When I became a university student, along with the independence and fun that was to follow, I was struck by how this new freedom could so easily weaken my integrity. This initial lack of accountability meant no one was watching over me, holding me to my word or mentoring me through these new changes and environments where, let’s face it, I could be whoever I wanted to be.
It’s with this in mind that I began to write and think about how, in practise, we can live out the grounding and fundamental elements of Christian life in the whirlwind of University life. I want to think about how we can live out truly biblical principles in the university environment (and then carry on past graduation)…
At University, this can seem even more counter cultural than we at first consider, and sadly, I reckon it only gets rarer as we go through life. The trend to extract from others/societies/courses all you can so that it builds you CV, your reputation, and your ego contrasts itself with Jesus’ character.
Philippians 2:3-5 show us exactly how Jesus’ nature should be apparent in the way we view those around us. To serve your housemates even though providing for yourself is causing you to dip into that overdraft. To garden for your neighbour, even though they’re not students (God forbid such interactions!!!). To offer to cover for someone, or actually cancel your plans to support someone through a tricky time.
These practises demonstrate a certain heart-posture we must learn for life. This lifestyle is one seeking to love others as we have been loved by Jesus, as we have been served by him, even whilst we were ignorant, selfish sinners (1 John 4:19). The last one packing away, the first one to offer to do the unglamorous task and the one who never makes you feel rushed or burdensome – that person is showing you a bit of Jesus; they are bringing that sliver of God’s kingdom into that sphere of University culture, and beyond.
Rest and retreat
In amongst 24hr libraries, 7 day working weeks and “pulling all-nighters”, the idea of rest and retreat gets lost in the chaos. Lie-ins are used to recover from hang overs, which were caused by the partying done the night before in an attempt to balance out the hard work done recently. Work constantly demands more of us, commitments pressure for more and more involvement – and before you know it, it’s as if we can’t cope in our own strength.
Well, you’re right there.
I mean, you’re only wrong if you think we’re ever supposed to do it in our own strength. I mean as if we really could, really.
The idea behind rest and retreat isn’t laziness, it’s not hiding from problems, it’s not even just to get a bit more energy. It’s more than that. Rest and retreat serve as a recharge and refocus onto what is holding us together, on what is our motive for getting up, even when we’re tired and in need of that end of term, 3 day hibernation. Isiah spells it out when he says we should “wait for the lord” to “renew our strength” (40:31), it’s in the acknowledgement of where our strength comes from, that we are renewed with energy and purpose. It reminds us of the truths throughout scripture – that we’re are defined by who we are (in Christ), not what we do. It draws us back to Jesus, allowing him to speak to us, to guide us, to challenge our hearts and encourage our vision.
Ever felt like the only time you stop and pray are either when you’re at your wit’s end, or when you just have to reel off your list of worries and tasks, never just praying to meet and hear from God, agenda-less? Retreat centres us back on the knowledge that God is our strength, our peace and our refuge, but also, that he leads us through the valleys and doesn’t teleport us out of them. That essay, that difficult housemate, that reading – there are so many lessons God lovingly wants to teach us at University, and he honestly doesn’t mind if the essay is a 1st or 3rd, he’s more concerned about your diligence towards it, your peace with it and your consistent reliance on him throughout it.
Whilst other’s extra timetabled commitments might be concerned with what’s trendy, or CV polishing, seeking the kingdom first in all you do might shift that a little (check out Matthew 6:33) . I mean, in my opinion, if you’re lucky, God will call you to be a witness within that rugby team, or that sailing squad (I’ve always thought sports are so great at uni …and then you go and get injured… but that’s for another chat).
How we spend our time and seeking the kingdom first and foremost requires a holistically missional life. A life where you set the norm as name-dropping Jesus or church (preferably both). A life where the invite to your church is natural, is fearless, is honest and genuine. A life where your faith impacts every crevice – from how you handle that crush, to how you write that newspaper article, how you behave on that night out and how you act in stressful competitive situations. You may find you engage with the nights out, the sports, the journalism etc. – that’s fine, but be under no illusion that God doesn’t mind if you blend in here and go with the crowd.
God may have placed us in the world, but we are not of it; we are called to engage with the people and culture around us, but to remember we are rooted in who Jesus says we are, and are constantly journeying to become who he calls us to be (John 17:15-18).
I live in Britain which means I am a minority at University, as a church-going Christian (unless you’re in CU), but God calls us, wherever we find ourselves, to be building his kingdom and showing his ways to whoever we influence, lead or collaborate with.
Managing a night-out with genuine integrity, writing for the university paper without gossiping or being utterly ungracious, not letting competitive spirit corrupt your speech and thoughts… these characteristics have their place in the kingdom. Keeping the vision real is hard, and rare, but if its right, it is so so worth the battle – the battle is already won by Jesus after all!