Degree in Hand, More Desperate Than Ever

Graduation is a high moment. It's like a wedding of sorts. All the many investments — the questions needing answers, the costs needing to be weighed — rise together in a public crescendo of accomplishment. Congratulations, here's your degree.

Tonight I graduate from seminary. The page of official training closes, and the real-world chapter, so it seems, is opened. It will be a high moment, indeed, and it would probably be a "higher" one if I was going into anything other than vocational ministry.

It has been four years of intense training, of deep learning and wrestling and sharpening of gifts, and now it's finished. But I won't feel strong when I walk through the exit — and perhaps that’s a mark of a good seminary experience. In fact, tonight when I gather with my band of brothers to walk across the stage, shake hands, smile, and receive our degrees, I will feel quite weak.

Two years ago I didn't want it to be this way. Then, I hoped that come graduation I’d be stepping out into the world of local church ministry as an evangelical Rambo. I wanted to be an ecclesiological blue chip, trained with all the skills and ready to play. But, no, that's not how it is now. I feel worn out, a little like an old dog, the grad with the asterisk, more aware of my failures now than ever before.

I feel weak.

And here's the thing: It seems this is exactly how God wants it to be. Remember what Paul said? “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27)

Presumption has been decimated. Yes, God give us godly ambitions, please — I have some and want more. But before I can set my sights on changing the world for the glory of God, I need to wake up tomorrow morning. And I can't do that on my own. And I need to not ruin my children’s lives by being an absentee dad under the same roof. And I can't get this right on my own. I need to continue seeking God himself for who he is before I skip to expounding his word for others. And I can't produce these affections on my own.

I am desperate for him. Degree in hand, and more desperate than ever.

I have learned so many really good things in seminary — too many to count — and above them all, as the summary banner, I have learned how to stay Christian. What I mean is that I have learned to follow Jesus and be satisfied in all that God is, amid the stress of due dates and assignments and responsibilities outside the classroom that make the other stuff seem like drivel. I have gotten to know God more. I have learned of his faithfulness, how time after time after time he comes through. How he keeps good on his promises. I have learned that ministry is about pleasure and the real joy isn't found in our achievement, but in God. And despite my weaknesses, despite my leadership foibles and occasional illegitimate totality transfers (HT: D. A. Carson), the obstacle that keeps me from this greatest joy has already been overcome. Jesus Christ, the righteous, suffered for us the unrighteous that he might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18). God has made me his, and he is enough.

So though I may not feel strong, give me more of this kind of weakness. I think this is what seminary is supposed to do to you.

Jonathan Parnell (@jonathanparnell) is a writer and content strategist at Desiring God. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Melissa, and their four children, and is the co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.