As I packed up my car in exodus of Oklahoma for the promised land of graduate studies in Pennsylvania, a dear Christian friend challenged me with the following words, “The years ahead, no doubt, will be filled with intense study and research, but as you pursue your PhD how much effort will you put into knowing God better and going deeper in your Christian faith?”
My response to her challenge was a genuine commitment to put God first in all things amid the stresses of graduate school. I chose, as 1 Peter 3:15 says, “to revere Christ as Lord” in my heart.
Since I majored in chemistry as an undergraduate, I had a lot of catching up to do in graduate seminars on prokaryotic and eukaryotic molecular genetics. It felt like I’d been thrown into an ocean knowing only how to dog paddle. However, while I had to spend lots of time studying journal articles and textbooks, I was soon co-leading a Bible study for international graduate students. Unbelievably (to some of my peers), I also took time off to attend Christian retreats while my more advanced classmates stayed on campus to labor in the lab and the library. On those retreats, in between sessions of worship and prayer, I would spend my free time poring over journal articles.
To my amazement, as I prioritized ministry and spiritual growth, God honored my commitment and allowed me to finish my studies in less than five years (in a much shorter time than most of my classmates). During my time in graduate school, I was able to pose questions in class that challenged naturalistic claims, launch a graduate Christian fellowship, invite an engineering professor to give a seminar on science and faith, meet with an immunology professor to discuss Christian faith and teleology, and share with several classmates one-on-one about faith in Jesus and the reality of a personal God who wants to be in relationship with each of us.
I certainly didn’t have answers to all the questions then, and I still don’t today. But being willing and ready to share my faith with humility, in a spirit of love, integrity, and honest inquiry, while respecting others’ positions and thoughts, always left me with a platform to continue conversations. I’ve found that whether our expertise is in science or something else, God always honors a heart and mind that seeks to put Christ first in all things and looks for opportunities to share with others the hope that can be found in God alone.