Dear (No Longer) New Graduate Student,
I pray that you’ve seen Jesus show up in the ways we knew He would since I last wrote. I wish I could hear in detail all the ways He’s surprised you, the times He’s stood by you and refused to leave you alone in the library, lab, office, and/or classroom when you wanted to give up.
And just in this moment when those final papers, reports, and/or experiments need to move from abstract notions in your head to cold, precise, tangible words on paper, you have found yourself with nothing but anxiety, distraction, and total and complete exhaustion. Gone is the excitement, the extra stores of adrenaline and energy and ability to cope with the unpredictable and humbling experience that is graduate school. Right when you need intellectual wonder to drive your curiosity and a surge in your capacity to come up with new ideas, your stress takes over. Instead of researching and writing, all you can do is sit being stressed about researching and writing.
If there’s any time of your first year in the program that you’ve felt downtrodden, at your wit’s end, and out of hope, I’d imagine it’s this time. And the temptation is to think in these tenuous moments that this is where Jesus won’t come through for you, that you won’t be able to finish this leg of the race, that you’ll at last collapse into a puddle of incoherent nervous breakdown. Your life isn’t on the line with your grades, published articles, and/or completed experiments, but it sure feels like it is.
It turns out that Daniel, of Old Testament fame, was in the same sort of situation. Only in his case, his life really was on the line. King Nebuchadnezzar had just given the order to kill all the wise men in his kingdom (NASB 2:13). Daniel and his friends had the seen the provision of God in a foreign land, but it now seemed that they had very good reason to doubt that God would provide for their very lives.
Scripture doesn’t give us details into how Daniel felt when he heard the news, but it does tell us how he acted. Daniel asked the king for time, a deadline when Daniel would either interpret the king’s dream, or likely be killed along with his friends (NASB 2:16). Instead of focusing on the task before him and trying to solve the problem himself, Daniel demonstrates that he knows where all wisdom comes from. Together with his friends, he asks God for wisdom (NASB 2:17-18). And God answers prayer and gives Daniel the wisdom to interpret the King’s dream (NASB 2:19). That God provides wisdom for Daniel in time to save his life should give you and I great hope in this season of our lives. God knows our needs, both physical and intellectual, and His faithfulness to provide for them has not changed one iota since we began this process.
When Daniel receives the wisdom from the Lord that will now save his life, his first response is to “bless the God of heaven” (NASB 2:19). That should be our response too. We should bank on the faithfulness of God to provide us wisdom, and should praise Him, even in advance, for the faithfulness He will show to us in giving us the wisdom and insight into our studies that we need right now.
Daniel’s praise to God is magnificent:
“Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him.
It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings;
He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.
It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness,
And the light dwells with Him” (NASB 2:20-22)
Daniel praises God because He knows that God is for him, and that He is the one who gives human beings wisdom. Right about this time of the academic year, my temptation is to focus on the darkness of my intellectual work, to turn my eyes to all of the things I don’t know yet, to all of the original ideas that just aren’t being produced by my limited brain, to the expectations of the academy that I’m just not meeting. But Daniel’s words remind us that the Lord “reveals the profound and hidden things,” that He both knows the things hidden in the intellectual darkness we’re trying to sift through, and that “the light dwells with Him.” Doesn’t that image give you hope? The light that makes great caverns of knowledge bright dwells with the One who loves you more than you can fathom, the very One who sent you on this journey up the mountain of graduate school in the first place.
Daniel’s life is saved. So will yours be. The ending of this semester may be far messier than you thought it would be. Elaborate research plans and schedules may have collapsed long ago and the piles of finals and grading may seem unconquerable at this point. But when you emerge from the other side, holding tightly to your Jesus, the One who “light dwells with,” return to Daniel.
As Daniel begins to tell the king the interpretation of the dream, he tells the king boldly, “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days . . . But as for me, this mystery has not been revealed to me for any wisdom residing in me more than in any other living man” (NASB 2:28, 30). Daniel’s humility and worship of God is thorough and deep. Given an opportunity to gain notoriety and prestige with his capacity for wisdom, he turns away from it, and first honors God as the giver of wisdom and then takes the opportunity to acknowledge his own need for God.
This is what keeps us from the watchful eye of our CVs and the desire to spend this season earning the approval of faculty and colleagues. We were “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,” now we are “vessels of mercy” being used to “make known the riches of His glory” (NASB Romans 9:22-23). This is our calling: making known the riches of His glory. Focusing on this task gives us freedom from the anxiety-causing desires to seek the approval of men rather than Christ.
Oh (No Longer) New Graduate Student, I pray that you take great heart from the faithfulness of God to His servant Daniel. I pray that you take the risk moment-by-moment to trust that His character has not changed since the day He provided wisdom for Daniel, that He is still the One who “light dwells with,” who “reveals the profound and hidden things.” I hope for you that your heart is brimming, at least for a few moments right now, in thankfulness for this incredible opportunity you have been given, to become a scholar, to devote your time to developing your mind, in pursuit of advancing the Kingdom of Christ on earth. Let’s hold fast to the truth of the Lord’s provision of wisdom in the coming weeks—we’re going to need it.
In the fight with you,