Study the Word for More Than Words

Learn a lesson from Jerry Seinfeld. Daily Bible intake is about soul survival.

Very Much into Just Surviving

When his wildly successful sitcom ended, Seinfeld went on a nationwide stand-up comedy tour called “I’m Telling You for the Last Time.” The routine was recorded for compact disc (remember those?) at New York’s Broadhurst Theater in August of 1998. At the end is a question-and-answer segment, where a zealous fan shouts, “Do you have favorite Seinfeld episode?”

Seinfeld answers,

I get this question quite often. I don’t really have a favorite; they’re all kind of my babies. I did the best I could with each one. [Audience applauds.]

You know, comedy is kind of a survival industry. Comedians are very much into just surviving. It’s like if I were to ask you, “What is your favorite breath of air that you’ve ever taken?” You would say, “Whichever one I’m taking that gets me to the next one.” That’s kind of the mindset.

And that kind of mindset, alongside others, is a wise one for the seminary student (indeed, every Christian) to embrace. That you took a deep breath an hour ago won’t be much appreciated unless you’re still breathing. A great meal a month ago won’t do you much good if you haven’t eaten since. And delighting in God through taking in his word isn’t an annual, monthly, or even weekly event for the healthy Christian, but a daily rhythm.

Keeping Your Soul Alive

There is more to say about seminary, and the whole of the Christian life, than just the necessity of pursuing daily soul-survival in the Scriptures, but this need must not be overlooked. An otherwise impressive theology degree is utterly unimpressive if your soul has shriveled in the course of study.

As Christians, daily Bible intake is to our souls what breathing, eating, and drinking are to our physical bodies. As the Word Incarnate himself says, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Our souls will die without the word of God. And so, like Seinfeld says about comedians, seminarians also should be “very much into just surviving”—at least in this sense.

Making Your Studies Devotional

First, seek to make your seminary studies devotional. Pray for God’s help before class and during, before studying and during, before writing a paper, or taking a test, and during. Continually consecrate your studies to Jesus, and ask him to freshly meet you in it, keep your spiritual blood flowing, and keep you soft to his grace.

Important for every Christian, and perhaps especially for seminary students, is never coming to the Scriptures with anything less than a devotional approach. Whatever the assignment, intentionally seek the growth and warming of your soul. There’s no spiritually neutral gear when handling the Bible. We either survive or shrivel. Don’t repeat the lesson far too many have learned about trifling with holy things.

Keeping Space for Daily Devotions

So, by all means, make your studies devotional, but secondly, do take at least a brief season (daily if possible) to focus just on feeding your own soul. Find a good patch in the Scriptures (maybe through a Bible-reading plan), where you’re not preparing for class or for a test or a sermon, and graze a while, just for the survival of your own soul—knowing that crumbs from such a meal will inevitably bless those you minister to, but not having your future flock (or present internship) as your explicit focus in your study. The aim is the daily strengthening and sustaining of your own soul.

And often a helpful reminder to seminary students is to not read merely for information. Seek spiritual sight of the living Christ. Be on the unashamed lookout for Jesus, for soul-satisfaction in him that runs up verses and doctrines to a person, the God-man, rather than terminating on concepts and ideas.

In such an explicitly “devotional” time, set out to explicitly enjoy Jesus in the Scriptures as your great end, not as a means to anything else, whether some assignment or ministering to others in some way.

More Than Words

And keep in mind that having a daily “quiet time” or “devotions,” without communing with Jesus, won’t keep your soul alive. Mere reading and studying won’t do it. By itself, new information about God—glorious as it is—won’t keep our hearts soft and our souls breathing. We need the person of Jesus himself whom we find in and through the Scriptures. Our souls long for a living connection with the living God-man. We were made for this.

We can never afford to settle for anything less than the words of the Bible, but extreme as it may seem, our souls need more than words, more than facts, more than studies and new head knowledge. We need the Word himself. Our souls need Jesus to survive. And for now, the devotional imbibing of the Scriptures is an essential place to find him.

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How to Stay Christian in Seminary:

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.