Faith

What I learnt about prayer from grad school

Arielle Ong // October 23, 2018, 2:17 pm

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I’m in the season of seeking God about the next phase of graduate school, if pursuing doctorate studies is the Lord’s will for me.

Having been in the academic field for several years, I know how tough it is to get accepted into a program. Having to overcome such difficulties is the main reason why this dream has been tugging at my heartstrings for the past 11 years. But I’ve never really gotten down to concretise my plans until recent months.

I basically spent the last 11 years honing my skills, searching for a social cause and area to impact passionately. And I had finally found it!

Within three weeks, with the Lord protecting my time, I managed to churn out a research proposal related to mental health stigma, wrote my personal statement and revised my CV.

So on 10 October 2018, which also happened to be World Mental Health Day, I sent my proposal to professors in UK universities to discuss my research topic and appeal to them for supervision.

I started out pretty confident since I thought the proposal was good. I had experience in research and more than a decade of expertise in mental health.

But the process proved daunting and disappointing. Within the day, two of the seven professors I asked had turned me down, saying they were the wrong fit for me or unable take me on due to their workload.

I was met with radio silence by the rest. I found myself scrambling for other alternatives when, in fact, only one school was of interest to me. I was basically going with the normative ways of spreading the net for graduate schools since people typically apply to ten to twenty schools.

I had no peace deep inside because I found myself depending on my own strength rather than on God for help.

As I sent out more emails, I got even more disheartened by the continued radio silence. I thought I had heard God clearly through devotions asking me to just do what I can and He will do the rest, and to live by faith and not by sight – timely encouragements in the week I was writing the research proposal.

Had I heard God wrongly? As I wondered whether I should pray harder for the whole graduate school application and scholarship thing, I began to reflect on the whole business of even praying to God about the desires of our heart.

I wondered because I have always had issues with treating God like a genie in a bottle, though I firmly believe it shouldn’t be the case. So I wasn’t inclined to pray too hard for it, fearing I might be twisting God’s arm into getting what I want even when it’s not good for me.

Yet, the Bible also speaks of persisting in prayers, that the Lord is delighted to provide for our needs when we ask Him (Luke 11:5-13). There is also the example of Jacob, who would not “let go” until God blessed him (Genesis 32:22-32).

I had no peace deep inside because I found myself depending on my own strength rather than on God for help.

As I sought God’s will and direction regarding my doctoral and scholarship applications, I found myself taken with the heart of God as I postured myself to pray and spend time with Him.

Meditating on the verses, I had an impression from James 4:2: “You do not have, because you do not ask.”

I realised that there is nothing wrong with seeking God for our heart’s desires, especially when they align to His will. So I continued to soak my graduate school situation in prayer.

James 4:1-3 illuminates how we should pray for our heart’s desires.

While God delights in us taking our heart’s desires to Him in prayers, it is still possible to pray wrongly: worldly selfish ambitions, lust of pleasures and power (James 4:2-3) are some examples.

So it is not about whether or not can we pray for our heart’s desire. It’s about whether our heart’s condition and desires are aligned to God’s. Prayer must never hinge on selfishness, lust and worldly desires.

God’s will be done. It’s easy to pray those words, but I’m still getting back to basics and learning to take delight in the Lord first (Psalm 37:4).

That means my relationship with Him is all that matters at the end of the day.

” … in the easiest positions He will give me grace, and in the most difficult ones His grace is sufficient.”

It isn’t about what I am doing in life or how I am serving Him that matters.

I found peace and joy instead of frustration when I finally relinquished control of my graduation school plans to the Lord. I’m only human, and may be disappointed when I face closed doors, but I am trusting that whatever happens at the end of the day would be God’s best plan for me – remembering that being satisfied in Him alone is what matters most.

To close, these two quotes by James Hudson Taylor illustrate my current mindset.

“I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize that He is able to carry out His will for me. It does not matter where He places me, or how. That is for Him to consider, not me, for in the easiest positions He will give me grace, and in the most difficult ones His grace is sufficient.”

Indeed, “God’s work done in God’s ways will never lack God’s supply.” So I am not going to search any further for I have done my best.

Should no doors open, I firmly believe in the saying, “Some of God’s greatest gifts, are His unanswered prayers”. May His will be done!


The author’s name has been changed for confidentiality.