Pursuing God's call
Immersed in the very real world of home, work and campus life, college students face a number of concerns as they look to the future. Pursuing the best that God has for you is important, but it’s hard to do. The good news is that God is actively pursuing you. Ajith Fernando, director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka, will be the Bible expositor for the upcoming Urbana 06 convention. This interview should encourage you as you walk with God. The interviewer is David Harriman, who serves with Frontiers, a missions organization based in Arizona, and took place during a previous Urbana convention.
David: What principles have guided you as you’ve sought God’s will for your life?
Ajith: I felt the call to the ministry when I was fourteen years old. I didn’t join the ministry until I was 26 years old, so I was in a long stage of preparation where I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do. It was my involvement in an evangelistic community that helped guide me the most. While I was a student, I was faithful in doing my little thing as a Christian on my campus and in evangelism with young people. I tell students to be sure they’re part of a ministering community, such as InterVarsity, and be involved as much as possible.
David: How did God keep leading you?
Ajith: Along the way, the Lord gave me certain directives and principles — ones that helped me be effective later in ministry in Sri Lanka. For example, I felt God wanted me to work with the poor. This involved a further decision to be committed to a simple lifestyle. Now this is easier as a single person than as a married one, but I’ve tried to bring this commitment into my marriage by discussing it with my wife and struggling with the issues it raises for us. Guidance comes as God leads us to want what he wants us to do.
David: North American students live in a very materialistic and wealthy culture, and the pressure to conform is all around us. How can Christians stay within the will of God in the face of such temptation?
Ajith: The hope of material prosperity is a very serious problem in my culture, too, especially among young people. In my work, I have seen some young people who are ready to change the world and seem to have a deep passion for God. But when they get married and are a little older, they become quite useless as far as the gospel is concerned, in my judgment.
David: How does that happen?
Ajith: At crucial stages, they made certain decisions which, while not exactly sinful, moved them away from the path of the cross. College students and those in their twenties need to be very careful about this. They will be tempted, for example, to prove themselves early in their jobs to show their worth. In the process they will also be tempted to sell out to the world’s demands, to adopt materialistic goals and to give something up, something that was once part of their simple but radical discipleship.
David: What would help to counter this trend?
Ajith: You need to be accountable to people in a community. They may see that something you’re about to do is dangerous, and they will warn you. Unfortunately, many students don’t have such a community and aren’t accountable to anybody. Oh, they have friends to hang out with, but they really aren’t accountable. No one is close enough to tell them when it looks like they’re being diverted in the direction of materialism.
David: How can we recognize the pull of materialism?
Ajith: The biggest danger is our subtle drifting. I don’t think anyone makes a distinct decision, “I’m going to be a materialist.” Most of us drift into it without even realizing it. And others can see where we’re headed even when we don’t. Be close to a community of fellow believers and keep asking yourself, “Am I living the radical lifestyle of taking up the cross and following Christ?” This won’t be a convenient lifestyle. Much of the time, in fact, it will be risky and inconvenient.
David: Students often feel inadequate as they think about the future, and many are working through family issues and areas of brokenness. What words of hope do you have for students dealing with these things?
Ajith: First, it’s important to remember that no matter how bad people have been to you, God’s love is greater. And God can turn even those bad things into good. Your terrible experiences might even turn out to be something God chooses to use for something good. Believing that can give a ray of hope in the deep darkness of soul that you may be feeling. Sometimes our hurts are so deep that it takes a long time to allow God to love us and to heal us.
And so be patient with God, and don’t feel bad about feeling bad. The fact that you grieve over your past is a good sign. Don’t harbor anger. Those who know how to weep, and struggle, will one day be able to see God comforting them. And when you’ve experienced God’s comfort, you’ll be able to comfort others also. Hang onto your hope in God’s great ability to heal you, and to produce something out of your terrible pain.
Also, surround yourself with supportive friends who will help you through this time of grief and healing. When I have been deeply hurt, it’s been such a release to share my pain with my friends who are willing to listen to me. Many people are very cautious about making friends because it’s a risk to be open and honest. I’ve found that sharing deeply with my friends can be very humiliating. There’s no way around the fact that becoming a friend means becoming vulnerable. But along with that vulnerability may come an opportunity for healing. God never expects us to solve all our problems by ourselves. Ask God to help you find at least one good friend, no matter how hard it may be to do.
David: How do we stay true to our commitments when doubt and discouragement set in?
Ajith: Don’t be terrified by either doubt or discouragement; these are a normal part of the Christian life and the Lord may actually strengthen you through times like these. Some of the greatest saints in God in the Bible had times of doubt and testing. God may be testing the decisions and commitments you’ve made — or it may be a testing that comes from Satan. You’re going to struggle with the issues and the implications of following Jesus in the direction he has called you. The hope, of course, is that you would emerge from these times with a mature conviction of what the will of God is. Remember that God is with you in times of discouragement. Over time, try to see the bigger picture of what God is trying to do with you as you go through it.
David: How do we consciously pursue God’s call?
Ajith: Whatever happens, keep the communication lines open to God. You may not feel much like praying or doing Bible study, but let me urge you to keep yourself available to God’s comfort by continuing to meet with him. He is there. He’s waiting to hear from you and talk with you. Make a decision to give God time to speak to you, even if you have to sit there for a long time. He delights in comforting his children, but very often we don’t give him a chance to do it. We need to keep our ears open so that he can speak to us.
Also, be active in a Christian community, and be committed to a group of people who can challenge and support you. Look for opportunities to be involved in witness. Don’t wait to go to the mission field to be a witness; you are one now. Wherever you are, try to serve God as his faithful ambassador.
I think a lot of people are discouraged because they have not stuck to the “routines” of the Christian life. Because of that, their spiritual vitality is gone. And when that goes, in come more doubts and discouragement, along with all kinds of questions about the commitments they’ve made. One of the biggest challenges to you as a university student will be to manage your priorities — to do your studies, to be faithful, to your friends, to have your quiet times and to be involved in witness. It’s a strain to do all of these worthwhile things, but in fact they’re a major part of taking up the cross to follow Jesus. And when you do them, God will refresh your spirit.