty ministry. He has a Master's degree in philosophy and theology from Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, CA, and is passionate about Jesus Christ and the life of the mind. Mark, his wife and three daughters make their home in Manhattan.

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    Robert Jacobsen commented on January 20, 2015 Reply

    Thanks for posting this much needed and succinct reminder!

      Quinn commented on August 11, 2017 Reply

      I’ve stumbled onto your blog. I’m doubting my unique adventure into academia and I’m not sure I believe in God. I go to church, profess faith, and take pictures for the church, but I’m living a double standard in my heart. I don’t identify with what the church is, even though it’s a solid community of people, and shit keeps happening. I want to quit grad school. Last year was great in comparison to the past summer. School starts in two weeks and I’m wanting to drop and leave it behind.

        Mark commented on August 16, 2017 Reply

        Hi Quinn, thanks for your honesty in your post. I think God’s delighted with our honesty, even if we’re not in the ideal place he’d like us to be. And I know He’s listening. May I offer a prayer for you? “God, thank you for Quinn and his honesty here. Lead him and guide him about what he’s to do with his graduate program. And lead him and guide him in his spiritual journey, as he works through what he believes and how he is to live. God, show Quinn you are there, and who you are. Help him feel your presence with him, and give him confidence in your guidance. Amen.”

    Omar commented on January 21, 2015 Reply

    But what if God’s purpose in calling me to study my PhD at the present time *isn’t* that I actually complete the degree? There are all sorts of other reasons he might have for me being here. Obviously I should still trust him, but my faith in the fact that it’s God’s will that I am studying this PhD at the moment should not equate to faith that it his necessarily his will that I finish it.

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