My husband and I lead the college and young adults ministry at our church. We love the students we get to hang out with. The majority of them are students at a Christian university where they have required chapels and dorm devotions, a required number of Bible classes regardless of the degree they’re pursuing, and a plethora of Christian teachers, leaders, and mentors speaking into their lives. It blows our minds that they STILL wake up early on Sunday mornings and come to church an hour and a half before service to be at a small group they’re not required to come to! (No judgement if you’re a college student who comes to our church but doesn’t wake up early to come to small group. Seriously, if sleep is what you need, then we want you to sleep! No guilt! However, no coffee or donuts either. Just sayin’. Well, okay, you can still get coffee in the church lobby. But the donuts—you gotta come to small group for those.) This post is for all the students who find themselves in a strong Christian community—whether it’s in a Christian university, a Christian organization on campus, or even a local church you call home (or home away from home).
There are some things I hope you learn from us and carry with you long into your future. This is one of them:
Following Godly instruction is not the same as spiritual transformation.
There’s a story in 2 Chronicles about a king named Joash.
2 Chronicles 24:2 says, “Throughout the time of the priest Jehoiada, Joash did what was right in the Lord’s sight.”
When this story is told in 2 Kings, it says, “Throughout the time the priest Jehoiada instructed him, Joash did what was right in the Lord’s sight.” (2 Kings 12:2)
Under Joash’s leadership (and Jehoida’s instruction), the people of Judah abundantly donated silver to pay for the temple of the Lord to be repaired.
“The workmen did their work, and through them the repairs progressed. They restored God’s temple to its specifications and reinforced it. When they finished, they presented the rest of the silver to the king and Jehoiada, who made articles for the Lord’s temple with it — articles for ministry and for making burnt offerings, and articles of gold and silver. They regularly offered burnt offerings in the Lord’s temple throughout Jehoiada’s life.” (2 Chronicles 24:13-14)
The people of Judah worshiped the Lord while Jehoiada the priest was alive and influencing the king. But after Jehoiada died, the story took a turn:
“However, after Jehoiada died, the rulers of Judah came and paid homage to the king. Then the king listened to them, and they abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and served the Asherah poles and the idols. So there was wrath against Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs.” (2 Chronicles 24:17-18)
Something that strikes me when I read the books of Kings and Chronicles is how incredibly gracious God is. Even when people have turned their backs on Him, He still beckons them and provides a path of repentance and restoration. In this chapter in 2 Chronicles, as soon as we see the people turn from God, we see God’s graciousness in the very next verse: “Nevertheless, he sent them prophets to bring them back to the Lord…” God isn’t quick to pour out His judgement; He’s quick to forgive and shower people with His grace…“but the people would not listen.” (2 Chronicles 24: 19)
In His graciousness, God reached out to them, but they wouldn’t listen. Ooph. And what happens next is heartbreaking:
“The Spirit of God enveloped Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood above the people and said to them, ‘This is what God says, “Why are you transgressing the Lord’s commands so that you do not prosper? Because you have abandoned the Lord, he has abandoned you.”‘ But they conspired against him and stoned him at the king’s command in the courtyard of the Lord’s temple. King Joash didn’t remember the kindness that Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had extended to him, but killed his son…” (2 Chronicles 24:20-22)
Joash didn’t just turn away from the Lord and lead the people in idolatry. He forgot about the man who invested so much into his life, the man who was responsible for all his success. And he murdered his son. Wow.
Things didn’t turn out so well for Joash in the end. (You can read about his assassination and sub-par burial in 2 Chronicles 24:25-27.) His life was a tragedy. He had so many good things going for him before his mentor died. When he had someone in his life who gave him godly instruction, he did great things. But that’s not enough. Not for Joash. Not for us.
Seek knowledge, but don’t stop there.
Strive to follow godly instruction, but don’t stop there either.
It’s easy to follow God when you’re immersed in a spiritual community where you’re regularly receiving godly teaching.
But what’s going to happen after you graduate and you’re no longer part of this community in the same way? What’s going to happen to your relationship with God when you don’t have regular chapels, small groups, or Bible studies anymore? What’s going to happen to your faith when you no longer have people checking on you, pouring into your life, and encouraging you to engage in spiritual things on a daily or weekly basis?
The challenge right now is to make sure you’re going beyond just following godly instruction. Knowledge and godly instruction without spiritual transformation is unsustainable.
If there isn’t spiritual transformation that’s happening in your life in this season while you’re immersed in godly community, then your chances of continuing to follow God when you’re no longer part of that community aren’t very high. One day you will leave this community—the people and activities that come with it. You may find yourself in another strong, Christian community. But you may also find yourself in a place where you are standing for God alone, called to be a light in a dark place. The kind of relationship with God you foster while you’re in this community will go with you. And if you foster a relationship with God that is dependent on other people and a set of activities, don’t be so sure your faith will stay intact when those people and activities are gone.
Go deep—where the Spirit of God can transform your heart, soul, and mind. In these years while you’re under the covering of a strong Christian community, learn what it means to be with God. And after you graduate, when you branch out from this community that has spiritually nourished you for the past four (or however many) years, continue. Yes, continue to seek knowledge and continue to follow godly instruction. But more than that, continue to go deep with God. Seek Him. Cling to Him. When things are hard, wrestle with Him. And allow Him to daily transform you from the inside out.
This is my prayer for you:
May you continually experience the transformation of God and become like trees planted by streams of water. And may streams of living water flow from deep within you and into the world around you. Amen.