Sustainable Spiritual Growth in a Godless Culture
Reality suddenly weighed upon my shoulders. Was that it?
Did all of my hard work over five years culminate in a single span of about forty five seconds? What am I supposed to do now? Where am I going to go? Who am I going to be? Was it worth it? My dependence upon my now Alma Mater for all of my housing and dietary needs came to a sudden, resounding halt.
Yes, I had been looking forward to this moment for the span of my collegiate career, and yes, I was desperate to move on to the next stage of my life. However, I, like so many others, never fully realized the weight that such a moment would bring. “It’s up to me now” is an accurate summation of the many thoughts that raced through my mind that night. I remember distinctly not knowing if I was going to have a job or a place to live immediately after graduation. Everything was up in the air and all that was left for me was to trust that everything I learned in Bible College was true. Moreso, that God was faithful and He was trustworthy.
*Spoiler alert* He was and still is.
That, however, is not the primary reason that I write to you today. That theme of God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness will surely be woven into the grand narrative of this article, but I come to you writing about a topic much more comprehensive. I come with a message of hope for soon-to-be, and recent college graduates, specifically those of Bible/Christian Universities. In an attempt to expose the direction of this article, allow me to impose upon you a question, or two…or three. Take your time to think and feel them out. I believe that, if my assumptions are correct, it will resonate with you where you are.
What are you left to do when you are no longer surrounded by the daily teaching of God’s Word? To whom are you supposed to run to when you are no longer surrounded by like minded individuals with whom you can share your deepest struggles, doubts, and questions? How do you find community in a culture that seems so obstinately opposed to that ideal? More specifically, how do you shepherd your own soul after the “hyper-spiritual” dust settles and when the painful, toiling reality of a daily, often lonely, spiritual walk sets in? When the only one responsible for making sure that your investing in a personal relationship with Christ is you?
While I believe Bible Colleges/Christian Universities do a fair shake in training men and women for a logical, knowledge based “ministry”, I propose that there is a sincere struggle for the individual student to cultivate their own personal walk with Christ, to shepherd their own soul. As a recent graduate of a Christian Higher Education Institution, I feel as though I have the ability to make such a claim. Not only did I live through it, I continue to see that trend unfold in front of my very own eyes. Please, believe me when I say that the intense, intentional study of the Word of God in a controlled setting is highly valuable and strongly encouraged. Believe me when I say that the focused pursuit of memorizing the knowledge put forth through the testing of the mind is valuable and has its place.
Trust me as I propose that a centered, deliberate concentration of like minded individuals studying for the purpose of ministry and investing in life together is radically life changing. However, I ask that you humor me when I propose that at the end of the day, and at the end of it all, it is not enough.
Students are taught the definitions of such terms as, hamartiology, soteriology, and dispensationalism, but are never taught how to answer questions such as, “If God is so good, why do I want to kill myself?” or “How do I continue on when my hope is lost and I feel as though God has turned His back on me? Don’t mistake me, I’m sure that any person with a Bible class, or two, under their belt could assert a logical explanation for their pain, but can anyone take the Gospel and allow it to sit in the middle of their brokenness? Would anyone be truly willing? What about when we, the graduates, are the ones asking those questions? What about the times when we, the graduates, are left despondent because we, of all people, should be able to have this figured out, yet are utterly lost? How do we take the knowledge that we have been given and apply it to our everyday life in a practical, everyday kind of way?
The answer to that question is, ironically, found in a question that I was personally used to asking. I love Psychology and the counseling field so it only made sense that the vast majority of my time talking with people was my asking them “why.” I wanted to know the why’s of their words, actions, and mindsets. I believed that a person’s motivations would often reveal the true nature of their hearts. Never once did I fully realize to ask myself the same question about my own relationship with Christ, nor apply it to the Bible students around me. I had spent years scouring the Word for the answer to my questions, but the answer was right in front of me.
I realized one day that after spending my entire life in the church and the better part of five years in a Bible College, I had never figured out why I believed in this Jesus’ character in the first place. What a revelation, right? I knew that I was saved because I saw the Lord’s hand working in me on numerous occasions. I knew that I “loved” the Lord, but I realized that day that my “love” for the Lord was on an intellectual level. It had never truly seeped into my heart.
Do you find yourself in the same position? You may have studied the God of the Bible, possibly preached His name, or even been seen as a go-to person when it comes to Biblical advice, but some of my words tug deep at your heart? Maybe you’ve never asked this question, but my friend, today is the day. Who is Jesus, and why does He matter?
Spiritually shepherding your own soul pre-graduation, or post, simply boils down to your willingness to dig into the depths of your own soul and allow the light of the Gospel to penetrate it. Understanding fully that there is a God who loves you, but He is not content to leave you the way that He found you.
I believe that you have to be willing to ask the hard questions and genuinely pursue an honest answer. Can I tell you what I’ve found Jesus to be in my own study?
He is a relentless pursuer of obstinate souls. He is a fierce and jealous Savior of the inherently wicked. He is a gracious and mighty Advocate for those who fall short on a daily basis. He is the Creator, Sustainer, and is the very breath inside of your lungs. He is awe inspiring, full of mercy, the firm rock upon which we should stand. He is Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, and He loves you.
He sees you.
He pursues you.
He longs for you.
Pastor, there is hope for you today because of Christ’s resurrection power and victory over the grave.
Missionary, there is refuge for you today because Christ sees you where you are and is pursuing after your holiness.
College student, there is rest for you today because Christ is faithful even when you feel that you do not have the strength.
To those who read this and are lost, there is hope. To those who read this and are tired, He is strong. To those who read this and have no faith, He still loves you. Who is Jesus? He is the man who, after Peter betrayed him and denied him three times, looked at Peter in love, and a short time later restored him to ministry. He is the man who, when falsely accused, remained silent because of his obedience to His Father’s will and His love for those who oppressed him. He is the man who, having the full power to remove himself from the cross, chose to stay.
Why does it matter?
Because He did it for you. He did it for your holiness. He did it so that you and I could know fully the immeasurable love of God, the Father.
Shepherding your own spiritual life does not hinge upon your ability to successfully read the Bible and pray every day of the week. It does not fall onto your ability to have all of the answers, always make the right choices, or know all of the answers. It is contingent upon the grace of Christ on the cross, the resurrection power displayed on the third day, and your willingness to obey the Holy Spirit when He moves.
So, how do you recognize this and hear fully the moving of the Holy Spirit? Ironically, you discipline yourself to be in the Word of God and in prayer every single day. It isn’t a checklist, it’s a lifestyle. It’s a heart desire. It’s a longing and a yearning to know more fully the Savior of all of Creation because He longs for you. Read that again…
The One who holds all of creation in the palm of His hand longs for you. He longs for you to know Him. He longs for you to be Holy. Allow that truth to permeate your heart and mind. Sit in it. Soak it up… In doing so, I challenge you to ask the hard question of “Why?” It may seem uncomfortable, foreign even, but if you’re willing to be honest, Christ will be faithful to illuminate those places of your heart and deepen your faith.
In order to be helpful, I want to try and give you three practical ways you can apply this article to where you are right now.
- Interrogate Your Heart
- In light of the Gospel, be willing to prayerfully ask the Lord and yourself the “why’s” of your faith. Don’t settle for what professors or pastors tell you. Don’t settle for “well, this is what I’ve always known.” Be willing to dig deep into the dirt of your own spirit and allow the Lord to shine the light. Be ready to confess what is revealed! He is a faithful revelator.
- Your Method Matters
- Bouncing to and from in the Bible searching for a piece of inspiration from one or two verses is a horrible misuse of God’s Word. The Word of God is not a fortune cookie. It is meant to be studied, discerned, and applied. Find a book of the Bible, grab a commentary, and prayerfully dig your way through the Word of God. The Holy Spirit will be faithful to open your heart.
- Hold on to Hope
- No matter how many questions you ask or the methods you use, it is inevitable that temptations, sin, and the difficulties of life will drag you down. In these moments, faith becomes a living entity. It is tested, defined, and refined. Hold on to the hope that, even if your circumstance on Earth does not improve, we will one day behold the face of our Savior and all will be redeemed. Hold fast.
If you find yourself in a position today of seeking, my heart and my prayers are with you. You certainly aren’t the only one. There is a God who pursues after us despite ourselves. Keep fighting the good fight. It will be worth it!
You are loved.
You are valued.