“…I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God…for God gave us a spirit not of fear,
but of power, love and self-control.”II Timothy 1:6-7 (ESV)
Many of us are returning to campus for the first time after two tumultuous years of worry due to Covid-19. Yet even apart from the pandemic, our academic environment can generate anxiety. Some may be anxious about working in a department where colleagues are hostile to the Christian faith. Others may be feeling the pressure of completing their dissertations or succeeding in the job market. Some may be just starting as new professors and feeling pressure to prove themselves. As I begin a new semester, I think of these words that the apostle Paul wrote to his young assistant in ministry, Timothy. Paul was a kind mentor. Knowing that Timothy was launching out on his own, Paul acknowledged the reality of fear. But then he countered this with a challenge and a promise. The challenge is to “fan into flame” the faith that God had given Timothy. The promise is that God has given him the tools to do this—a spirit of power, love and self-control.
How do we fan into flame the faith that God has given us, in our work in the university? Clearly, working with integrity, humility and excellence in our fields is fundamental. But how can that flame transform the way we meet the challenging requirements of our jobs, and bring light to our academic communities?
Meeting the Challenge
Perhaps the first step is to recognize that God is working already. My second day as an assistant professor, a student walked into my office, said he’d heard I was a Christian, and that the campus fellowship group needed a faculty advisor. Would I do it? I was still wondering how anyone knew I was a Christian, but I said yes. That one “yes” expanded my vision of what it means to be a professor. I saw that God had gone ahead of me. He had already opened up a way for me to encourage students in their faith, alongside my academic responsibilities. It was not easy. The campus was not always a friendly place to faith. But God was working through it all. Throughout my career I have prayed for opportunities in each place I’ve been privileged to work, and God has answered those prayers. Sometimes, other professors have become curious about my involvement with student groups and started to ask questions.
The second step might be to remember that we are “…created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10, NIV). That includes not only our teaching, but also our research. Early on in my career, the Association of Christian Economists challenged me to write an article about how my faith affects my research. I had never asked that question explicitly. I didn’t know if I had an answer. But I said yes. As I probed into this further, God gave me opportunities to discuss what it means to think Christianly about my work, not only with other believers, but with a number of colleagues from different faith backgrounds. And He keeps bringing fruit out of that work. Fast forward to March 2020, just before the lockdown. The graduate Christian fellowship at my university asked me to come talk about how my “profession (faith) affects my profession (work in economics).” A student from a different faith background heard about the talk. He asked if he and I could talk about this, since he was trying to determine his own beliefs about God.
A third step is to pray for wisdom to approach our work with a different attitude—one that does not conform to this world, but is instead “transformed by the renewing of [our minds]” (Rom. 12:2 NIV). For me this realization was most vivid as I was about to discuss a paper at a conference. The paper was written by two stars in my field, who were sitting in the front row. Despite having been a professor for a good while, I was feeling very small in comparison, and inadequate to the task. My anxiety was growing, when I suddenly realized that this fear was not honoring to God. If God had given me this opportunity, I should approach it with a good spirit—not worrying about what others would think of me. Could I let go of the fear? I said yes. I sat down on the desk up front and took a friendly approach–praising the strengths of the work and offering a few comments that might be useful to the authors. That was a pivotal moment for me. My future was in God’s hands. Trusting him, I did not need to give way to fear.
Equipped for the Task
God has given us a new spirit that enables us to be that bright flame on our campuses. He replaces our fear with power—inner strength to engage our work in a transformative way. We may not feel powerful, but God has promised that His grace is sufficient for us, for His “power is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor:12:9, ESV). Anxiety often disables us. But God’s power enables us, for the “joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh: 8:10, NIV). We are also not alone in this endeavor. For me, active involvement with colleagues in Christian academic societies has given me wisdom, encouragement, and a deeper ability to think Christianly about my field.
To this power, God adds love. Love fans our flame of faith in a radical way in the university. Perhaps it is manifest in the way you acknowledge the contributions of others when you present your own research. Or maybe it is seen in the time you take to write a careful referee report, knowing that it affects the author’s chances for promotion. That love might be seen in the time, integrity, and kindness you demonstrate in your teaching and grading. In an environment where success often seems to depend upon self-promotion, such humble actions stand out. Love also prompts us to pray for opportunities to serve our students and our colleagues, and gives us the courage to say yes.
Finally, to power and love, God adds self-control. We acknowledge that these tasks are too big for us, and we cannot do them on our own. As Spurgeon says, “a sense of our own poverty drives us to Christ, and that is where we need to be, for in Him is our fruit found.”[i] This self-control helps us wait patiently and prayerfully for God, rather than run ahead of him. In my second university position I was excited to continue serving students but had no clear direction for an entire semester. Then two students found me and asked for help to begin a fellowship group. I was glad I waited. This gift of self-control also helps us in dealing with conflict or difficult problems. Spurgeon notes that when we worry about our circumstances, we are trying to do God’s job. “Be wise and attend to the obeying, and let Christ manage the providing.”[ii] Self-control allows us to approach our work calmly and diligently—confident that God will enable us to accomplish all that is needed.
Transforming our Scholarship
Fear of the global economy is palpable these days. I study global trade and economic development, with a special focus on China and India. Even before the pandemic, the news was full of claims that trade had decimated US industries, and that other countries had gotten all the benefits and stolen our jobs. In the US we saw an unprecedented rise in protectionism. With the pandemic came interruptions in global supply chains, and a new wave of fear emerged. Global trade was too risky. Firms should re-shore their production processes.
Can my flame make a difference? Yes. With self-control (or a “sound mind,” as some translations put it) I can both respect those who are fearful, but calmly try to bring information that will help dispel that fear. Economists know that trade is not a zero-sum game but is instead mutually beneficial. In fact, we have overwhelming evidence that global trade has contributed to growth and prosperity in the US, and in countries all over the world. During the pandemic, trade was crucial to maintain access to medical and personal protective equipment.[iii] Evidence suggests that global supply chain trade not only strengthens US industries but can mitigate economic losses and reduce risk.[iv]
The tremendous reduction in extreme poverty since the 1990s–especially in some of the poorest countries–has been caused, in part, by more open trade, and by participation in those global supply chains.[v] In my own work, I’ve found evidence that global supply chain trade has also had beneficial effects on the environment in developing countries.[vi] If we love our neighbors as ourselves, there is no room for treating others as adversaries and inflicting policies that we think favor “us” while harming “them.” Ironically, those same policies typically harm ourselves. At the same time, economists do recognize that while most people within a country benefit from trade, a smaller number will face losses. Some countries have programs to address these losses, but they often aren’t very successful. Loving our neighbor also requires acknowledging this and working to address these needs so that all may flourish.
Saying yes to the opportunities God brings us is not easy. Sometimes we are tempted to just keep our heads down—especially in the face of hostility toward our faith. I imagine Timothy felt the same way. But when we are willing to fan the flame of faith, we see God work in marvelous ways.
[i] Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Wheaton: Crossway, 2003. August 28 evening devotion.
[ii] Ibid., December 19 morning devotion.
[iii] World Bank and World Trade Organization, Trade Therapy: Deepening Cooperation to Strengthen Pandemic Defenses. Washington, DC: World Bank, 2022.
[iv] Handley, K., et al., “Rising Import Tariffs, Falling Export Growth: When Modern Supply Chains Meet Old-Style Protectionism, NBER Working Paper 26611, 2020 ; C. Ariola, et al., “Localising value chains in the post-COVID world would add to the economic losses and make domestic economies more vulnerable,” VoxEU Nov.15, 2020.
[v] World Bank, World Development Report 2020 Trading for Development in the Age of Global Value Chains. Washington, DC: World Bank, 2019; World Bank, The Role of Trade in Ending Poverty. Washington, DC: World Bank, 2015; J. Dean, “Trade with Developing Countries in a Global Value Chain World,” Faith and Economics, 72:51-59, 2018.
[vi] J. Dean and M. Lovely, “Trade Growth, Production Fragmentation, and China’s Environment,” in R. Feenstra and S. Wei, eds., China’s Growing Role in World Trade. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 2010; J. Dean and M. Lovely, “GVCs, FDI, and Industrial Pollution Intensity in China,” manuscript 2022.
About the author:
Judith Dean is Professor of International Economics at Brandeis University. She holds a Ph.D. from Cornell University. Much of her teaching and research focuses on the interrelationships between trade, poverty and the environment in emerging markets like China and India. Judy has served on the Boards of Gordon College, and World Relief. She is an active member of the Association of Christian Economists, and a member of the Editorial Boards of Faith and Economics and the Christian Relief, Development and Advocacy Journal. When not teaching you might find her en route to India or singing Mozart.
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