Seven Habits of the Highly Effective Christian Graduate Student

How does one live well as a Christian graduate student? Bob Trube, GFM campus staff, has stewed over that question with members of the InterVarsity grad fellowship at Ohio State. Here are their recommendations of seven habits that should be incorporated into the life of every Christian grad student.

1. Spend regular time with God.

  • Time with God is not another academic task. Rather it is time listening to God in scripture and prayer, meditating on Christian truth and its bearing on your life, and speaking to God in prayer about who he is, who you are, and what concerns both of you.
  • Brief regular time with God is better than sporadic extended time. Regular time with God reminds us to live in dependence upon God throughout each day.
  • Remember that regular time with God is not a “to do” to check off or a ritual to gain God’s favor. Rather it is a discipline that helps us to “practice God’s presence” throughout the day.

2. Spend regular time with your spouse or roommates.  

  • Grad school can be murder on those you live with. Your spouse may think you are married to your computer or having an affair with your study carrel. Your roommates may wonder when you are going to do your share of the cleaning around the apartment.
  • Set aside regular time to be together, preferably when you are not “spent.” Give your spouse your best, not your leftovers. Plan regular “dates.” Don’t neglect physical intimacy.
  • We find it helps to take some time weekly or more often to talk over and coordinate our calendars and see if our time use reflects our priorities.
  • Pray together regularly.

3. Have a focused pursuit of your graduate studies with appropriate boundaries.  

  • Remember the axiom, “work expands to fill the time you give it.” Don’t make an open-ended commitment of your time to your studies but set boundaries that permit you to give appropriate attention to your academic work as well as to the other habits on this list.
  • Take the first minutes of a work session to identify clearly what you are trying to accomplish so that you don’t needlessly fritter time away.
  • As much as possible, set time limits for a task (e.g. I will compile that annotated bibliography by 4 pm today).
  • You can’t read everything! Learn to skim, to use bibliographic resources, abstracts, etc. to familiarize yourself with the research literature in your discipline and to help you be selective in to what you give your attention.

4. Participate in the life of a local church.

  • Participate in the weekly times of worship in your church. Contribute financially according to your means. While the time you have for other involvements is limited, find opportunity to share in fellowship and ministry with people who are not graduate students!

5. Meet weekly with other Christian graduate students.  

  • Life as a graduate student has its unique challenges. One of the gifts of fellowship with other grad students is that these are people who understand your world. Sometimes, they may also understand your excuses and challenge you in your walk.
  • Make a commitment to at least one gathering of grad students that will become a non-negotiable in your schedule. Graduate students who don’t do this usually don’t intend to be out of fellowship — it just happens by default. Also, such a commitment helps foster deepening relationships by communicating that these people are important in your life.
  • Look for and help nurture a graduate fellowship that helps you think about your calling as a grad student and about the lifestyle and intellectual issues that challenge you. This fellowship should also equip you for witness and ministry in the university.

6. Pray for opportunities to befriend and share Christ with grads in your department.

  • In particular, are you praying for your office mates, the people in your study group, or those who “share” your advisor? While you are at it, are you praying for the salvation of your advisor?
  • Do you believe that you could be instrumental in leading one or more of these people to faith in Christ? Imagine the impact our graduate fellowship could have if each person brought one other person to Christ!
  • Take advantage of social opportunities like department happy hours or other informal get-togethers to build relationships.
  • Witness is often a matter of being honest about who you are and what you believe when the opportunity arises. Pray for boldness to be straightforward with the truth in such situations.

7. Take conscious steps to integrate your discipline with your faith.  

  • Are you convinced that “all truth is God’s truth” — that the pursuit of truth in your discipline is pleasing to God? In Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell defended his participation in running events in these words, “When I run, I feel the pleasure of God upon me.” Is this so for you? Remember to give thanks for the moments of joy in your work where you feel God’s pleasure upon you.
  • Often, integrating your discipline with your faith involves going back to the first principles of the faith and asking what bearing these have on the content and the practices of your discipline. Above all, this means staying close to Jesus and going deeper in your understanding of the faith. Unfortunately, many Christian grads and faculty have a highly sophisticated grasp of their discipline but an elementary level understanding of the faith.
  • Seek opportunities to interact with other Christians in your discipline on this campus via articles and books and at conferences.

Photo credit: Joe Lanman’s Photostream.


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