My passion has always been biblical studies, so I found most of my theological study to be fascinating. The history of the bible and its composition was what initially inspired me to study for a theology degree, and I couldn’t get enough of learning about the texts and the context of the New Testament. However, engaging properly with all of this came with so much tedious work revising Greek verb tables and grammatical features, or furiously scanning through the works of ancient historians to find that one snippet to support my argument.
Rarely was I motivated for these aspects of study and instead I’d procrastinate by distracting myself on my phone, playing video games or streaming my favourite American workplace sitcoms. But even when I did brute force my way through revision and essay writing, I was mostly motivated by getting a good grade. Neither procrastination nor grade chasing was what God wanted for me studying at university. God had placed me in Edinburgh, on my course so that He could be glorified through my work. In my head, I knew that my whole life was supposed to glorify God, including every aspect of my academic work. But it was tough to see how that was possible in practice in all the work that seemed much more like a chore.
Maybe your experience has been similar. How can you or I in every bit of our study ‘do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’ (Colossians 3:17, NIV)? Over the course of four years studying theology, I learned to see my work through the lens of two dimensions of what it means to glorify God; offering worship to Him and bearing witness about Him to others. This has helped me to consciously engage with even the most tedious aspects of study as part of a life devoted to bringing glory to God.
Tedious study as worship
Glorifying God is fundamentally about worshipping Him, yet we tend to worship other things. This is because God has given us a choice of what or who we worship. I have the choice to worship my exams, essays, deadlines and be led by a need to satisfy my own desire or I could worship God and be led by wanting to glorify Him. I have the choice to procrastinate and distract myself on my phone or I can spend time with God and dedicate my work to Him.
How do I choose to worship God in the parts of my study that seem to have little to do with him directly? Well, the Reformation gave me a great way of thinking about this in the use of artists focussing their work on the fifth sola “Soli Deo Gloria” (for the glory of God alone). From baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach to hip-hop artist Shai Linne, some musicians since the Reformation have intentionally marked their work with some form of “Soli Deo Gloria,” marking it out as created for God’s glory.
Glorifying God in our tedious work and study is similar. We should intentionally mark it as something that we do for God’s glory, out of a love and worship of Him. The work doesn’t have to directly achieve something for God, it can simple be worship to him by faithfully working at what God has placed before us. This way of reframing my tedious work helped me realise that there was a greater purpose to it than just saying “I’m doing it because I have to do it.”
I started to find it helpful to remind myself of why I am doing the work that I’m about to start. I want to give glory to God and worship Him as I read, write, and revise. A short prayer that I used was simply: “I’m here for you, Lord. Let my life honour you and my work glorify you. Let Your will be done in me today.” I also placed stickers on my laptop that served as a reminder to work in worship of the King of Kings and not for my own glory.
As I focussed on glorifying my Creator in worship, I became motivated to work to a higher standard. I didn’t just revise the fundamental issues and scholars that I had to. I sought out the scholars with the most convincing arguments that reflected what I knew to be true of God’s character. I also learned to stay humble in the marks I received as they were not a reflection of my work, but a sign of what God has done through me.
Tedious study as bearing witness
The word that is often translated as ‘glorify’ in the New Testament means: ‘to influence one’s opinion about another so as to enhance the latter’s reputation.’ Part of glorifying God is being a representative of heaven on the earth. This is part of my identity as a child of God and a citizen of heaven. I have been created by God as His child to reflect His love and grace to those around me. I’m a citizen of His kingdom and my mind should be set on my King’s will and not my own.
This helps me to focus on how I approach the hard work of my studies. When I approach it with an excitement that I’m working for something greater than just my own glory, I represent to those around me what work is like in the kingdom of God. My work is not just for my sake but there’s something greater giving me purpose. Others may recognise this which can open an opportunity for witness. When we are living as representatives of God, focussing on glorifying Him and not ourselves, we tend to stand out. Standing out like this often leads to some fascinating discussions with friends and course mates.
God can also use the knowledge and skills that we’ve picked up from our studies for witnessing to others outside of our university context in ways we might not expect. The philosophical concepts, understanding of biblical languages or knowledge of world religions can be used by God to help us share the gospel even after we have graduated. Just like Philip in Acts 8, God can place us in situations where our understanding of scripture can help lead others to the truth of the gospel. These parts of study that seem trivial in our time at university can lead to amazing conversations with friends, family, and strangers both now and later in our lives.
Doing the tedious parts of our studies is an act of worship not just for your time at university but for what comes next. We have an opportunity now to dedicate our time and work to God even in the tedious hours of revision that we feel like we have to get through. Continually reframing the way that we see our work by seeking God and studying as an act of worship leads us into a life of glorifying Him just as we’re called to glorify our Creator in everything that we do. So, I encourage you to continue to invite God into your life and work, worship Him through your studies, and allow Him to use that to further His kingdom.
If glorifying God in every aspect of your studies is something that you also struggle with, continuing to give it over to God in prayer might be helpful. I would suggest regularly praying something like this before or during your study time:
“Father, I thank you for the opportunity You have given me to study. I dedicate my work solely to You. Guide me through my study as I seek to do Your will. Lead me into ways of bearing witness in my work. For Your glory alone, Amen.”
 BDAG, s.v. “δοξάζω.”