Making the most out of college

For StudentSoul SP-20060929

Well, here you are. You’ve embarked on four (or more) years of study in a secular university. What will you do with your years in college? How can you spend your time so that four years from now, when you graduate, you can rejoice that you made wise choices?

Here are four areas worthy of focus. These are not meant to be exhaustive but rather foundational, and if you set priorities carefully in these areas, you’ll be off to a great start this year.

Love Jesus

First, love Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Four years of college fly by faster than you might imagine. And there are so many things you could give yourself to — so many things that can fill up your time. That’s why all your decisions need to be made in light of your relationship with Jesus. Is getting straight A’s your greatest goal? Or are friendships your primary concern? What about extra-curricular sports or clubs? Or again, overwhelmed by all the choices, will you attempt to become a “Renaissance person,” dabbling in a little bit of everything, a jack-of-all-trades while a master of none?

A good question to ask yourself is this: Is your relationship with God merely a means to other ends, or is that relationship the end itself? Will you love God in order to get straight A’s, or will you study hard because you love God? If Jesus Christ is Lord of all, your relationship to him will affect absolutely everything you do in college.

Your first and greatest priority, then, must be to put yourself in a position where you can clearly hear and respond to the Lord. Here are three spiritual disciplines that can help you do that:

  • Develop the habit of setting aside time to be alone with the Lord in prayer and Bible study. Of course we can commune with God throughout the day, and we mustn’t compartmentalize our lives between the “spiritual” and “secular,” but every important relationship needs a regular time of concentrated focus.
  • Take the idea of the Sabbath seriously. Busyness is one of the greatest idols of contemporary America and when we purpose to do no work one day out of seven, this idol loses some of its hold on us. In the Ten Commandments we read, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work …” (Exodus 20:9-10) The point here is not legalism, but rather that a habit of intentionally refraining from work is a continual reminder to us of our need for God.

    Why not keep a day a week (Sunday is a good choice) to worship with others, rest, write snail-mail letters, take long walks, drop in on friends, read fiction or play with children? Spend concentrated time in prayer, reflecting on your last week and preparing for the upcoming week. Keeping a day a week to rest is giving God the first fruits of your time, showing him that you trust him to help you accomplish all he is calling you to do.
  • Develop the habit of instant obedience to whatever God tells you to do. One of the dangers of the academic life fostered by today’s universities is the paralysis of analysis. It’s hard to act on any new piece of knowledge you’ve gleaned because there is always another paper to write or the next exam to study for. We are to be reflective and analytical, yes — but we are also to obey through actions. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” our Lord asks. When God finds that he can entrust us with truth, knowing that we will be quick to act on whatever he shows us, he will reveal even more of himself to us.

Value people

A second priority is to make people a major part of your life. What will you remember most about college? People. Friendships — giving yourself to others, with all the joys and sorrows that kind of closeness brings.

Who are the people you’re going to invest in this year? It may be roommates or other people you’ve met. It could be other students in your fellowship group or church. Decide now to make your years in college a time when people are a priority.

Study hard

Third, study to the glory of God with the mind of Christ. A weakness of many spiritually-minded students is an anti-intellectual approach to studies. The Christian life is often translated as doing a lot of “spiritual” activities: reading the Bible, praying, going to Christian meetings and sharing one’s faith, while academic studies get short-changed. “After all,” the thinking goes, “one must put Christ first.”

But this is a truncated and narrow understanding of what it means to love God. We are told to love God with all of our minds, and this includes thinking deeply and responsibly about his world. When you take classes in the natural or physical sciences, you learn more about the kind of universe God has created. When you study the social sciences or humanities, you have the privilege of learning more about human beings.

A Christian student has to work extra hard. Not only must you do all the mandatory reading and writing required of all your colleagues, but you must further reflect, with a Christian mind, about the various truth claims which are being made. How is what you’re learning compatible with a Christian world view? What bearing does your loyalty to Jesus play in the way you think about issues or moral dilemmas presented in class?

Remember that you are in school to learn, not to impress your professor or build up a résumé. Try to care a little less about grades. Trust God to take care of your future; your responsibility is to be faithful in using your mind to its fullest capacity.

Tell about Jesus

Fourth, bring the gospel to bear on everything you touch. Ask, “How is the gospel truly good news in this situation?” It’s easy for Christian students to develop a “holy huddle” mentality which distances them from people around them. But our Lord calls us to be salt and light in the world. There is no need to be ashamed of the life we offer in Christ to those we interact with every day.

We make Jesus Christ visible to the world in many ways whether it be in our personal conversations about him with our friends, in our service at the local soup kitchen, in our engaging the issues of justice in our cities and in the university, or in our treatment of the people we encounter.

Whether you’re just entering college or returning for another exciting year, seek more than the desire merely to survive your college years; take the offensive (without being offensive). Bring Jesus into your decisions. And be intentional in the way you offer the good news of the gospel to every person or situation you touch. God will take care of you; take some risks in reaching out to those who don’t yet know him.

—Kevin Offner