An email question has come in from the West Coast: “Hello Pastor John. My name is Nathan and I’m a college student in the Bay Area, California. In my first year of college, I’ve found your sermons and books quite helpful on the journey for joy. Thinking back to your early days at Wheaton College and your annual involvement at the Passion Conferences, what advice would you give to college students today?”
Well, I jotted down seven pieces of advice. And there could have been a lot more, but I know these podcasts are supposed to be manageable. Here they are:
1. Be Loving God
Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. It is the first and the great commandment (Matthew 22:37–38). That is, use your mind, your college-educated mind, to feed the fires of the heart with the fuel of truth. Let everything you study function as a means of inflaming the heart. Put all of your intellectual and physical effort into guarding and fueling your heart. Never give in to the emotionalism which neglects thinking or the intellectualism which neglects the heart.
“If you want to be happy, want others to be happy just as much.”
Loving God with the heart is the great essence of why the universe was created. Treasuring God over all things. That is what loving God means. The mind and the body — when it says love God with all the heart and the mind and the body — the mind and the body are the servants of the heart. And then the passions of the heart become visible through the mind and the body. That is number one.
2. Be Loving Others
The second commandment is like it. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Be a servant in college, not a self-preoccupied, self-exalting egoist. If you want to be happy, want others to be happy just as much. That is what “love your neighbor as yourself” means. If you want to make good grades, want others to make good grades. If you need help with math, give Jim, give Jill help with English. If you want to be in a home for Thanksgiving, help someone else be in a home for Thanksgiving. Loving your neighbor as you love yourself doesn’t start after college.
3. Be Saturated in the Bible
Ten minutes a day in the Bible will not cut it in this world. This is the very word of God. Read it. Meditate on it. Memorize large portions of it. I didn’t hear anyone recite from memory a paragraph of the Bible until I was 28 years old. I only heard verses. Never for 28 years in the church. I never heard a paragraph of the Bible recited from memory. And oh, the effect it had on me!
When Art Lewis recited Matthew 6:25–33, that was paradigm-changing in my life. Memorized chapters of the Bible are important. Memorize chapters. Memorize whole books. Memorize the Sermon on the Mount. Memorize particular psalms. I doubt that anyone will be an effective Christian in our day standing against the culture, and for the culture, without much Bible memory.
4. Be Done with Self-Reliance
Be done with all vainglory, self-sufficiency, and self-reliance, and cast yourself daily on the Lord to help you with everything — everything. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” — nothing (John 15:5). Believe that. Believe that. Make it part of who you are. “I can do nothing without Jesus.” And then turn to Proverbs 3:5–6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on [or rely on] your own understanding. In all your ways [every one of them — every hour, every minute] in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” So turn every hour to God afresh. Turn to him afresh and pray, pray, pray for his supply of strength and wisdom and grace to do everything you do.
“Ten minutes a day in the Bible will not cut it in this world.”
You are not your own. You live in the strength of another. He bought you for this. So learn to do this; namely, “whoever speaks, as the oracles of God; whoever serves [that’s us, every minute], as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 4:11). So pray, pray, pray — be done with all moment-by-moment self-sufficiency, and be utterly dependent on God.
5. Be-Long to a Church
Belong to a Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting, God-centered church that preaches the whole counsel of God, and be connected there with God’s people. Don’t wait till after college to be a mature, responsible church member. Break the mold of late adolescence who think that life is just play and school. It is not. Life is responsible membership in a local church relating to people of all kinds and all ages. So grow up. Break the mold of those around you, and grow up years ahead of them.
6. Be Guarded from the World
Guard yourself from craving what the world craves. If you find that hanging out with unbelievers is making you love what they love rather than helping them love what you love — the one you love — back off and fill yourself with love to truth and to God some other way. Same with media. If the computer, the phone, the tablet is making you crave what is destructive to your soul, lay it down. Cut off your hand. Tear out your eye. Do what you have to do to be radically devoted to Jesus and his holiness.
7. Be Testing All Things
“Do what you have to do to be radically devoted to Jesus and his holiness.”
Finally, you have one life to live. And it is not a good thing to experiment with it. What will make life work? What will make my eternity happy? God did not give you life to experiment with. He gave you life and he gave you a Book. God has spoken. It is not a matter of experimentation. It is a matter of application of God’s word to everything. He knows all things. He knows what will make you happy in the moment. He knows what will make your life count for the here and now. So trust him.
Know his word. Test all things.