As we prepare for the academic year in this complicated moment, what journey is God inviting us to take? ESN Director Bob Trube reflects on the choices we make at key moments of our lives and callings.
When you hear the term “critical junctures” at the beginning of an academic year, your mind may go to the decisions that may have important consequences for your academic career—the choice of an advisor, defining a research interest, or deciding which journal to which you submit an article.
What about junctures in your faith journey? Too commonly, we think of faith in static terms. “I have faith in Christ, and thus I belong to God.” What if we considered the life of faith a journey, one in which we flourished or languished?
My observation is that Christians who have flourished spiritually in their academic lives are those who have made choices at critical junctures of life that take them more deeply into a relationship of trusting and knowing the faithfulness of God in their lives.
Some of the choices are big ones. I’ve known some graduate students who have changed advisors mid-stream because they felt, whether for explicitly Christian content, or other reasons, to follow their advisor would be an unacceptable compromise. In some cases, it meant enrolling at a different institution. One friend turned away from a lucrative area of research both because of the sources of the research funding and the applications of that research.
More often, the choices may not seem large, but they still represent a possible turning aside from the path of faith, to one of self-reliance, fear and anxiety, of living by sight rather than having one’s life shaped by unseen realities. The temptation might be to defer seeking community with other Christians, because you just don’t think you can take time for that and get all your work done. For the same reason, you might decide to give in to the 24/7 expectations of some and neglect a day of rest, of Sabbath.
There is also the juncture of deciding how honest you will be about your identity as a Christian. This doesn’t mean posting gaudy Christian posters in your office or study carrel. A former leader of InterVarsity, Steve Hayner, once said, “I used to pray for greater boldness in sharing my faith; now I pray that I won’t duck.” While we are not to boast of our good deeds, we are called to be salt and light. John Stott commented that we are tempted to reveal what we should conceal and conceal what we should reveal.
Perhaps the most important juncture you may face as the year begins, and as the work piles on, will be the question of what spiritual practices you will embrace. What will enable you to be nourished and guided in paths of righteousness, and to join with God’s people in worship, mutual care, Christian witness and service? Choosing and guarding these will be a step of faith, trusting that there will be enough time for all else.
“That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.”
Psalm 1:3, New International Version