Pray with Your Books Closed

We shouldn't open our books without praying, but we'd better pray without opened books.

I think B. B. Warfield would give a thumbs up here. In his salty essay, "The Religious Life of Theological Students," Warfield explains that study should be devotional. He says that study itself is a "religious exercise of the most rewarding kind." And while this is all true, he doesn't stop here. He goes on to say there are other religious exercises that demand our "punctual attention." There are other aspects of our devotional life that can't be neglected "without the gravest damage" to ourselves.

Praying Is About Joy

Throw all the aspects of our devotional life into a hat and tell me to draw one. No doubt there are good arguments for why each is non-negotiable. Fair enough. But still, there's a particular emphasis on prayer. We must pray.

Now don't hang your head. And don't be fearful of being incentivized by something that starts like [cue crotchety voice] "Well Martin Luther . . . ".

At the end of the day, we'll pray if we love to pray. So the pitch thrown in this post is a simple fastball. It's the 'bread and butter' four-seamer that claims prayer for the theology student is more a matter of joy than necessity. It's a matter of joy in that we get to know God.

Revelation Isn't Normal

The aim of our study is to know God, not merely things about him. But there is so much about him, so many words, so many commentaries, journal articles, textbooks, lectures, assignments. As the stack of books and papers thicken, presumption sets in like a Canadian cold front. The windshield of our eyes freezes over. We can't see that far ahead so we forget where we're going. Our noggins get stuck down in a book. I mean really stuck. All books and no fun. Loads of information and no sense of revelation. No sense of the miracle that the stuff we're reading about God is about God.

If we don't shake out of it we'll read ourselves to entitlement, as if we should know these things about God, the one whom we as sinners have no business in knowing.

He owes us nothing. Turn the defrost on, we're looking up again. That we can know anything about him! Anything true about him! That we can know him! God calls us into fellowship, not a classroom. He, being rich in mercy and great in love, gives us words that we might delight in the fullness of all that he is for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

For Fellowship Sake

It's not about ideas, it's about a person. And the best way to remember this is to close the book and speak to him.

Pray. Tell the Father all your heart. Thank him for the Scriptures. Cast your Hebrew syntax anxieties on him. Marvel to him that he knows every star and tends his flock like a shepherd. Marvel that he really did choose you in Christ before the foundations of the world. Marvel that he was there the Friday Jerusalem fell dark. Marvel that he saw the empty tomb happen. Marvel that his triune glory will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

Do this for your gladness. Prayer transforms information into intimacy — he is our God, our Father, Jesus our Savior, the Spirit our Comforter. And while we want to keep this in mind while we're reading, pushing aside our books for moments of communion is invaluable. Close your books and pray.

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How to Stay Christian in Seminary:

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.