Life + Culture

Don’t Waste Your University Years

Don’t Waste Your University Years

It isn’t so much the number that captures my attention, though there are about 21 million students in the universities and colleges of America. It’s the momentous nature of the season. Life-integrating insights, life-directing aims, and life-energizing forces are often found and firmly rooted in this momentous phase of life.

“Adolescence” and “adultolescence” did not always exist. They are creations of the modern world.

“Teennager” and “adolescence” as representing a distinct stage of life were very much 20th-century inventions, brought into being by changes in mass education, child labor laws, urbanization and suburbanization, mass consumerism, and the media. Similarly, a new, distinct, and important stage in life, situated between the teenage years and full-fledged adulthood, has emerged in our culture in recent decades — reshaping the meaning of self, youth, relationships, and life commitments as well as a variety of behaviors and dispositions among the young. What has emerged from this new situation has been variously labeled “extended adolescence,” “youthhood,” “adultolescence,” “young adulthood,” the “twenty-somethings,” and “emerging adulthood.” (Christian Smith, “Getting a Life”).

With the emergence of a new phase of life, not defined merely by age, but by cultural expectations, peer pressures, educational demands, economic exigencies, and a media-defined self-understanding, the likelihood of wasting this season is great.

Finding Insight, Aim, and Energy

When I say “waste” I don’t mean merely frittering it away with excessive entertainment. I mean failing to find the insight that truly integrates life, the aim that gives constant direction without regret, and energy that carries one through life fruitfully all the way to the end — and beyond.

This failure is the waste above all wastes in the university season of life.

Life-integrating insight. Life-directing aim. Life-empowering energy. For millions of students these dials are set in this season of life. And if they are set wrongly and permanently at take off, there will be no Mars landing, let alone any return. The little spaceship of life will wander off course, first surrounded by many stimulating sights, and then, endless night.

What is that insight, aim, and energy?

  • The life-integrating insight is the discovery that God’s word, the Bible, is the only true and totally reliable wisdom for shaping all of life.

  • The life-directing aim is the discovery that magnifying the glory and majesty of Jesus Christ is the goal of all things.

  • The life-empowering energy is the discovery that daily reliance on the gracious power of the Holy Spirit is the key to all lasting fruitfulness in life.

Yes, God is merciful, and many people make these discoveries later in life. I give him praise for that. But it is astonishing how many millions set these dials forever in college and graduate school. For good or ill.

Praying for a Great Awakening

I recently read You’ve Got Libya: A Life Serving the Muslim World. It’s the autobiography of Greg Livingstone, the founder of Frontiers. It brims with life-lessons. It stirs faith. It gives hope. And it tells the story of a fateful moment in college when young, visionary George Verwer said to a young, aimless Greg Livingstone, at a prayer meeting for the nations, “You’ve got Libya.”

The world will never be the same. That God took those two students, and used them to create two massive missionary forces, Operation Mobilization and Frontiers, is a testimony to how momentous these student days are.

I thank God, he captured my mind and heart in those years. Between the ages of 18 and 25 the dials were set. What a gift! A source of all-embracing insight, an all-directing, never-regretted aim, an inexhaustible energy not my own.

And what a privilege to have seen God bless the vast ministries to students — Cru, Inter-Varsity, Navigators, Campus Outreach; Conferences like Passion, Urbana, Cross, and countless Christian schools. And now, the joy of reaching out to thousands of students through desiringGod.org, and the joy of being the Chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary is an unexpected life-consummating gift.

By the year 2025 one estimate says there will be 262 million students enrolled in higher education worldwide. Pray with me that God would bring a great awakening of insight that truly integrates life, an aim that gives direction without regret, and an unfailing energy for all of life — and beyond. May the Bible, the glory of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit become the dominant realities for millions of students.


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