Back-to-School Exhortations

back-to-school exhortations

Francis Chow     |     AUGUST 15, 2019     |    5 MIN READ

“People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, and obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.” — D.A. Carson

This quote has stuck with me ever since the first time I read it. Much of spiritual growth in the Christian life happens by way of hundreds of seemingly small and simple decisions you make each day rather than the few major ones. In the same way, spiritual drift occurs by way of neglect. When we get caught up with other things that we forget to do this one important thing.

College student, as you prepare to begin a new school year, here are some reminders to actively consider to make sure you’re growing rather than drifting.

1. Don’t neglect your opportunities

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells a story about a master who entrusts three servants with varying amounts of talents. Two servants put their talents to good use, while one doesn’t do anything with it. When the master returns, he commends the two -- “Well done, good and faithful servant” -- while rebuking the one who did nothing.

In the same way, God has entrusted us with gifts, skills, and abilities for us to use them. We’re called to spend ourselves for the master. What he has given to us now, he will ask us about later.

In addition, we see that both servants, even though one had more talents than the other, received the same commendation. Successful and faithful stewardship isn’t defined by how much we have, but by what we do with it. God has given us more than enough to accomplish all that He’s called us to do, regardless of how “gifted” we might consider ourselves.

Here are a few questions about stewardship for you to consider:

  1. Are you using your gifts for others? 1 Peter 4:10 says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Our intellect, skills, and opportunities are not meant to be platforms to gain our own sense of significance, but ways to bless and serve others to the praise of God.

  2. How are you spending the time God has given you? We are called to be diligent with our time, but we must also recognize that time is a gift. God has given you exactly the amount of time that you need, so live gratefully. Beware of busying yourself, believing that it somehow defines your importance.

  3. How content are you with your season of life? In 1 Corinthians 7:17, Paul writes, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him.” In the immediate context, Paul is talking about singleness and marriage, but his point is that we shouldn’t stress over the fact that we’re in this season of life rather than that one. Are you pursuing the Lord, not just the desires of the heart?

2. Don’t neglect your relationships and community

As Christians, we are called to live in community and relationship with one another both for the sake of our own spiritual lives and so that we might love and serve others. The way that we often put it at my church is that you are both needy and needed. You are needy in the sense that you’re not meant to do the Christian life on your own, but you are also needed as God’s ambassadors of grace in the lives of those around you.

One significant relationship to consider is your local church.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Don’t just attend church on Sundays. Commit, invest, serve, and love your local church. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes the church using the metaphor of a body in which every part is necessary and indispensable. College student, that means that you are a needed part of your church body.

3. Don’t neglect your spiritual disciplines

What would it look look if you really committed yourself to reading, studying, memorizing, and dwelling in God’s Word?

Psalm 1 provides that picture for us. The final product of a life spent delighting in and meditating on God’s Word is “a tree planted by streams of water.” It’s fruitful, stable, healthy and prosperous. In whatever season, it flourishes. Why? Because it’s planted and connected to its source of life.

As college students, your season of life is one in which you are, in many ways, unrooted. Perhaps you’ve been “rooted” for the first 18 years of your life and now is the first time that you’re free and away from home. Your season of life is one in which you’re even discouraged to be “rooted” and the idea of staying somewhere is boring.

But college student, strive to be planted on the Word of God. Life might bring you here or there, but don’t move away from being planted next to the source of life.

These “spiritual disciplines” of reading the Bible, prayer, and spending time with God may seem too structured or inauthentic. But Psalm 1 shows us that discipline over time leads to organic growth and life. Bible reading isn’t just a box to check off on your Christian to-do list, but a means of getting to know God more. The more that we get to know God, the more that we are able to enjoy, love, trust, and obey Him.

4. Don’t neglect your character

You will do a lot of new and different things in college. But the most important thing about you is not what you do, but who you are.

Jesus puts it like this in Matthew 16:26: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” You can work hard to earn straight A’s in your classes, gain recognition, a great job, and financial security, but what good is it if you forfeit your soul in the process? Doing what God wants in every area of your life might mean not reaching your highest academic potential — not at the cost of your character.

You need to pay attention to the big things and the small things, the academic stuff and the spiritual stuff. There will seldom be a time in your life when you can just turn everything else off to focus on just one thing, especially when it comes to loving those in front of you. When it comes to things like flaking, being late, living out of balance, being careless with academics, or not having complete integrity in dating, recognize that all of that has to do with your character.

5. Don’t neglect your need for grace

I struggled academically during my first few quarters of college. In high school, I could just sit in class and do my homework, and it was enough to get good grades. When I got to college, I realized that I had to actually put in extra work to learn things on my own, and the beginning of college exposed my lack of study habits.

In a similar way, as you strive to put into practice some of the exhortations above, you will come to find that your own heart is messier and more sinful than you expected. It’s not that college, all of a sudden, created or caused all of these things — it simply exposed them to you.

Some of you will experience test scores that fall on the wrong side of the curve, rejection letters, unexpected changes in your career path, a regretful stewardship of your time, relational fallout, breakups, unmet expectations, and disappointment. More significantly, many of you will come face to face with your own sin.

There are a number of ways you can respond to this. Some people see the sinfulness of their own hearts and they don’t care. Others see it and despair, or they believe that they just need to get their act together. Don’t neglect your failures and even your sin because they are a reminder to you of your desperate need for grace.

In Luke 22:31-32, Peter vows to follow Jesus to prison and to death, and Jesus tells his overconfident disciple:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

As you know, Peter failed miserably. But it was through his failure that he saw the limits of his own strength, that he was broken of his pride, and that he came to understand that it was Christ’s hand which kept him and guarded him. In the kind and gracious and wise sovereignty of God, the failures that we experience are an opportunity to magnify Christ’s grace and can even be used for building up and strengthening others.

May God bless you this school year!

Francis Chow serves as the college pastor at Lighthouse Community Church in Torrance, CA. He graduated from UCLA and got his M. Div from The Master's Seminary. He's married to his wife Bre and in his free time, he enjoys trying new restaurants on Yelp, rooting for the Lakers, and drinking coffee.