Professor of Chemical & Biochemical Engineering,
University of Maryland Baltimore County
[October 15, 2012]
I have to confess that I don’t read a lot of books on prayer. However, last summer a friend told me his spiritual gift was “book recommendation,” and to prove it he suggested two titles. My positive experience with his first recommendation led me, somewhat reluctantly, to read the second—Paul Miller’s A Praying Life. It literally changed my life.
Miller has coined a clever title. It is a book on prayer, but more about a “kind of life,” one lived connected with God. It’s the idea of living in constant communication with God, while accomplishing His kingdom work together. This is a theme that God has been teaching me for the last five years or so through other books (Practicing the Presence of God, Letters by a Modern Mystic). Practicing the presence of God has become the most transformational spiritual discipline in my life.
I liked this book by Miller because he is refreshingly honest. He talks often of his own life and struggles related to prayer. I sensed tremendous authenticity while reading the stories he uses to illustrate his points. Early in the book he gives a wonderful description and explanation for why many, like me, have a rather poor prayer life when he tackles cynicism – a huge problem in American Christianity. He then effectively discusses how to move past this.
I’ve always known intellectually about the importance and necessity of prayer, but if my actions are a reflection of what I really believe, then I suppose I didn’t hold prayer in very high regard. Miller does a wonderful job of imparting a tremendous vision for prayer. His writing gives me the “want to” for prayer.
Here’s one of my favorite quotes:
“When you stop trying to control your life and instead allow your anxieties to bring you to God in prayer, you shift from worry to watching. You watch God weave His patterns in the story of your life. Instead of trying to be out front, designing your life, you realize you are, instead, part of God’s drama. As you wait, you begin to see Him work, and your life begins to sparkle with wonder. You are learning to trust again.”
I loved this book so much that I used it as material for both a faculty Bible study and a student Bible study on campus, and I’ve been going through it with my wife (also a professor) as we learn together to become more connected with God. Now she’s going through it with one of the women that she mentors.
I highly recommend reading this book!
University of Alabama
[Oct. 8, 2012]
Many of our students fall in love while in Higher Education. Some fall in love with other people; some fall in love with science, art, or some other field.
Love can be risky.
As a scientist, I can understand the infatuation some students have with science; I can see why they fall in love. As an experienced scientist, however, I can’t see why they want to “marry” science,“forsaking all else.”
I love being a scientist, but I find I have to be on guard, because Jesus warned us, “No servant can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other…” (Luke 16:13)
Doing science is a worthy calling. According to Proverbs 25:2, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” Indeed, scientists have a special access to the truth of Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”However, Romans 1:25 warns that “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…”
Keeping the Balance
Over the years, I have seen many students struggle with being so in love with science that they forget their long term love of Christ and His Church. Some students are unable to reconcile their new love for science with their Christian upbringing and they choose to abandon their faith.
I have used the following with my students to encourage them to keep the proper balance:
• Love them regardless.
• Connect them with an experienced scientist who is a Christian.
• Gently help them to discover the limitations of science:
- Scientists tend to be very narrow in the scope of their expertise.
- Science, by its own rules, cannot deal with the supernatural or spiritual.
– Scientists can speak with great authority about their own field, but this knowledge does NOT
necessarily inform philosophy or religion.
• Remind them that the BIG questions in life cannot be answered in a laboratory, because they are beyond the scope of science:
- Why are we here?
- What is the purpose of my life?
- What happens when life ends?
- What is good?
• While reminding them that the scientific theory with the most explanatory power rules, I affirm that Christianity and the Bible offer tremendous explanatory power.
• Pray for them.
You may not be a scientist. Your field may have spiritual challenges of its own. But, recognize that when our students fall in love, it can be beneficial… or detrimental.
God put us in a position to help, whether their love is toward science or something else.
“ Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
My wife is a music teacher, for example, and many of her colleagues like to claim their pedagogical authority from an unbroken lineage through Schnabel and Czerny, back to the great Beethoven himself. Among scientists, the American Physical Society once sponsored a contest to see how far any of members could trace their advisor “ancestors.”
My Academic Family Tree
Not long ago, a member of the Faculty Commons staff encouraged me to compile my own academic “family tree.” I was reluctant at first, since I thought it would be little more than an ego-building exercise, but the results were pretty interesting.
After a very kind administrative assistant looked into some old records, it turned out that one of my advisor “ancestors” received a doctorate at Cambridge under Ernest Rutherford, who in turn had studied under J. J. Thomson. A few “generations” earlier, you find a certain Adam Sedgwick who had a fellow named Charles Darwin as one of his advisees.
The definition of “thesis advisor” loses its modern connotations if you go back as far as Darwin, as does physics as a distinct discipline. Still, the link to this famous natural philosopher did give me pause. I could have indeed become very prideful of my distinguished genealogy, and ended it there.
Implications Of The Tree
Instead, I began to think about implications of the “family tree” itself. Adam Sedgwick was a very distinguished scientist in his own right. He was unknown to me, however, until I started this “genealogical” exercise, and the same might be true for most readers of this essay.
It would be safe to say, on the other hand, that nearly everyone has heard of Darwin, and all physical scientists know who Thomson and Rutherford are. As brilliant as Sedgwick was, it would be very hard to believe that he had any inkling of what a tremendous impact his “descendants” would have, down to the present day.
What are the implications for us? I’m sure many of us have heard sermons on similar perspectives when it comes to the genealogies we find in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Did Rahab, the mother of Boaz, or Ruth, the mother of Obed, have any idea that they would be ancestors of our Lord? While we have an intellectual understanding of the answer to this rhetorical question, we need to ask if we truly appreciate what it means to us individually.
This is where formulating our own academic “genealogy” could help. Many scholars have pointed out that their accomplishments were possible because they “stood on the shoulders of giants.” Believer and non-believer alike can benefit from such a humbling reminder of the intellectual legacy we are expected to pass on to future “academic” generations.
Our Spiritual Legacy
Christians should also acknowledge that we have an obligation for our spiritual legacy. We are to recognize the giants whose shoulders are supporting us, but we must also remember those we are lifting up in turn. Christ provides an example for us.
When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, many called Him “Teacher” out of respect for His knowledge and wisdom. They saw Him wash the feet of His disciples as well. We should have a similar mindset toward those in our institutions who we are entrusted to “shoulder.”
Merry Christmas and have a blessed New Year.
I can speak with some authority on dealing with difficult people, because I am a difficult person. You shouldn’t have that much trouble either, since, to at least a few people on campus or in your family, you are a difficult person also. So as difficult people, let’s consider how Jesus dealt with folks like us.
Not The Enemy
Jesus recognized that difficult people are NOT the enemy. No matter how hostile, how rude, how obnoxious we were, Jesus loved us enough to die for us, and He loves us enough to want difficult people to live a life submitted to Him. Even the people in our departments!
The apostle Paul reminded the Ephesian church: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (6:12 NIV)
There is an action plan for dealing with us obnoxious folks that is found in Proverbs 25:21-22, and repeated in Romans 12:20-21, which tells us: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.”
I have had personal experience with putting these verses into practice, and am amazed at how much fun it is.Because of my faith I was involved in a lawsuit, which is typically an adversarial environment. I had several opportunities to show unexpected kindness to those on the opposite side of the case.
Some of the responses I got are still very fond memories. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Do not I also destroy my enemy, if I make him my friend?”
Befriending The Difficult
Befriending difficult people can be rewarding in itself. Christ called us to minister to the neglected –the poor, the widowed, the orphaned. In our university culture some of the neglected people in a very significant sense are our colleagues whom we view as “difficult.”
They often have poor social skills,and have a poverty of good relationships. Currently I am working with a single guy on our campus with few friends, few prospects and a bankrupt spirit. God may well be calling us to cultivate loving relationships with folks just like this.
Christ calls us to love our enemies, to bless those that curse us, to do good to them that hate us, and to pray for them who despitefully use us and persecute us; that we may be the children of our Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:44-45).
Don’t quit loving the difficult people God has brought into your life. He hasn’t quit loving us!
© 2005 Phillip A Bishop
During my undergraduate years, I began to wonder whether there was something fundamentally incompatible between higher education and being a follower of Jesus.
In fact, I went through my entire undergraduate and graduate years at the University of Texas without hearing any of my 50-or-so professors ever identify themselves as a follower of Jesus. Some of the non-Christian professors, on the other hand, were quite uninhibited in ridiculing Jesus and the Christian faith.
My Angst About My Faith
This was personally troubling to me. My angst about my faith did motivate me to dig deeper to try to establish whether there was indeed a reasonable basis for being a follower of Jesus. Happily, I found in the writing of C.S. Lewis and other Christian apologists the assurance that I needed.
During graduate school I realized that I had the opportunity to be for my students what no one had been for me — a professor who was also known as a follower of Jesus.
Midway through the first semester that I taught, I decided how I would explain this. I carefully crafted a very short end-of-class speech expressing my desire that we know each other as people. I included several things about me personally, including my various interests and my Christian commitment.
I Panicked … And Dismissed The Class
I went to class that day both excited and apprehensive. When I finished my lecture five minutes before the end of class, I could have talked about my faith. Instead, I panicked and dismissed the class early.
I went to class 22 times in a row with this same intention, failing again and again. Finally, before the final exam, I did it.
I shared with the students how much I had enjoyed teaching them, that I was a Christian, and that I would be pleased to visit with any of them who might be curious about why. I had no takers, but it was a faith barrier which, once broken, would never again be so difficult. I told each successive class something about myself and my faith.
In my final semester of graduate school, I taught a business calculus class. One-third of the students were Jewish. I wondered if it would be wise to just skip identifying myself as a Christian for fear I might offend one of them. After praying about it, I felt led to identify myself as a follower of Jesus.
That night I received a call from the Dean of Students inquiring about my class that day.
As my heart pounded, Dean Campbell explained that the “Campbell twins” in my class were his sons, and that he had heard from them what I had shared briefly that afternoon.
What The Twins Heard
He went on to explain to me that he was calling to thank me. He was a Christian; his sons had not been walking with the Lord as college students, and somehow God has used my brief comments to rekindle their interest in following Jesus. He went on to explain that he had called every Bradley in the phone book (22 to get to “Walter Bradley”) to find and thank me.
Jesus tell us, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” I cannot honor the last half of this verse without letting students know the source of whatever goodness and kindness they see in how I treat them.
For the past 38 years, I have regularly included a simple statement about my faith as part of my introduction of my class each year, with many wonderful experiences resulting.
Exactly how we let people know in an appropriate way about our faith is different for each of us, but I think this should be a goal for each of us to whom God has given this very significant platform of influence.
© 2007 Walter Bradley
James Madison U. Faculty Fellowship: IVCF staff speaks today. http://faithatjmu.org/
Oklahoma State: http://www.okstatefcfs.org/
Need ideas for your Christian Faculty Fellowship? The CFF at Oklahoma State hosts a variety of large group and small group events: http://
Christopher Hitchens and John Haldane debate at Oxford –Secularism at Faith in the Public Square http://www.veritas.org/Media.aspx#/v/947
I spent my earliest years playing with Barbie dolls and enjoying art projects. Maybe not what you’d expect from a future chemical engineering professor.
I found I liked math and chemistry, but in the 1970s being the smartest girl in class at my high school was not a road to popularity. This situation caused a lot of hurt and pain. I was lucky to have a mentor to help me through.
My English teacher at my Catholic high school was a wonderful nun who really helped me. In my journal assignments, I shared details of my struggles. As we dialogued, she helped me understand my need for a deeper relationship with Christ and that God had a plan for my life.
Once I trusted that God had a plan, a lot fell into place. I loved chemistry and math, and a former neighbor, an engineering professor, convinced me to be a chemical engineer instead of a chemist. It was right for me.
As a woman in a field populated mostly by men, the journey has not always been easy, but it has made me appreciate the skills and drive that make up my life experiences and who I am.
As a professor, I pray that each student I interact with realizes they have a purpose, that there’s an awesome plan for their lives, and that their uniqueness is what makes them extraordinary. That’s what makes my job so great and so important – every student is different, every need is different!