Academic Faithfulness: When God's People Are Called to Be Students
In a recent post, we said that we will spend this fall at the Harbor exploring what it means to be God’s people. One thing we will find as we look at Israel in Exodus and the Church in Acts is that being God’s people is never an abstract call. We don’t worship God and bear his image in a vacuum; this happens in a particular context, in a concrete time and a geographical place. It happens in our real work and real relationships and real, living-and-breathing life.
So if you’re a college student, what does this mean? It means that your calling is, among other things, to worship God with your studies.
You may have never thought about that before, or even heard of the concept. Worship is what I do in church on Sunday mornings—what does it have to do with my studies? A lot!
In contemporary North American church culture, we have a very narrow definition of the word worship. Worship often has two simple meanings for us: worship is the musical portion of a church service, and worship is the name of a genre of music, headlined by artists like Hillsong, Chris Tomlin, and Jesus Culture.
These are really narrow definitions, and both confine worship to music. The Bible, on the other hand, gives a much more expansive definition. Hebrew, the original language of the Old Testament, has a word called avodah that, depending on the context of each passage, can be translated work, service, or—you guessed it!—worship. Think about that.
In his great book A Movable Feast, my friend Terry Timm quotes the worship leader Gerritt Gustafson:
- Worship is simply the expression of our love for God, which Jesus said should involve all our heart, mind and physical strength. It’s both an action and an attitude. And not just in part but holistically giving ourselves to God, our spirit, our soul, our body. It is a tangible way we express our love to God. And Jesus said it should involve our heart, our mind and our physical strength.
In a biblical worldview, our work, our service, and our worship all go hand-in-hand. This has a lot of implications. It means, for one, no matter how passionately or excitedly we sing on Sunday, if we mope around at our job on Monday, we’re not just being a bad worker; we’re being a bad worshipper.
It also means that even when on Sunday we sing “Christ alone, cornerstone” or “Our God is greater, our God is stronger, God, you are higher than any other,” our priorities on Monday may betray a different god, an idol, that our heart is actually serving.
What does this mean for college students? Your work, or at least a large part of your work, is the work of academics. Even if you can’t stand school, even if you’re just here because you need a degree to work in the field you are called to after school, if you’re a student, you’re called to be a student who worships God with your studies. And even if you aren’t sure if SRU is the right fit, or even if college is something you want to continue, until the day you are no longer enrolled at this university, you are called to be here.
The day before God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Moses was called to herd sheep to the glory of God. His calling was about to shift radically, but until God showed up with a set of instructions, faithfulness for Moses meant being a shepherd. Calling isn't simply about what we will do in the future, but also about what we're doing right now, even if our present circumstances don't match the goals we look forward to.
This means you are called to study in such a way that brings glory to God. It also means you may not study in such a way that your studies themselves become your god.
What does that look like? Is it about getting good grades? Is it about impressing your professors? Is it about compiling as much knowledge as you possibly can in four years?
Look at your context. Who are you? How has God equipped you, and how has he not equipped you? Like in every area of life, you must discern the particulars of what God’s calling will entail. You must meditate on God’s Word so you learn to hear his voice, and you must quiet your heart and mind in prayer, asking God to open your eyes to see what he is doing. And our always-faithful God will show you what it means for you to be a faithful student-worshipper.
To help you think through this more, check out the fantastic book Learning for the Love of God by Don Opitz and Derek Melleby. (You can order it from our friend Byron Borger at Hearts & Minds Bookstore, or you can borrow a copy from Sam.)
In the book, Don and Derek offer The Student Creed, a statement that captures the exciting and worthwhile call to academic pursuits. I don’t know of a better way to close than to offer their words as a benediction. Read them, speak them, and then get out there in your classrooms and the library and the lab and in your books and your research and all of your work, and embody this vision, to the best of the ability God has given you, in worship to him.
The Student Creed We study in order to understand God’s good creation and the ways sin has distorted it, so that, in Christ’s Power, we may bring healing to persons and the created order. As God’s image-bearers we are preparing to exercise responsible authority in our task of cultivating the creation to the end that all people and all things may joyfully acknowledge and serve their Creator and true King.
—Sam Levy is a CCO campus minister in partnership with Gateway Church at Slippery Rock University and Grove City College. He loves his family, baseball, cheese, and walking with college students as they pursue the God who is making all things new. Follow him on Twitter at @sdlevy13.