BY PHILIP HONG
This semester, I’m taking on a few harder classes and a few more extracurricular activities, and it has taught me that there’s always something productive you could be doing with your time. Being busy, you make a mental list where you prioritize all of your different activities, and I found myself prioritizing academics and other activities, especially those that have deadlines. As all of you already know, things can get overwhelming. Talking to some friends, I felt that I could sympathize with them when they said, “Oh yeah, I’m a Christian, but I’m not a really good one. I don’t really go to church.” I also got a chance to talk to my brother recently about how busy things are nowadays and about his experiences during college, and he gave me this advice. He told me that I should be asking myself, “Am I a college student who goes to church, or a Christian who goes to college?”
When I ask myself that, and stop to think about what I am doing here in college, I find that I must often identify myself with the former. What results is an increasingly apathetic heart towards things that should be of the utmost importance, such as time set aside to talk with God.
I know there are a lot of people who have already found a church family they can imagine belonging to for years, and even for the rest of their life. I thank God for that, but this is for those of you, like me, who have been trying a lot of different things, such as visiting local churches or going to club meetings, getting tired from it all, and have, as a result, become detached from everything. With the multitudes of people I meet, it’s hard to get to know any of them closely. Furthermore, not being entirely sure of major or extracurricular activity makes you not want to think about long term commitments to any one group of friends or specific club.
Feeling so simultaneously detached and overwhelmed, it’s easy to fall into the idea of becoming a “bad Christian.” However, I hope and pray that none of you reach the point where you consider yourself a “bad” Christian. I personally believe there’s no such thing, that it’s just a matter of reexamining where your heart is.
The world will often tell you to put your heart into the game or into your studies. Sure, these things will benefit you one way or another, but they also drain you in other ways. It may not be immediate, but we all get tired at some point. That’s why you should be putting your heart in the only thing that will last you longer than any worldly thing and will keep replenishing you as a result: God. Being a Christian means you’re in an intimate relationship with God, that you’ve dedicated your life to furthering His glory and executing His will. Thus, you are no longer your own, but God’s:
So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are His child, God has made you also an heir. (Galations 4:3-7)
You’re no longer a student, but a Christian student. You are no longer a dancer, but a Christian dancer. You’re no longer a business major, but a Christian business major. A friend put it this way; you shouldn’t make a priority list with God on top. Instead, you should make a list with God in everything that you do, so that you won’t be tempted to cross Him off the list like everything else. You are a representative of God in all these different territories.
What I’ve realized is being in a new place, as many of you have felt coming to Berkeley, with so many different opportunities, the option of being a Christian seems to wane in comparison to building up a résumé with clubs, sports, and such. I’m not saying that participating in these instead of attending Friday night meetings or prayer groups is a bad thing; I’m sure God would appreciate you taking advantage of all of the opportunities available to you. Just remember who gave you those opportunities and be aware that in the end, God’s not going to look at your résumé to determine if you get into Heaven.
Once you have the right heart, what do you do? Another cliché moment; take a chance. During my church search, I visited a lot of different churches on campus and a few far away. Always be open to different churches. Though they may seem over-enthusiastic or stone-cold sober, as long as they preach properly the Word of God (a subject which could take countless pages to write upon), then try it out. It’s definitely an emotionally draining experience going to so many different churches, but finding the right one is vital to your health and growth as a Christian. Being in a church provides a Christian with many things that could be covered by whole books, but, to give an example, it can provide a community. In addition, don’t be afraid of making friends with people in different fellowships, despite any negative first impressions. I know for myself, I made a lot of prior judgments, very skeptical judgments about people from local churches who invited me out to different church events during those first few weeks of school. In actuality though, they are not trying to reel you in with friendliness, but rather trying to make you interested with the kind of love God shows them. Jesus broke all kinds of barriers by talking to Gentiles, tax-collectors, and sinners. Don’t be afraid to break some barriers of your own.
And as a note to those who I mentioned before have found a church they have dedicated themselves to, continue helping. Some of you may have grown up in the church and have never had to handle the difficulty of feeling a bit lost. A lot of people haven’t been so fortunate though. So be an ambassador of God, and spread his love and glory, help those who have strayed from God by not building up barriers. My own youth group back home had this particular problem. We were so tight as a family that we became exclusive, making it difficult for newcomers to feel welcome. Just remember, the easier you make it for people to feel a part of the family, the more likely they will want to become a part of it.
But going back to those of you still feeling a bit lost. Although a cliché, the best way to find a solid group of friends is to find similarities. Of course you could find others who love to play soccer, or have a common appreciation for anthropology, but the great thing about devoting yourself to a fellowship is that you have a connection, a common love for God, which will never change or falter. Even if as an individual, you may falter, belonging to a community with a strong purpose can help you stay afloat. In this common bond, you find brothers and sisters who care for you and love you through prayer and fellowship; there is not much stronger or longer lasting than that. That is why this my advice to all of you who are uncertain of where they belong, or uncertain of what they should be doing: ask yourself, are you a college student going to church or a Christian in college? Once you understand what your answer is and understand where your heart lies, then you’ll find a community.