Lessons from Father Abraham

Genesis 12 begins the story of Abram, a man called by God to undertake a difficult journey to a foreign land with limited instructions and little detail.

Abram (Abraham) ended up listening and obeying God. He had his faith tested and strengthened along the way and was ultimately used by God to build a great nation, Israel, through whom God revealed and accomplished salvation for all peoples.

Like Abraham, adult learners are called by God to take a difficult journey through uncharted territory for the eventual benefit of the peoples we are called to serve. We have a lot in common with Abraham.

a. Abraham’s call initially consisted of only one set of directions (Genesis 12:1):  go. It’s alright for us not to see the full picture of our educational journey. We “go” one class at a time, trusting God to lead us along the way.

b. The call required courage. Abraham came to understand the limits of his cognitive understanding. Similarly, intellectual work challenges us and forces us to reckon with what we don’t know as we arrive at a place of deeper wisdom and insight.

c. The call required obedience. Abraham wrestled with some of God’s commands (see Gen. 22). While God does not call us to a blind obedience to everything a professor tells us, we are expected to run the race set before us. This includes reading and following a syllabus!

d. The call involved his family. Abraham’s family was implicated in all that his journey entailed. We, too, have family, friends, and communities who partner with us in the good and bad we experience. We are not alone – and this can be both an encouragement and an ongoing responsibility that tests our strength.

e. The call requires sacrifice. Abraham yielded his time and stood to lose his earthly wealth in fulfilling his call. Similarly, we’re making an investment in God’s Kingdom by investing in our degrees. This means we sometimes forego other opportunities and pleasures in pursuit of God’s call.

f. The call was ultimately not about Abraham. Although he experienced the blessings of obeying God, Abraham’s story is really less about Abraham and more about how God was using Abraham to serve others. Our academic credentials are really tools for service. We should never lose sight of those we’re called to serve.

You didn’t think you had much in common with Abraham, did you? Are there are other biblical characters from whom you can draw encouragement along your journey?

Who are you serving?

Have you ever observed someone who is really wealthy, really smart, or really gifted, and think, “It must be nice being that person. They’re their own boss!”

There’s a great song by Bob Dylan, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” which contains the following lyrics:

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Dylan’s song expresses a timeless truth: everyone serves somebody.

One of the dangers of achieving higher education is growing prideful and forgetting who we are and Who we’re called to serve.

Philippians 2:6-8 (NIV) reminds us that Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

Let’s remember that our academic achievements are meant to equip us for service in God’s kingdom. Remembering Who we serve keeps us humble, gracious, and patient. It makes us useful in our vocations. It keeps us from serving ourselves.

If we “gotta serve somebody” in our academic pursuits, let it be the Lord!

Tempus fugit! (Time flies!)

One of the challenges adult and graduate students face is finding the time for the school-related tasks they’ve got to get done.

24 hours, 1,440 minutes, 84,000 seconds – this is all we’re given each day. Too bad time doesn’t stand still. In fact, even as you’re reading this blog post, time is flying!

Here are 5 tips for making the most of your time as an adult or graduate learner:

1. Don’t neglect your spiritual life.  This one is a given. Remember, we’re spiritual beings having a human experience. Unconfessed sin resulting in fear, worry, anger, resentment, or bitterness will dull your focus. A spiritual life in disrepair is dead weight you don’t have to carry. Cling to the cross of Christ and invest time there first and foremost. You’ll be rewarded with multiple minutes for every one you spend in prayer!

2. Use The Pomodoro Technique. Moving from the spiritual to the physical: It’s important to realize that your brain has its limitations. To maximize your study and paper-writing time, try working for 45 minutes straight – no stopping, no breaks! – and then taking a 15 minute break. Focus hard, unplug. Wash, rinse, repeat.

3. Use a white noise or other noise cancellation software. Background conversations and other aural interruptions ruin your focus. Try putting on a set of headphones and use a white noise app from ITunes.  Most such software is free. You will be amazed at how your concentrating power instantly improves. What once took 20 minutes might now take only 10.

4. Lift your heavy weight when you’re fresh. There’s a difference between being busy and being productive. Know when during the day you work best at your most difficult task, be it writing, reading, note taking, synthesizing information, etc. Save your busy work – responding to emails and attending to minor administrative tasks, for example – for when your brain is fried and you can go on auto-pilot.

5. Watch what you eat. Blue Bell Cookies n’ Cream ice cream goes down easy for me, but my sugar high lasts 10 minutes and them I’m depressed. Try to stay “lean” when you’re in study mode. Eat fruits and vegetables – watch the bread. Stay hydrated. If you can keep your blood sugar level, your concentration will remain stable over longer periods of time.

Alright, there you have it. Time is ticking. Get after it!

5 Tips for Winning at Academic Writing

Academic writing is hard.

It’s just not something we do outside of school. Most of us spend our days texting, emailing, and talking – not writing papers.

When it’s time to put our thoughts down on paper, we often find ourselves struggling at the disconnect we experience. Moreover, academic writing comes with its own set of challenges: following APA, MLA and other formats; making sure we produce clear and compelling arguments; and last but not least, proofing, proofing…and more proofing.

Yet there is hope! Here are 5 simple ways to experience an immediate improvement in your writing and writing process.

Be clear. Write to be understood. It sounds simple enough, but we tend to shirk from the work of ensuring that our words accurately reflect our intended meaning. Sometimes we’re not even sure of what we mean to say and our ambivalence is reflected in muddy writing. Do the heavy lifting that is careful thinking before you write. Be clear!

Be concise. We’ve all done it – rattling on in a paper not because we have anything to say, but because we’ve got to meet the page limit requirement and even after upping our font to 14 pt and changing our margins, we’re not there! (BTW, please don’t up your font and change your margins to stretch your paper!) Sometimes, less actually is more. Say what you mean to say in as few words as possible. Use simple sentences where feasible. While it’s tough to see paragraphs of your work disappear, your work will be much stronger.

Let it marinate. Pulling all-nighters is bad news for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that your work doesn’t have a chance to age. Letting your work sit untouched for a day or so and then coming back to it afresh will work wonders for the quality of your writing. You’ll be able to clearly see where your work doesn’t make sense and where it’s not clear and concise, not to mention the typos you’ll inevitably find.

And on the topic of typos: Proof. Proof. Proof. While useful, don’t bank on Spell Check. Proof thoroughly, word by word, line by line. The temptation is to skim through work we think is ‘OK.’ Take your time with it. Proof!

Lastly, be encouraged in your writing pursuits. You can be a better writer – and this can make the difference between the “A” or “B” that is yours and the “C” or “D” you suffer because your writing is working against you.

Be diligent!

Adult students often wonder: “When and how will I ever get this paper done, finish this course…and when will I ever graduate?” Completing a degree can feel like an eternity, especially when family, work, and other obligations leave one feeling like there’s no end in sight.

If this sounds like you, the Bible has a simple, encouraging word for you today: Be diligent.

Proverbs 10:5 tells us that “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”

Diligence isn’t about pulling an all-nighter, or working quickly to get a task done no matter the quality of the end product. Instead, diligence implies a steady chipping away at something, a routine and focused commitment.

Diligence works! (Pun intended.)

Here’s what diligence in action might look like for you:

Plan ahead. Map out your papers and projects way ahead of time and hold yourself accountable to your deadlines. This will take some planning, but it’s worth the investment.

Lift “heavy rocks” when you’re strongest. Certain types of work – like writing papers – require you to be at your freshest. Some are freshest in the early morning. Others get a second wind in the quiet of late nights. Know when you work best on lifting your “heavy rocks” and work accordingly.

Work every day if at all possible. An object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion….you get the picture. Even working just a half-hour a day on something school-related can keep you in the game. Take a day each week to rest. The rest of the time be about your business.

So be encouraged in your academic pursuit. By God’s grace you can pull this off. Be diligent.