Every new school year there seems to be published several articles (e.g., here and here) with lots of very good advice for new seminarians (or college students in general). I heartily affirm everything in those posts. However, I do have one other piece of advice that I was given in my first semester of seminary that kept me both sane and productive throughout my whole seminary career. This advice is very simple, hugely impactful, but often either explicitly marginalized or implicitly rejected.
My first semester in seminary included a wonderful sermon by Alistair Begg in chapel. The most impactful portion of the sermon for me was a brief aside that he gave in the middle. He exhorted us seminary students to honor the Lord’s Day. He encouraged us to take a break from our studies for a whole day. This seemed like a simple request, especially to a young buck seminarian with no children, one part time job, and no real idea of the seminary workload. So, I resolved to not do any homework, studying, paper writing, or assigned reading on the Lord’s Day.
This ended up being one of the most beneficial pieces of advice that I received during my seminary years. Taking an entire day off every week is an idea that is either explicitly denied by most seminary professors today, or at least minimized. We tend to idolize those men to whom God has given immense productivity (e.g., Al Mohler’s continued prolificness is astounding), but we never highlight men who are faithful in their Lord’s Day observance. Sadly, just like the world, we want men of action, men of efficiency, men of effectiveness, not men of apparent idleness.
However, I found that if I was faithful to give God 6 days of faithful work and 1 day of rest, then I had plenty of time to get all my work accomplished. I honestly believed that God allowed me to have sustained productivity throughout the 6 days because I took 1 day and gave it to him.
One of the most common objections to this advice is “I’m just too busy.” I have heard it from lots of young seminarians. I understand this objection. By the end of my seminary time I was working three part-time jobs, a full time PhD student, father of 2 with one more on the way, and serving as a writer and editor as well. I knew business. However, I can tell you that God never let me get burned out, overwhelmed, or stressed out. I don’t say this to be prideful; rather, I say this to boast in my lord and his faithfulness.
It’s just for a while.
Another objection that I would receive to my exhortations for weekly rest was that “this is just a season” or “I will rest after seminary.” These guys would tell me that this season of life was just too busy and that they would have time for rest after graduation. However, this is a dangerous assumption. I saw guys flame out of seminary. Private sin, burn out, ministry fatigue, and just plain physical exhaustion were all semesterly examples of why regular rest was important. I am not claiming that faithful Lord’s Day observance will necessarily prevent all these things. But I will tell you that I saw a much greater propensity toward making an idol of work/school among the guys that never rested. Lord’s Day observance has a wonderful way of putting our priorities back in order and helping to fight against making an idol of work by reminding us of those things which are most important, the eternal things. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Lord’s Day observance can be neglected “just for a season” without any ill effects. God honors the faithful who give the first fruits of our income; would he not also honor the first fruits of our even more precious commodity: time? I believe that he does.