Over the next few months, thousands of students in the Jackson area will graduate from high school and start the rest of their lives. Are they prepared? Can they flourish? Can we say that Christian men and women are leaving our churches and ministries equipped for life after high school? I’m not specifically talking about graduates being prepared for difficult professors and stressful job interviews. But the question for us is: What should these graduates know about the Bible, the Gospel, the church, and their own hearts as they leave? The temptation in writing an article like this is to communicate only the survival disciplines (“Do ____,” “don’t do ____, ““college will be like _____,“ “when I was in college ______”, etc.) that need to be in place, and those are important to hear. But with all of our advice, counsel, encouragement, and sermons; we must aim at the heart and not just the behavior. So graduates, here are a couple of things I charge you to work into your heart as you head off to college:
First, Love the Church. About a year ago I read an article by a pastor and author in Michigan named Kevin DeYoung. This article was his would-be-Screwtape-Letter about college students. Now the book, Screwtape Letters, was written by C.S. Lewis, and it is a fictitious account of an older demon named Screwtape and he is coaching his nephew demon, Wormwood, in how to spiritually destroy his patient. That said, in this article Wormwood’s patient is a college student whom he is trying to spiritually ruin. And this is how Screwtape advises Wormwood: “For hell’s sake, Wormwood, church is absolutely out of the question. If he tries church for a few weeks, make sure it is a pointless endeavor. Church attendance is bad enough but consistent attendance at the same church spells almost certain doom for our cause. So see to it he never knows the people he is worshiping with. Keep reminding him of how rotten the music is over here, and how long the sermon is over there, and how bland the coffee is at that other church. Trust me, it won’t take much to get him floundering on church. Almost any excuse will do. College students are nothing if not critical. If your subject is determined to go to church, make sure he searches for the perfect church. Within a few weeks he will be fast asleep on Sunday morning.” I had chills the first time I read that article. Our generation is prone to talk of being pro-Jesus and yet anti-church. Besides being unbiblical, life outside of the body of Christ will slowly kill your soul because you were created for community. Devote yourself (Acts 2:42) to the church. As you place yourself under the means of grace (the Word, the sacraments, and prayer), God will convince you that Jesus is more lovely and beautiful than your idols. In these ordinary and seemingly small ways, God is at work. Commit to a church (yes, even in college). Get involved. Serve. Join the choir. Help with the children’s ministry. Bring a casserole to the potluck. Graduates, if you have already washed your hands of the church, please come home (Luke 15). You matter to us; we need you; and we long to welcome you home.
Second, Seek Wisdom. Whether going to college or to the military or to the workforce, seek wisdom. Read Proverbs. Read the Sermon on the Mount. Read the Puritans. Make it a goal to get a mentor. Without one, you will limp along through life. Who you are and who you are becoming is who you are going to be. In other words, you are shaping your character in these years. So think carefully about what you want that to be. This will help you become an adult. Be principled. Be responsible even when it hurts. If you don’t have any convictions, find a gray haired, godly man who loves the Bible, has been faithful to his wife, and his church and emulate him. Remember that joy and duty are friends not enemies. Dream big – prayerfully. Take actual steps toward your dreams, even if they are small. Dare to do great things for God and His world, but put your faith in His promises, not in your dreams. Have Biblical standards for finding a spouse. Do not lower the standards. Do not get your standards from Netflix or the internet. Read Ephesians 5 – a lot. Read good books on marriage – I recommend Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. Spend time around the dinner table of older, godly couples. Get involved in activities that actually matter (intramural football matters) – feed the poor and mentor a high school kid in your church’s youth group. Beware of false assumptions. Don’t assume you understand the city of Jackson. Don’t assume you understand your church. Don’t assume you understand your parents. Study these things and seek to love them even though they are broken in different ways. But also seek to study your own heart and its sinful tendency toward criticism and cynicism when it comes to authority. Be generous and give of your time and your money. The best way to fight a greedy heart is to be generous. You will experience suffering, but “count it all joy when you experience trials” (James 1). Your parents will get divorced and/or file for bankruptcy and/or you will get rejected by an individual or an institution that you longed to accept you and/or your Mom will get cancer. It will be unannounced, unexpected, inconvenient, and life-changing. It is often made worse because no one tells us it is coming. You heard it here – it is coming. You will experience suffering and your suffering will either make you beautiful or bitter. Run to God in your trials. In all these things and more, seek godly wisdom.
Third, Know Your Name. You might be saying, “Thanks for that one David!” But hear me out on this one. Most people go to college to make a name for themselves, right? It is easy to go to college to try to make a name, to try and prove yourself, to try to establish your worth, to try to find an identity, to try to get a spouse, to try to get a career underway, etc., etc., etc. But, you see, if you are in Jesus you already have that! In Christ, your hairs are numbered; your citizenship is in heaven; you are forgiven; declared righteous; adopted; sealed; indwelt; and kept. However, we easily forget these biblical truths. In college, you will be tempted to think that something else out there will give you an identity and a name. You will try to achieve a sense of significance through a thousand different things. So when stressing and panicking about that test coming up – study hard, but then put your notes away, get some sleep, and remind yourself that your identity is in Christ. When asked “How are you?” cease and desist from answering with “busy” every time – slow down, don’t try to please everyone (because your identity is not based on your approval ratings on campus), “Don’t be anxious about anything but in everything but in everything by prayer and petition present your requests to God…”(Philippians 4:6) and remind yourself that your identity is in Christ. When you find a spare moment of peace and quiet in your dorm room, don’t immediately reach for your phone or find where the energy and activity is on your floor that night – call your parents, read something in the Old Testament, and remind yourself that your identity is in Christ. When you fail at these things (and you will fail); don’t look to your performance to get right with God; don’t get back on the works-righteousness treadmill; and don’t start your self-righteous campaign. Instead, meditate on Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”; and remind yourself that your identity is in Christ.
It is very important that you continue to work these truths down deep. College can tend to be an anti-grace culture where you are accepted based on your performance at every step and in every sphere. Therefore, remember that when you fail this list to whatever degree, your identity and standing with God doesn’t depend on you not hitting bumps in the road, and it doesn’t depend on how great you are as a blooming young adult. Remember your need of God’s grace and apply it to your heart – everyday. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous but for sinners. So run to Jesus continually with your poor, needy, sick, sore, ill, and flabby heart; run to Him on your good and glorious days; and run to Him on your worst and wounded days. You will find that He will never leave you or forsake you.