‘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?’
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. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=33460 [retrieved January 19, 2015]. Original source: Images donated by Anne Richardson Womack, Vanderbilt University, and James T. Womack, Montgomery Bell Academy, Nashville, TN.
About the author:
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.