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Building a Firm Foundation
InterVarsity President Tom Lin shares five practices every student can start now
By Tom Lin
Twenty million students are headed to U.S. colleges in the coming weeks. If you’re one of these students, you’ll have countless choices to make, not only regarding your social and academic life, but also your character. Who will you be during this important season? Who do you want to become?
As I step into my new role as president of InterVarsity/USA, I too have choices to make about how I’ll navigate the responsibility, power, and challenges that come with my position. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the basic Christian disciplines that have helped draw me closer to the Lord in times of great change. I share them with you now in the hope that you, and many of your friends on campus, will be drawn closer to our loving and merciful God, “who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).
1. Practice humility.
The fact is, that as a college student in the U.S., you’re among the world’s elite. You have more privileges and access to resources than most people around the globe could ever imagine. However, you also face more temptations to abuse those privileges, relationships, and resources. It takes great intention to steward power well, for the good of others.
The apostle Paul offers a description of how Jesus did this perfectly, and invites us to follow his lead.
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be
used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)
Even as you grow in your knowledge and expertise, check your heart and posture toward others regularly, consider others above yourself. Take on the form of a servant in your dorm, in your classrooms, and in your dining hall. Practice humility and academic diligence, seek to learn from others who differ from you ethnically, politically, and in other ways, even while you search the Scriptures. All truth is God’s truth; invite him to shape your mind and your heart in this season.
2. Keep your eyes on Jesus.
It’s easy to get swept up in the intensity of your new world of friends, classes, and extracurricular activities. For many of you, the college campus is a world away from your home and high school days. College happenings can easily become larger than life, at points consuming your devotion and at points causing great discouragement in your heart. The Lord might seem distant or not present in the midst of fun and suffering—but the fact is that God is at work all around you. He is present on your campus, actively communicating his love and care, and he longs to see the full flourishing of all people there—faculty, students, and administration.
InterVarsity chapters have seen the gospel change lives in every corner of campus. At a university in the Pacific Northwest, for example, after attending an InterVarsity Bible study all year, a South Asian Muslim student explained that she never felt like she identified with what Muslims believe and asked how she could convert to Christianity. Her whole small group prayed with her right then as she gave her life to Christ. Afterward they celebrated together—both her physical birthday, which was that day, and the new life she had just found in Jesus.
Keep your eyes on Jesus and actively look for signs of what he’s doing—and then join him.
3. Exhibit hospitality and generosity toward all people.
Be generous, even if you have very little, and hospitable, even if others are very different from you. Students, particularly international students and others who are far from home, are yearning to be welcomed. You’ll have the opportunity to meet students of different faith traditions, and students with no faith tradition, some of whom have never met a Christian and don’t know of Jesus’ love for them. Jesus hung out with all kinds of people. Be like Jesus.
I’ve learned so much about hospitality from students around the world, in places where war is a daily part of life. In the recent decades of violence in Iraq, for example, many Iraqi Muslim students who fled into Jordan were welcomed into the homes of Christian students living in Amman. The Muslim students were stunned at the hospitality and kindness shown to them by Christians, and naturally asked, “Why are you being so kind to us Muslims?” A Christian student leader said simply, “The love of Christ has been shown to me, and I wish to share it with you.” Some Jordanian church leaders say that so many Iraqis have become Christians that there may now be more Iraqi Christians in Amman than Jordanian Christians! What could God do on your campus if you intentionally committed to showing the same kind of welcome and love for everyone you meet?
4. Make daily time in God’s Word and in prayer a priority.
Life on your new campus will be busier as you work, study, and play. Commit to spending time each day with the Lord, rooting yourself in prayer and in the truth found in his Word. One of the most helpful books for me as a student was Too Busy Not to Pray, which pushed me to establish an important regular practice of journaling my reflections on each day as well as my prayers. InterVarsity Press Bible studies like LifeGuides also helped center me in God’s Word as I began each day. There are hundreds of resources that can help you establish a consistent rhythm of time with God. Find one that works, choose what time of day you’ll do it, and protect that space jealously.
5. Grow in Community
My own college experience was a time when my faith was deeply challenged, but also a time when I experienced tremendous growth in my relationship with Jesus. It was difficult to engage in spiritual practices on campus, and I felt alone. But the turning point was when I found a community of people who were committed to following Jesus together: the InterVarsity chapter on my campus. The people I met there were humble and showed me how God was working on campus. They demonstrated hospitality and welcomed not just me, but also strangers at our school. They studied the Scriptures together weekly and hosted daily prayer meetings at noon, so that we would be reminded to center our day on Christ. And they demonstrated their love for their neighbors all across the campus, sharing the gospel in word and in deed. The community gave me hope for my college years, and my passion for God and his mission grew as a result.
It’s my hope that the same will be true for you.
InterVarsity has 1,000+ chapters on over 650 campuses, and has intentionally built both multiethnic and ethnic-specific communities and chapters for athletes, artists, graduate students, faculty, nurses, international students, and those in sororities and fraternities.
Find an InterVarsity chapter on a campus near you.