Living as a Christian in your final year project
So the moment has arrived. The time your university career has been building up to. Your final year project.
Potentially the weightiest (in terms of credits) piece of work you have met, and ever will encounter (unless you do a PhD…). The thought of such a thing brings a whole host of reactions, many felt all at the same time.
For some, as you consider the hours spent in the lab and library, followed by analysis and statistical testing, culminating in the writing of your final report, you are filled with dread, concern and worry.
Or maybe you are bubbling over with excitement and anticipation. Finally you have the chance to demonstrate all that you have learnt, your passion for the topic driving you with confidence to tackle what lies before you.
Well no matter how you are feeling, before we charge headlong into the depths of reading and research, let us consider some principles as we approach our final year project. Their aim is to not help you get a higher mark, and they are by no means exhaustive, but I pray they may be useful in thinking about how you can go about living as a Christian in your final year project. This is our rationale: not just to work studiously and well during this time, but to ‘serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord’ (Ephesians 6:7). To be seeking to fundamentally carry out Lord-pleasing work, not people (supervisor, peers, parents, yourself) pleasing.
God glorifying methods
Methods, although often overlooked for the more glamorous results, they are key for understanding how we go about tackling our question, the process in which we arrive is arguably just as important. So how will our methods of work help us glorify God?
‘Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.’ (Proverbs 4:23). Although a temptation at all times, final year projects only crank up the pressure, and the danger of working idolatrously closes in. Therefore, check your heart. What is it set on? What is it delighting in? Do not idolise your work, because it will only demand more and more, but never give anything in return. Check your heart, guard it, for everything you do flows from it. A heart seeking first the kingdom of God will be seen in trusting work.
'While life can be complicated, the choice each morning is a simple one: anxious toil, or trusting work. I’m not talking about the odd all-nighter here or there, but which of those two characterises your life [or final year project]. We all make the choice, probably without noticing it, at the end of each day: either we will accept that we did what God gave us time for in that day and trust him for the things that were left undone, or we can reject his lordship and stay up all night, working or worrying or both, because everything rests upon our shoulders.' 1
As final year projects continue the temptation to toil anxiously over your work grows larger and larger, especially as deadlines loom. Will we wake praying that that as we begin the day and as it continues we would do so in dependence upon God?
Trusting work helps us to work well when we need to, and also helps us to rest well when we need to.
The pattern of Sabbath rest is helpful, and healthy. Anxious toil can breed a process of constant work, not only being unhealthy, physically and mentally, but as we have considered earlier, if we trace the path of the fear of not working, back to our hearts, what will we find? A heart set apart for God, or an idolatrous heart obsessed with work?
Ask yourself: how often am I working in evenings or weekends? How willing am I to set aside a complete day to have a break from work? This can prove to be helpful. And remember not working doesn’t mean doing nothing at all. Find refreshment in the many other activities that we are graciously blessed with.
But above else remember where we find ultimate rest: rest for our souls.
‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11:28-30)
The rest Jesus offers goes beyond the refreshment of physical rest.
'The rest that Jesus offers is not merely withdrawal or time out from life, but a realistic pattern of living the whole of life. Rest is meant to be the writing that runs through the stick of rock that is the Christian life.'2
We need to faithfully cast our burdens on him, and learn from him in obedience. Sitting at his feet, listening to his word, and being shaped by him.
Let’s not forget to come to Jesus. Spend time with him. Listen to him. Long to see him more clearly, walk with him more nearly, and love him more dearly. Don’t ignore this. Even when your project is calling out for attention. Remember, what rest does it ultimately provide? Spend time with the one who is gentle and humble in heart.
And remember to spend time with your family too. ‘Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as your see the Day approaching’ (Hebrews 10:25). Cherish your church family at this time, and always. Don’t give in to the pressure of seeing church as just an optional extra during your final year project, but see it as one of the essential foundations that it is.
At this point, we may push back and say, ‘My final year project is only a few weeks, a month or two at the most, surely it understandable to cut back on some things now and then, right?’. But the hectic, busyness of this time can be just a foretaste of the world of work, especially the pressures and challenges of a career in science. Setting habits of Lord-pleasing work through the provision of His grace now, will serve you well not just in this period, but for lifelong service, wherever you may be.
Martin Luther once said that 'God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars.' I think we can all join him, along with David and countless others in recognising the ‘glory of God’ declared by heavens themselves (see Psalm 19). We join with all creation in singing praises to the one whose ‘name is exalted; his splendour is above all the earth and the heavens.’ (Psalm 148). Observing the wonders of creation leads us to overflow with praise. From galaxies to ganglia, atoms to algebra, and so much more, there is no other response! This is no surprise considering ‘all things were created through [Jesus] and for [Jesus]’ (Colossians 1:16)
Science, and therefore your final year project, can put you at the forefront of observing God’s glorious creation. Do you recognise this? Have you recognised this before, during your studies? We don’t even have to be transported to the awe inspiring corners of the world via the latest Attenborough documentary. In the midst of trawling through journal articles and textbooks, and the seemingly endless typing of write up, take a step back and admire the reasons to praise an almighty God right before your very eyes. As you scrutinise your data, trying to decipher what your results mean, worship the one who is behind it all, the maker of all things, the one who knows perfectly the details we are desperately trying to wrap our heads around (Job 38-41). Who knows, you may find yourself joining in with creation’s song of praise, prompted not by a hymn book, but by the textbook lying open before you. Seize the opportunity of the situation you find yourself in during your final year project, and may the results be explicit praise to the One to whom it is all due.
It could be thought that heading into the busy time of final year projects could spell doom for any opportunities to share the good news of the gospel with anyone. As with any time though, we should ‘always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have’. There is a potential that the season of final year projects may present more than you originally think. Here are three quick suggestions why:
- After 2 or 3 years you will know your course mates better than ever before! Draw alongside them, love them, encourage them, support them during this potentially stressful time. In addition, you may find yourself interacting within different groups and individuals, from post-graduates, lab technicians and project supervisors.
- The opportunity to be different. What we put first in our life, and the methods in which we do so will no doubt stick out like a sore thumb as the year progresses. As you strive to live a life set apart for our Lord and Saviour, people will ask questions, I can guarantee you.
- Whether explicitly proclaimed or implied implicitly the topic of grades will arise. As we ask questions and discuss with our friends, there may be chances to share about the hope we have in Jesus. Not one found in grades, our project findings, or where we are headed post-university, but His life, death, and resurrection.
As we draw to a close, I hope and pray that you may see the deep joy that can be had amongst a final year project: joy rooted in Christ.
1. Matt Fuller, A Time for Every Thing, (The Good Book Company, 2019), 42-43
2. Matt Fuller, A Time for Every Thing, (The Good Book Company, 2019), 35