It wasn't easy making it into the school of her choice, but Danielle did it. The Ivy League school she had always dreamed of attending would take her a couple of thousand miles away from family, church, and friends, but the invitation to this school was her dream come true, and she wasn't about to turn their offer down. Her parents, though very proud of their daughter's accomplishments, couldn't help but feel concerned about her future.
They worried: "Will she be safe on her own? Will she have to face loneliness? Will she end up finding a boyfriend, and will they be able to keep their relationship pure? Most important, will she still be able to hold onto God and her faith through all the temptations and stresses of college?" Sending their daughter off to a place so far from church and home gave them a feeling of total helplessness. All they could do was hope that their daughter would hold steadfast to her faith in God, and pray that He would keep their daughter in His tender care throughout the spiritually critical four years to come.
College: The Great Exploration The above story is one that Christian parents know and fear very personally, and it's one that many of us who have made it through our college years understand only too well. College is a tremendous exploration in so many ways. It's an exploration of the world around us that we make through our studies of science, language, history, mathematics, humanities, and so much more. It's also a terrific study and exploration of mankind that we engage in for better or worse, depending on the people we encounter. It's an exploration of a newfound freedom, especially since our parents don't have as much control over our spending, our curfews, our daily activities, and our friends as they once had. It's an exploration of our abilities to take care of ourselves financially, physically, and emotionally. And, most seriously, it's an exploration of ourselves in terms of who we are and where we really stand with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet if we aren't careful, in just four years of college study a lifetime of learning and growth through religious education classes, church participation, and daily communion with God can wind up placed in the attics of our hearts, becoming long forgotten and unused. We know this danger very well, but how can we make sure that it doesn't happen to us? How do we keep our faith, love, and service in Christ at the forefront of our college lives?
The Key to Holding On
Let your eyes look straight ahead, And your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, And let all your ways be established. (Prov 4:25-26)
While we're exploring and making our way through college, the key to maintaining and increasing our relationship with our Lord and Savior is to strive to maintain purpose and balance in our daily lives. As we prepare to enter the college world, there are three critical commitments we must make to ourselves and to our Lord Jesus Christ:
Select a college or university that will best affect our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Build up a support group of brothers and sisters in Christ.
Give first priority to our faith in, relationship with, and responsibilities to Jesus Christ, regardless of the obstacles and distractions that may come our way.
When we strive to uphold these three commitments to ourselves and to Jesus Christ, we are able to view situations and make decisions with strong spiritual insight and discernment.
Commitment #1: Choose Your School Wisely
In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. (Prov 3:6)
Here are some typical questions that college-bound students usually consider when deciding on a college:
How does this school compare to other schools in terms of its reputation?
What is the tuition? Will I be able to afford to go to this school?
How far is it from home?
Will I be able to afford housing and other expenses?
What kinds of programs does this school offer, and is my major one of them?
All college-bound students generally have to consider the above questions when deciding on the right college or university to attend, but Christian college-bound students have additional issues to consider:
How far from home and church is this school? Will I be able to make it to Sabbath services every week?
Is there a campus fellowship established by our members there?
Are there other brothers and sisters that I can regularly meet up with at school, or will I be pretty much on my own for the next four years?
What could happen to my faith should I become distanced from Sabbath worship and brothers and sisters in Christ?
Are there things that I can do to prevent myself from slipping in my relationship with Christ while I'm at school?
Making the decision to attend a school away from home and church is difficult. After much prayer, and after weighing all of the answers to these questions, we may decide that, while the school we originally had our heart set on offers much in terms of academics, it does not offer much opportunity to receive spiritual companionship and guidance through the church and its members. As careful Christians, we may have to make the tough decision to narrow our search to schools closer to a church. In other words, we may seriously need to make a conscientious sacrifice in order to benefit our relationship with our Lord and Savior. And as careful Christians, we need to keep our commitment to God first and foremost when making this decision.
As we all know, however, it's not always possible to study at schools near our churches or its members, especially when such schools don't offer the programs we need or want to pursue. In this case, it is even more important for us to entrust our cares to God and to make our decisions about attending a far-away school through a deep reliance on God's help. We also need to begin searching for ways to keep God in our daily lives, even though our circumstances might distance us physically from His fold.
Commitment #2: Build and Maintain a Strong Support Group
...not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:25)
I grew up in Tampa, Florida, and ended up attending the University of South Florida-a school just thirty minutes from home-for my undergraduate studies. I wouldn't say that I chose USF because it was the best school to attend to earn my degree in elementary education. And I can't say that I never considered moving away from home in order to gain greater experiences of being on my own. In fact, during my high school years, I had thought quite a bit about moving away for college and gaining my independence. But in the end, though my friends were all going to colleges out of state or out of town, I decided to stay in Tampa and be close to my family and church. After all, I had a four-year-old brother I couldn't bear to leave; our worship group was just beginning to form there, and was in strong need of workers; and, well, my mother told me that I couldn't go away….
Although I sometimes wished I had gone away for school, I also knew that it was indeed best for me to stay at home with my family and the new worship group. Looking back, I realize that I truly wasn't ready to go away for college-my faith was much too young to handle the temptations and stresses. After growing up away from our churches because of our highly mobile life as a U.S. Air Force family, I had very limited exposure to our faith and a very limited knowledge of God and the Bible. How could I have handled the pressures of college at the young age of seventeen, and without a very strong background of faith? If I had moved far from a support group of believers, how could I have kept myself strong in Christ? My mother knew what was best for me, and I am so thankful to our Lord Jesus for giving her such a strong spiritual love for me.
My family and the local believers in Christ became my support group during my years of college, teaching, and then graduate school in Florida. I believe that the experiences in Christ that I was blessed with during my days with the church in Tampa are what sustained me through my years of studying.
Whether you choose to go away or stay home for college, it's important for all believers to establish their own support groups during these critical years. If you go to a school close to church, be sure to remain active in worship services and church activities-make that commitment. If there are other members of our church attending your college, establish a campus fellowship-make the commitment to your group and to God to work together to keep each other strong in faith. And if you find yourself at a college far away from church, make the commitment to maintain contact with other brothers and sisters through the Internet, letters, or phone calls.
Commitment #3: Give Greatest Priority to Your Relationship with God
And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 Jn 2:17)
The final commitment we must make to ourselves and to our Lord Jesus Christ is the commitment to keep our relationship with Him first and above all else. It's not easy, but it is always the most beneficial commitment to make in the long run.
In Matthew 16:25-26, Jesus teaches us:
For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
This is a teaching that we always have to hold onto, especially when we face those extremely difficult college exams, struggle through those challenging and rigorous classes, meet our new groups of friends, take on that part- or full-time job as a student, or find that special someone. It's so easy to accidentally set God aside when we become so busy with everything that campus life involves. Much too often, without even knowing it, we find ourselves drifting further and further away from God because of our preoccupations with our studies, work, and friends. That's why, from the very beginning, we must plan a course of action to maintain a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ. We must make the determination to carry out the following preventive measures to ensure the stability of our faith:
1) Remember to pray to God at least two times a day: once before you begin your classes, and then once before you turn in. Use this time to really communicate with God your trust, thankfulness, and openness to what He has set before you. Ask Him to open your heart to feel how much He is a daily part of your life. Place your concerns on Him, and acknowledge that He is your heavenly Father, wanting only the best for you, His child.
2) Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy. If you are near a church or other brothers and sisters, make a deep commitment to keep the Sabbath by attending services or gathering for Bible study and fellowship. Don't allow other activities or distractions to pull you away from keeping God's holy commandment. Schedule that dentist appointment, make those camping plans, and postpone that shopping spree to the local outlet's big sale for another day or for later in the evening. Your commitment to God comes before that big half-off sale or that trip to have your hair cut.
But while most of us know to avoid these obvious distractions, there are a couple of others that commonly pull us away from keeping the Sabbath: working and studying. Too often, we become trapped in our weakened fleshly bodies and give in to the pressure to go to work or to study for that huge exam on the Sabbath, rather than attend church or Bible study. Hebrews 4:9-11 warns us:
There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.
We must try to avoid working or studying on the Sabbath—it is a holy day to be set aside for God and for our own spiritual rejuvenation.
3) Establish healthy and godly relationships around you. Be very cautious about the friends you keep, relying on the Holy Spirit to guide you into friendships that will benefit your faith. By establishing ourselves as Christians, and by presenting our values and beliefs to others through our daily actions, it will become almost automatic for us to weed out common temptations and pressures from peers. And it will be almost automatic for Christians, or those seeking Christ, to be drawn to us.
We must live in the world, but we must not be totally like those of the world. If we find that our relationships with others are causing us to sin or become distanced from our beliefs, we must learn to pull away from these friendships immediately. At times, it's really difficult for us to realize that our actions are becoming ungodly or that we are drifting further and further from Christ; that's why we must rely on regular Sabbath attendance and sermons, daily prayer, and the believers we keep around us. These critical components of our faith can draw us back to God through self-reflection as well as through loving corrections by brothers and sisters in Christ.
Wherever we go and in whatever we do, we must always remember to keep our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ at the forefront of our lives. We must make this commitment to ourselves and to God, so that we are always able to discern God's will in our lives, and so that we may always remain in Christ's love and salvation. In Colossians 1:9-14, Paul wrote to his brothers in Christ at Colosse:
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
Let us consider this message from Paul as every Christian parent's prayer for a college-bound child, and every believer's prayer for a college-bound brother or sister. May you be filled with the knowledge of God's will through spiritual wisdom and understanding. May you live a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way. May you bear fruit for the Lord. May you endure and patiently walk in your studies with Christ. May you always remember to honor and give thanks to Him. And when all is learned and done, may you receive your inheritance in the kingdom of light.
"On Campus" seeks to support and inspire an active faith among our youth through candid discussion and exploration of the many challenges facing Christians on campus. Please send comments on this article or questions about student life to email@example.com.