A second thing to consider: Study is vitally related to worship in that a well-prepared minister is a blessing to God’s people. Churches need fit and faithful servants. God’s people need to hear from God’s word. They need to hear from competent counselors about how to navigate life in the fear of the Lord.
One theologian has compared the task of theology to map-making. Before you set out on a journey—say, an extended camping trip into the wilderness of the U.P.—you make a map, or even a set of maps; a topographical map, a map of where water stations are and where some towns are located. You may make a map of elevation changes so that you can anticipate how tired you’ll be as you journey. Making these different maps requires skill, study, research. The more work and preparation you put into this, the safer you’ll be, the more you’ll enjoy the journey, the less risk you’ll run of getting yourself into trouble. This sort of preparation is all the more important if you’re leading a group of people who haven’t camped in such conditions before. It doesn’t do anyone any good when you run into trouble to rely on vague notions of something you may have heard from someone at some point, or pious platitudes. You need to know what you’re doing in order to be of actual help.
In the same way, churches need skilled ministers who are well-versed in theology and in study of the Scripture and its various genres in order to be reliable guides, helping people navigate the storms and stresses of life. And it’s not the point to learn big truths in order to impress people with your knowledge. You need to penetrate into the core of Scripture’s great truths here in the classroom so that you can speak to people in their own language, translating the faith for everyday pilgrims on the sojourn of discipleship to Jesus.
You need to learn about walking faithfully with God when life hurts from Jeremiah and the Psalms. You need to understand the subtle threats of life from Proverbs. You need to grasp the surprising character of Jesus in Mark. You think you know Jesus? So did the disciples, and Jesus rebuked them time and again. Maybe you need to take a closer look and see that you are really devoted to your idea of Jesus, and not the actual person. Get to know Mark, and that Gospel will shake you to your core. But that’ll be good for you and you’ll be good for the church, but only if you study. Only if you apply yourself to your work, immerse yourself in the text of Scripture and grapple with the theological notions that your professors introduce to you.
There are loads of common-sense teachers out there. If we want to hear from Dr. Phil we can just turn on the TV. But God’s people need to hear from God. And not just platitudes about God ripped off from Christian greeting cards. Some of the most crushing and damaging things that come from the mouths of Christian people are empty platitudes that sound like wisdom, but are actually false counsel. If you have a vague idea of what Scripture says, you’ll be of no use to the church. But if you study diligently, you can be a gift to God’s people and skillfully invite them into the wonder of God’s blessing.
A third consideration: Do not imagine that study is the enemy of worship. Pride is the enemy of worship. Arrogance is the enemy of worship. Presumption is the enemy of worship. Disobedience is the enemy of worship.
But study fuels worship. Study is worship. When we study Scripture to make sure we’re understanding God rightly and faithfully, we’re worshiping. When we study Greek and Hebrew so that we look more closely at texts that reveal to us God and his ways, we’re worshiping—we’re honoring God. And this process ought to point us in the direction of fruitful and faithful living, which brings us joy and invites into our lives the blessing of God. And we are seriously privileged and blessed when we are called to minister to others, to speak to them in life-giving ways, to point them to the good God of all creation, to exhort them to obedience, and to bring them comfort in times of sorrow and distress.
I hope that you can see that study is not an obstacle to worship. Study is worship; study fuels lives of worship; and study drives a life that is shaped by the Scriptures and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I hope that you are excited to embark on this journey of discovery of the richnesses contained in Scripture and the rich store of Christian reflection through the centuries.
And now, may God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the God who called us out of darkness into light, the God who spoke his life-giving word and who has given us an inheritance that will never perish or be taken away, the God who called us into ministry and who promises to never leave us or forsake us, may this God empower us, go with us, guide us and sustain us, throughout this semester and beyond. Amen.