When Martin Luther was busiest, he prayed the longest. I think he was onto something.
I had one goal when I entered college and that was to get out. Please don't misunderstand. I wasn't anti-education. True, I was immature and hadn't yet grown to fully appreciate a college degree, but a degree was a non-negotiable in my family and I accepted that. But come on, how many years can you expect a guy to sit in alphabetical rows staring at chalkboards? The thought of four more seemed almost unbearable.
To my surprise, though, that 18 percent of my life (up to that point) passed fairly quickly. So quickly that suddenly I looked up and had only one semester of school left. I was euphoric. I set up an appointment with my academic adviser (and I use the term adviser very loosely here) as a precaution to make sure I hadn't done something stupid like not acquired enough credits to graduate.
I explained to him that I was ready to wrap things up and needed to know if all was on track for a spring graduation.
"There shouldn't be any problem," he said.
"Great, so what courses do I need to take to finish up this semester?"
"Oh, you mean this spring? Ha ha ha ha ha ha."
After he caught his breath, he said I would need an additional 21 credit hours to graduate, that anything over 18 required a Dean's approval and that one of the courses I needed would have to be taken by correspondence. This is what happens to students who don't meet their academic adviser until their final semester.
"You've got to be kidding!" I said. "How many credit hours does it take to get a degree in this place? I've got enough here for at least a couple!"
He explained to me that while it was true that I had enough total credit hours to graduate, the accumulation of hours does not a graduate make. He said they had to also be the right credit hours.
"For instance," he said scanning my course history, "as a Journalism major, maybe rather than taking Golf, um, twice, you should have taken one course in, say, Writing."
"What, journalists don't play golf? If I ever get a chance to interview Tiger I don't want to come across uneducated."
"That's reassuring. I assume you also have plans to interview Martha Stewart."
"That Gardening class was not easy. Plants require a lot of nurturing."
"Physics? You didn't have to take Physics."
"I did when I was a Science major."
I had had about all the advising I could take for four years, and the facts were written on the wall anyway — I had to finish school and therefore had to acquire 21 credit hours that semester. You're of course wondering why not just split it up, maybe do a little summer school, right? Go to summer school, have a little fun-in-the-sun, postpone employment for a little while. No big deal, right? You obviously haven't met my parents.
I set the wheels in motion to take seven — yes, SEVEN — courses my last three-and-a-half months of school. First thing on the to-do list: Dean's approval. Hmmm. Scratch that. First on the list, find out who Dean is and where his office is.
To my surprise, getting a Dean's approval turned out to be the easiest part. In the Dean's office a thin, bookish lady with big glasses and hair in a bun just rolled her eyes and said, "It's your life," and thunked some sheet of paper with a big red rubber stamp that said, literally, "Dean's Approval." What a job Dean has! People coming around all day begging your approval. I should have majored in Dean.
I signed up for all my courses, including Writing by correspondence, and made all necessary changes to my so-called social life. No more intramural basketball, which my team took extremely well. I kept my job working at a sorority house for the money and for other obvious reasons.
About the only thing outside of classes that took much time was a small Bible study I led. I loved doing that, but I wasn't sure how I could do a good job with it and keep up with classes. I thought, I'll have to quit leading the Bible study. There's no way I can keep up with all these classes and do the Bible study. Then I thought, NO! That's just what the devil would want me to do! Then, But wait! God wants me to do well in school, doesn't He? So maybe I shouldn't lead the Bible study. Then, Of course, God also wants me to grow in my faith and help others grow in theirs, so maybe I should keep leading the Bible study. Welcome to my prayer life.
Although I did not endorse this practice in my Bible study, in my desperation to hear God I did my customary let-the-Bible-fall-open-to-any-page-and-put-my-finger-on-a-verse-to-see-what-God-wants-to-tell-me. He told me:
All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be detestable to you. There are, however, some winged creatures that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper. But all other winged creatures that have four legs you are to detest (Leviticus 11:20-23).
I don't know what that meant, but I decided I would keep leading the Bible study as long as I could handle the load. It was a step of faith, but one I believed God wanted me to take.
As it turned out, friends gathering weekly to pray and fellowship and study God's Word was the very thing that got me through that semester. Each week I tried to think of a way to get out of it, convincing myself I just didn't have time for it. But I would always go ahead and do it, and every time I felt refreshed.
I remember one night in particular when I almost cancelled at the last minute because I was behind on some assignments, I was stressed and felt spent. I wasn't prepared for the study and thought, so what if we don't have it this one time? It's not that big a deal. Maybe tonight I'll just tell everyone that it's "individual quiet time" night and to spend the evening somewhere thanking God for all His many blessings and then I can get back to my studies.
Just as I started to pick up the phone to call everyone to tell them my idea for the night, there was a knock on my apartment door. It was Craig.
"Man, am I looking forward to tonight!" he said. "I'm having the toughest week. I don't think I've ever been this early for Bible study."
Great. No, he had never been that early and in fact usually showed up about halfway through. He plopped down and started telling me about his horrible week and before I could tell him to leave, more people started to arrive. Before I knew it, everyone was there, it was time to start and I still had no idea what to do.
"Guys, I'll be honest. I haven't had time to get ready for tonight," I confessed. "I've got so much studying to do and I'm behind and the stress is killing me right now and I'm overwhelmed and I'm not sure why I thought I could take 21 credit hours and — "
"'And I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord.'" I looked over and Craig had his Bible open and he was reading from Jeremiah 29. "Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
The room became quiet with God's presence. I was overwhelmed. Not with stress as a few minutes before, but with amazement at God's faithfulness and goodness. We spent the evening in prayer and thanksgiving and I was reassured once again that my life was not out of control, but very much under His control.
To my parents' delight and the astonishment of my adviser I survived the semester and graduated in the spring, right on schedule, but not before learning one of the most interesting ironies about God's economy — when I'm weak, I'm strong. That semester taught me that I'm at my best when I've reached the end of me, when I'm desperate for Him.
As I walked backed to my apartment from my last class for the last time, I thought about all I'd learned and thanked God once again for His faithfulness. The campus was almost empty. It was a rare moment of quiet, and off in the distance katydids were starting their summer song.
Copyright 2005 John Thomas. All rights reserved.