During my first year of university, I was constantly meeting new people in class, my dorm, and various student groups. By the time year three came around, a friendship had solidified with three people in particular. The four of us met through a student ministry during my first year, and though higher level courses and academic demands grew, I found myself spending most of my free time with them.
Despite coming from very different backgrounds, we were all Christians. We especially found camaraderie in acknowledging that our understanding of God’s Word was based too much on what we had been told the Bible says—instead of what the Bible itself actually says. As a result, we spent a lot of time reading God’s Word together and wrestling through what it meant for our lives.
We read verses like Luke 9:23, which says, “Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” And we seriously asked each other the question, “So what does this actually look like in practice?” What does it look like to deny myself and take up Jesus’ cross in the midst of a busy university semester?
We believed that it meant we should pursue Christ above everything else. We started to learn that the call to follow Christ was not a call to tack on “faith” to who we already were, or what we were already doing. Instead, we felt that it had to mean something more—something radical.
Soon enough, we began to feel the significance and urgency of the call to follow Christ and share the Good News of the Gospel. In feeling the weight of this truth, we were guided by God to see the emptiness in many of our pursuits.
Suddenly, two hours spent watching TV shows felt wasteful. Small talk began to feel like an excuse to keep relationships pleasant and not talk about difficult things. And for all three of my close friends . . . university studies quickly began to look like a distraction of their time, energy and mind. They struggled justifying how much school demanded from them, and reasoned that their time could be better spent studying God’s Word, praying with people in need, or evangelizing to share the Good News with those who were missing out.
After all, if Jesus came back tomorrow, wouldn’t all of our academic efforts be for naught?
By the end of the year, all three of my friends decided not to return to their studies the following year. Two of them signed up with an international missions organization, and were busy raising support to move abroad as missionaries. My other friend simply decided that he would stop investing time and money in school so he would be open to whatever God led him to.
And then there was me. Still in school. Still racking up thousands of dollars of debt. And for what? To obtain a degree that suddenly felt incredibly insignificant in comparison to the kingdom work my friends were moving on to.
Initially, I felt bad for choosing to not drop out of school. I couldn’t help but compare the future I knew I had—of spending hours and hours every week digging into textbooks and writing papers—with the calling my friends had to move abroad as a full-time missionary.
Eventually I learned that it was a mistake to believe that a change of scenery could make me a better Christian, or that there is only one way to serve Christ. The call to follow Christ is radical. It should be life-changing. But it doesn’t always look the way that we expect it to.
God didn’t ask me to drop out of school and move abroad. He had a plan for me to grow radically obedient in loving and serving Him right where I was.
How Can I Follow Christ Where I am?
Once I had made peace with the decision that God was leading me to, I decided that if I was going to spend another full year engulfed in textbooks and research papers, I wanted to be more focused than ever on making the urgent message of the Gospel known in the midst of it.
So I asked myself this question: “How can I follow Christ where I am?”
At the time, I was working as a Resident Assistant (RA) to a living center for first year students. They had continual difficulties adjusting to life away from home, sharing a living space with a stranger, or figuring out who they were and how they fit into the world. When I slowed down and re-considered their apparent needs, God gave me more strength and patience to listen and speak to them about Christ’s love and freedom. By the end of the year, I had shared my faith with nearly all of them, and that opened opportunities for them to share their own faith journey and struggles with me as well.
My work as an RA was only one of the many avenues for serving God right where I was. During this time, I learned to view my time with classmates, professors, and everyone else I interacted with as a true opportunity to display Christ’s character to the world. This shift in perspective helped me to be a more faithful servant, even as I was keeping up with school and spending many hours every week studying and doing school work.
The truth is, I never felt called to follow the direction my friends were headed. As I prayed about alternatives to finishing my degree, God gave me peace about finishing. The only disruption to that peace came from fear and doubt—fear that I wasn’t being radical enough and doubt that I was in the right place.
I was focused on God’s will for my friend’s lives, instead of His will for mine. When I refocused on God’s call for my own life, I found comfort in pursuing what God had for me—even though it didn’t look glamorously radical.
Through this time, God has taught me to look to Him in surrender and prayer when I make decisions, and not to doubt what He has in store for me just because another Christian is being led differently. God also used this season to train me to look for every opportunity to share the Gospel and grow in my faith, even though I was not technically on a mission field. These lessons have stayed with me as I navigate the different stages of my life, and helped me to keep my focus on Him regardless of where He has placed me.