For many students, taking Bible and theology courses at a seminary or Christian college is a rich experience that stimulates spiritual growth and maturity. Ironically, some have the opposite experience. They leave the Christian institution feeling spiritually dry and find that their passion for Christ has waned. How could that possibly happen? It not only happens in Christian higher education, but also in our churches.
There is no simple answer to this and reasons vary from person to person. Unresolved sin issues, broken relationships, financial pressure, church strife, busyness, and a host of other factors can contribute to this withering.
Yet I have discovered that the Apostle Paul speaks quite directly to this issue. He seemed to be very aware that a purely cognitive study of the Bible and theology was inadequate to promote spiritual growth. There is a spiritual dynamic that needs to be taken into consideration both by students and teachers.
At the outset of a letter he wrote that is extraordinarily rich in theology, Paul addresses the potential head-heart disconnect that could prevent the theology he proclaims from penetrating deeply into the souls of the believers he addresses. He does so with prayer. He reports to the Ephesians that he is regularly praying for them—not just for their felt needs and present crises, but for something powerful to happen as they meditated on the incredible truths about God and his plan of salvation. He assures them that,
17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (NIV)
Paul is well aware of the fact that the Spirit needs to take the truths about God and his ways and impress them onto the hearts of his people. He echoes the words of Isaiah 11:2 in his prayer that speaks of the ministry of the Spirit in the life of the Messiah (“the Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and understanding”) and applies it to the new covenant ministry of the Spirit in all believers. Paul knows that all of the riches of the theology that he shares in Ephesians 1-3 will not have its intended impact unless the Spirit of God opens the eyes of their hearts to receive it and comprehend its relevance to their lives.
All of us who teach the Scripture are aware of the importance of communicating the word of God in dynamic and relevant ways. We also work hard at finding creative ways of utilizing the classroom time effectively for enhancing the learning experiences of students.
Yet one of the most important things that the Apostle Paul models for all of us who teach the Word of God is praying for our students. In the busyness of life and the haste of last minute preparations, this can become an easy thing to neglect. But perhaps we should all consider praying regularly for all of our students by name—that the Spirit of God would be powerfully at work in their lives taking the awesome truths of Scripture and searing these truths deeply and permanently on their souls.