by Marshall Segal
The beginning of August signals the beginning of back-to-school shopping, or at least back-to-school-shopping commercials. You may not know it, but whether you’re a freshman or senior, you’re going to need more than notebooks, pencils, and a strong book bag.
You need truth. Sure, you’re going to school, willingly or unwillingly, to learn, but there are truths you need before the algebra, literature, and biology. While you should develop good study habits for the new semester, here are some real keys to the classroom you probably won’t find in your syllabus.
- Thinking may be the most critical thing you ever do.
You’re going to school to learn how to think, not to pass tests. Whatever Christians do with their lives, whether we eat or drink or run a company or teach second grade or develop software or change diapers, we aim to do it to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). If you’ve tried it, you know it’s rarely simple or obvious how that happens. It requires careful thought and discernment.
“If we’re going to apply God’s word to the world, we need to know our world.”
John Piper writes, “The well-educated person is the person who has the habits of mind and heart to go on learning what he needs to learn to live in a Christ-exalting way for the rest of his life — and that would apply to whatever sphere of life he pursues” (Think, 191–192).
If we’re going to apply God’s word to the world, we need to know our world. Every chapter in a history book, every science experiment in the lab, every interaction between classmates is an opportunity to learn about the world God created — the place he especially put us to see him, enjoy him, and help others do the same.
- The most important book you’ll read this fall is your Bible.
Because of all the assigned pages, you’ll be tempted to sideline your Bible reading until the next test has passed, the next paper is done, or the next break is here. Instead, treat your time in the Bible like you treat your meal plan.
Your time soaking in Scripture will be the most fruitful and shaping time of your education. Nothing can replace the wealth you will find there, and nothing will prepare you better for life, family, vocation, or even your next class.
Again, Piper pleads, “Let us labor to memorize the Word of God — for worship and for warfare. If we don’t wear it, we can’t wield it. If we do not carry it in our heads, we cannot savor it in our hearts or wield it in the Spirit” (Desiring God, 154).
- Someone younger than you needs you.
As a teenager, it took me several years to appreciate the influence I had over those younger than me. Sixth-graders can’t wait to be eighth-graders, who can’t wait to be freshmen, who can’t wait to be juniors, who can’t wait to be in college.
So someone younger than you is watching you, and probably wants to be like you. Whether you choose to be or not, you will be a role model. Why not model Christ-like faith, joy, generosity, and service?
“In all your good papers, projects, and tests, it is God working through you for his glory.”
Keep your eyes open for the guy (if you’re a guy) or girl (if you’re a girl) trying to find someone to look up to, and spend some time and energy to consistently point them even further up to Christ. Think creatively about ways you could invest the gospel and your life into them, and eventually show them how they can do the same for others.
- Comparison in the classroom can be the birthplace of pride.
God opposes the proud (James 4:6). That’s enough to know pride is dangerous, really dangerous. No one opposes God and survives, much less wins. Your pride will defile you (Matthew 7:20–23) and keep you out of the kingdom. Your humility, however, testifies to God’s forgiveness of your sin and his grace at work in you.
The classroom naturally nurtures a culture of comparison. Pride can certainly begin before our education, but school’s grades, awards, and social dynamics seem to breed the wrong kind of competition — a self-seeking kind. And this pride clashes with our Savior’s sacrifice like your dad’s white socks and his favorite sandals.
Your younger years are fertile ground for big dreams. Piper recently encouraged a group of young ambitious dreamers to distinguish between influence and fame. He said it is a good and honorable thing to want to change the world, but it’s wicked to want to be known for it.
Let’s try and be quick to celebrate others (Romans 12:10), slow to speak, especially about our own successes, and slow to think more highly of ourselves than we ought (Romans 12:3). Remember you are a sinner bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19–20), and that in all your good papers, projects, and tests, it is God working through you for his glory (Philippians 2:13).
- Only the gospel saves anyone, even A-students.
Whatever the grades may say, none of us really measures up — no, not one (Romans 3:11–12). Regardless of how hard you work this year, you will fail. You may fail to serve your roommate patiently or steward your time effectively or respect your parents humbly or do your schoolwork faithfully.
“Your only hope this fall or any fall is the gospel. And that is a really, really strong place to stand and study.”
Fortunately, every student who trusts in Christ has an advocate before the one with infinitely more power and authority than any teacher, dean, principal, or president (1 John 2:1). God loves you and promises to be with you and help you because his Son died for you, not because of how well you do in school or how many friends you have or how happy your parents are with your performance.
You might have a new computer or a new study partner or an improved living situation or some new resolve to do better, but ultimately your only hope this fall or any fall is the gospel. And that is a really, really strong place to stand and study.
So whether you’re going to walk, drive, or take the bus for the first day of classes, as you pack up, prepare your heart and mind for the work. By God’s merciful, student-loving grace, this year could be a breakthrough in your personal passion for him, your ministry to others on campus, and your readiness for a long life lived with and for Jesus.
Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating (2017). He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife Faye have a son and live in Minneapolis.