Chances are that more than once you have felt at least a little lonely at college. If your school has an enrollment of 500, you may not feel quite so lost; theoretically at least you have some chance of getting to know a sizeable proportion of the student body. But if the student body numbers many thousands your sense of loneliness may defy description.
One student came to a professor at a state university and observed, “I think I’ve got things figured out now. There are 17,000 students in this place. I’m one of them. That makes me add up to just exactly 1/17,000 of the whole, which is about how insignificant I feel.”
It’s a question we all face. Why am I here?
Let’s get a frame of reference by asking some broad questions: Why am I alive? For what reasons did God make me and why has he kept me alive?
The first answer is that he desires objects for his love. Theoretically he could have directed his love into a vacuum, but this brings little in the way of satisfaction. He could have directed all his love toward angels, but he desired to have human beings as objects toward whom he could direct his affections.
Deuteronomy 7:7-8 and Jeremiah 31:3 speak to this reason. I may not be very lovely, but I am a person to whom God can direct his love, genuine personal love.
Second, he desires fellowship with persons who can choose to love him. Here we are dealing with God as the receiving agent of something we produce. The Bible illustrates this by saying that the Lord is comparable to a father who yearns to receive affection from his children, or a husband who craves the loving attention of his wife (for example, Isaiah 54:5, 62:5).
This is a revolutionary idea. A new dimension is added to my reason for existence when I realize that the Lord desires to receive love from a person such as I. This lifts me above the category of being merely a cog in “God’s big machine.”I am a person whom he loves and whose love he in turn desires.
Third, we are of value to him as objects of his craftsmanship. The Bible uses two types of illustrations at this point. One is of inert material. Jeremiah 18:6 calls God a potter and us the clay. Raw material has worth in every type of manufacturing. Ezekiel 22:17-22 uses the analogy of metallic ore. The finished product toward which God is working is character, attributes which conform with those of Jesus Christ, “conformed to the image of his Son”(Romans 8:29). He is accomplishing the progress gradually in this raw material whether it is clay, metal or some other by upgrading its worth. “We . . . are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another”(2 Corinthians 3:18). Isaiah 62:3 used the examples of jewels, diadems and crowns to epitomize the beauty which can exist in us for the purpose of bringing pleasure and satisfaction to the Lord.
But clay, metal, jewels and diadems are inert. The Bible also uses illustrations of active organic things in which God is working, the purpose being to produce items of value to him. Isaiah 5:1-7 says that we are like a vineyard where God has prepared the soil, planted the vines and yearns to receive a good product.
When he plants his Spirit within us we become part of that vineyard. As the years go by, may we produce the quantity and quality of fruit (such as praise, beauty and music) for him to enjoy. Hebrews 13:15 talks about the fruit of praise in this context. Ephesians 5:19 mentions the music we can generate to bring him pleasure.
Fourth, we can be instruments in his hand as he goes about the task of accomplishing his objectives in this world. To be effective, an instrument must be usable, and this calls for choice: an act of the will on our part. “No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness”(Romans 6:13).
This means that we are not mechanical tools with no personality; rather, we are persons with the choice to be either usable or unusable in his hands.
Fifth, we are in existence to do some work for him. This reason brings us face to face with the responsibility for being active agents laboring with him. The Scriptures get this point across with analogies between us and ambassadors, fishermen, farmers and teachers.
Sixth, we serve as dwelling-places for him in society. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body”(1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
These then are six reasons (you may be able to think of more) why you are alive, six valid purposes to your life. In a word, we are of worth to the Lord. “You are precious in my eyes”(Isaiah 43:4).
And as we fulfill these purposes we will not only bring satisfaction to the Lord, we will also contribute more to society in general and to others as individuals. We’ll be a better citizen, neighbor, student, child, or sibling. And personally we’ll experience more fulfillment and sense of achievement.
Why Am I at This School?
Now let’s apply the above to college this year. Why am I a student at this particular school this particular year?
There are many possible answers. To conform to social pressure. To do what is expected, to satisfy parents. To prepare for a vocation. To find a life partner. To sharpen the intellect. To acquire a broad general education. To make friends. To advance a political cause. To postpone working at a vocation. To find security in the safe and secure environment of college routine.
Different students will give different answers to why they’re at a specific college. Some have already decided what they want to get out of college; they investigated different schools, procured information on tuition and other expenditures, and then chose the school which appeared to be the most satisfactory. Others have simply matriculated at the nearest college or junior college which would enroll them.
Does that describe my pattern of answer? If I have been walking closely with the Lord Jesus Christ, if I have been giving top priority to “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,”if I have been praying sincerely, “Thy will be done,” then I am a student at this specific college not primarily because I chose to enroll here, but because God chose for me to do so.
That is, he placed within my heart the desire to attend this school, and as my will yielded to his will, the way was opened for his Spirit to influence my thinking toward this choice.
There appear to be several reasons why the Lord assigns a student to a specific school; let’s base them upon the foregoing sextet of general reasons and apply them to my school.
First of all, I am at this school because the Lord desires to receive a product to which he is entitled. He desires a fair return on his investment in this world.
Recall Isaiah 5:1-7 and the analogy of the vineyard: God the vineyard planter is entitled to an abundant harvest of high quality from the college component of his world. As the present time he is receiving very little. There are two types of produce which he should be receiving: righteous character and good deeds.
We are tempted to examine our situation primarily from the perspective of “What do I get out of it?” The Bible teaches that we would do well to ask, “What does God get out of it?” Numbers 28:1-8 describes the purpose of the continual offering of praise to God.
Applying these two passages to the question of the moment suggests that one reason I am in college is to produce good works as a sacrifice to him, to bring him pleasure.
What are some of the qualities of my character and of my deeds which, if I live them out on a college campus, will delight him? Honesty, integrity, truth, attention to his Word, diligent study, concern for the welfare of other people and showing mercy like the Good Samaritan to those who are suffering. This is all part of loving him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and loving other people as I love myself.
Hard Knocks U.
Second, college is a good milieu in which God can work on me, as an artisan with crude material, to chisel and mold a personality that will be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).
As the Lord goes about this business of making me like Jesus Christ, he will send a variety of experiences my way and expose me to diverse situations and people.
There will be discouraging situations to strengthen my faith, irritating situations to develop my patience, sorrows to help me lean on him for comfort, defeats in order to smash my pride, joys to remind me that all good things in life are from his hand.
But whatever comes my way this year, may I remember (if I am the Lord’s) that everything fits into his purpose for my life. All things work together and are fitting into a plan for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
Molding this raw material into the product of God’s design takes time. His Holy Spirit does such work gradually (2 Corinthians 3:18), and college years can be part of that process.
Third, God’s plan calls for me to be on this specific campus this specific year for use as an instrument in his hand to minister to other people who can be encouraged by my fellowship, supported by my prayers, comforted by my sympathy, strengthened by my association and taught by my example.
Fourth, God may use me as a witness to non-believers, those who have not yet received Christ Jesus into their lives. This college is a mission field (if we define a mission field as an area containing people outside the body of Christ).
Hence the question: How to reach members of the college community for Christ? The fact is that churches have a hard time getting through to them. Conversely, they won’t in general go to church where Christ is proclaimed as Savior and Lord.
But they can be reached by Christian colleagues. This is where I might come in. The Lord may be calling me to serve on such a campus for a few years as just such a student, a student who knows Jesus Christ.
(Here’s a suggestion: Early in the semester, write on your prayer list the name of at least one student, maybe a roommate or classmate, who has no testimony for Jesus Christ. Why not add the name of at least one of your professors to your prayer list? You may have a Christian professor. Pray that he will grow in the Lord, and that the Holy Spirit may find him a usable instrument. And then pray for your professors who don’t know Christ.)
Fifth, I’m at this school this year to serve as one of the dwelling places for God’s Spirit at this institution. The administration may pass legislation barring Bible study at this school; but they cannot ban the Holy Spirit. May I be one of his residential points in this student body.
Three Alternate Routes
As a student progresses through college there are three alternate routes of spiritual development.
One is a tragic road, that of giving up the faith. Many a student has graduated from high school with a testimony for Christ, gone to college, given up his or her faith, quit attending church and severed connections with Christian friends.
Regrettably, this also can happen to Christian students with undergraduate degrees from Christian colleges who enroll as graduate students at a university.
A second road is the “defensive”pathway. Here Christians succeed in holding on, strong enough to resist both overt and subtle attacks. And at the end of college days these still claim Christ as Savior and have a testimony. Sometimes the testimony is weak. Sometimes it is vigorous, in a church where they are surrounded by people who agree with them. But on campus their testimony is a light hidden under a bushel basket.
The third road is that of growth and outreach. Students in this camp not only maintain their faith but also deepen their roots in Christ. They have a campus witness.
They not only attend church but also carry a prayer burden for the salvation of fellow students and a professor or two. They pray with other students for God’s Holy Spirit to move on their campus. They take time to study God’s Word with other students. They cultivate friendships with non-Christians in the hope of introducing them to Christ.
Why am I alive? Why am I in college? Why am I at this particular school? To produce character and deeds to which God is entitled, to be raw material upon and in which he can do some work, to encourage other Christians, to introduce some non-Christians to the Lord Jesus, and to house the Holy Spirit.
Which route will I follow? Upward, horizontal, or downward? It’s an important choice.
Dr. John W. Alexander was president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA from 1964-1983. Before that, he was a professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Affectionately known as “Dr. A,” he was a strong influence for Christ in the university community.
Reprinted from HIS magazine, Nov. 1977, and Student Leadership Journal, Fall 2002.