“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:1-2).
Curiously, this passage has been used by some students to justify indolence. They reason that since God is the enabler, the whole enterprise of erecting an edifice must be wholly left in His hands. Why hire security guards if God keeps sentinel over the city? Is it not a lack of faith for a student to burn the midnight candle preparing for an examination? Although such students might not verbalize their personal philosophy about how faith relates to works, their actions betray their conviction.
What about students who miss class to attend a prayer meeting? Surely, students need to connect with a higher power to be able to face the rigors of study and achieve resounding success. There is so much that lies beyond our reach in life, and relegating God to a footnote would mean missing out on the things that really matter. And for students, success in academics matters. Daniel, for example, was hugely successful in scholastic attainments in ancient Babylon. He was also a man of prayer. Daniel 6 reveals that just as he would not compromise in other aspects, Daniel jealously guarded his prayer time – even at the risk of losing life itself. However, there is a flipside to Daniel’s life: he was a diligent man. The king could not help noticing his conscientious efforts, his dedication to duty, his flawless accountability and attention to details. These godly characteristics promote upward mobility in academics. Daniel put faith to work. Now, a few lessons to learn.
First, faith is not antithetical to works. Genuine faith leads to the unfurling of one’s full potential. It allows the possessor to use their God-given talents to the fullest. While spiritual exercises like prayer meetings or personal devotions are indispensable, they are not an end in themselves. They are to engender diligence and faithfulness to our calling. For the student, prayers should serve as a catalyst for excellence in academics, not an excuse for slothfulness.
Second, faith is a precursor to works. It is always in that order in the Christian perspective. Students must know that without faith we are not able to please God, including in academics. Making work a religion removes God from the quest to scale the highest peaks in academics. Regardless of how such success may be eulogized, it would fail to meet the standards of Christian education. A quote credited to Martin Luther, the reformer, is quite instructive to every earnest worker or student seeking to please God: “Work, work from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer” (J. Gilchrist Lawson, Cyclopedia of Religious Anecdotes, p. 303).
Finally, work is an evidence of genuine faith. As Jesus stated, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). The concept of genuine faith is foreign to a student who not only skips responsibilities such as attending class or submitting assignments, but justifies such behaviour. It is not always easy for students to draw the line between what constitutes too much work or too little. While there is sometimes tension between faith and works, much of it will fade if students understand that both concepts are important and must be given their proper place.
Have you ever been in a situation where you found it difficult to navigate a course of action between faith and works?