I love being a college student at a large university known across the nation. There is always something for me to do and there are always new challenges waiting around every corner. Being in Austin is also a privilege for me. I really do love it despite the craziness that happens from time to time, but as much as it has been beneficial for me I have found myself running into a lot of pressures that tend to weigh me down if I don’t keep an eye on them. The danger of being a student at UT is that I am told that means something important. I worked hard, I studied a lot, I made the grades, and now I am at UT because I deserve to be and since it is a “top-tier university” I can make something of myself with this opportunity. To all of the Aggies I know reading this blog, I assure you that this is just as annoying to me as it is to you.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not ungrateful to be a student at UT. I have been blessed abundantly by amazing parents who have allowed me the chance to explore the world and God has given me a place in this city and made significant changes in my heart since coming to Austin. I also know that He has purpose for me here and I am honored to pursue that. The problem that I see is in my response to these statements because it is not one that is grounded in the Gospel. Instinctively, I throw myself into my college responsibilities in order to succeed. If I don’t get the grades, then I am not making something of myself at this great university and I am blowing the opportunity I earned. When I entrench myself in this mindset, I am devastated when I don’t do well in a class and I blame myself because I didn’t work hard enough which causes me to dig into school work even more. Basically, I define myself by the works of my hands and when those fail, which they inevitably will, I feel defeated. When this happens, I start to see some crazy out of control patterns of highs and lows that all hinge on how well I am doing in school, relationships, etc.
In my mind, this reveals a lot about where my heart is and God has been bringing that to the surface lately. Every Wednesday morning, a small group of HCBCUT students get together at the Campus House of Prayer to pray for one another, our church, and its mission. I have been struggling lately to get up in time to make it to our 8am slot. Last week, I pulled myself out of bed a little late and therefore made it to prayer a few minutes late. There were only three of us that day, but God used that morning to lean on some issues that are plaguing my heart right now. I remember walking out of prayer feeling very overwhelmed with the realization that I am finding my value in life through my works. Grades in school, money in my bank account, stability in relationships – these are all idols in my life that make me dependent on being comfortable. Even my spiritual disciplines have turned into legalistic tasks that I expect to improve my relationship with Christ while simultaneously missing the very purpose of His death on the cross. That morning, my heart was unveiled and I was overwhelmed by this crushing feeling in my chest of how I am placing my value in so many things that are going to fail me and burn up after I am gone.
As I walked to campus and my classroom, I remember making resolutions to work harder at not working hard which only compounded my frustration. I turned on my iPod and started listening to a song that has been speaking to me these past few days and when I did, God cornered my heart. The song is called “Arise” and it is by the band Flyleaf. It is an exhortation to all believers that we should not give up hope in the things God has placed in our lives because there is purpose in them. Although we will fail, God will never fail and He has freed us from the bondage of sin.Therefore, each of us should “arise and be all that you dreamed.” The way I had viewed this line of the song previously was that God has given me the strength to right my wrongs and to correct my stumbles. My dream is to follow Christ with all of my heart, so I just need to arise and do that, right? I began to think through how I can make my time in the Word less of a duty and more of a delight. The same with prayer, relationships, church – I need to be more intentional with friends. I need to memorize more Scripture. I need to be less selfish with prayers…then God whispered.
A simple whisper changed everything. God became the response to the failures of my heart:
“My time in the Word is not spent seeking Christ, but it is spent building up my knowledge so that I can boast of it to others.”
That’s okay. I forgive you and I can change that.
“My prayer life is so selfish. All I do is ask and I never give You praise or worth or glory. It’s all about me.”
I know and that is okay. I forgive you and I will mold your heart.
“My intentionality in my relationships with others is something that I try so hard to make an accomplishment so that I can take the glory instead of giving it to You. I make people a project instead of remembering that they are created in Your image and that I am called to love them.”
I know. I forgive you and I can redeem that.
God does tell us to arise, but in Him and not in ourselves. Tears filled my eyes as I passed building after building on campus, but they were tears of hope because I realized that I have a relationship with a God who is patient with my shortcomings so that when they overtake me, I am able to realize how truly great and faithful He is. Since that day, I have been reflecting on Psalm 46:10
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
It is hard for me to let go of my desire to accomplish something and the belief that I have some sort of control over my life. At the root of my heart lies deep sin that only God can take away. This world relies heavily on our abilities and tries so hard to convince us that our status in life is dependent on what we do as human beings. As a Christian, I know that I am called to be a minister of the Gospel to others with my life. That is my purpose. However, in my experiences with those who do not believe in Christ, I have come to conclude that there is no amount of effort, knowledge, or ability that I have that will convince anyone that they are in desperate need of Jesus. If there was, I would not desperately need Jesus. If I could convince somebody on my own, then the Bible is a lie and the God it describes does not exist. We are not transformed through our works. We are transformed through a life-changing relationship with Jesus because we realize that we are wicked beings who are completely and hopelessly lost without the saving power of the cross. We try so hard to make ourselves known to others, but we are already made known in Christ and we do not need anything else. Flyleaf says it well in another song that moves me:
“They don’t have to understand you. Be still. Wait and know I understand you. Be still.”
To think that we need to do something with our lives in order to make Christ known is ridiculous. Jesus is not an isolated and contained section of our lives – He is the reason for our life. God has been reminding me that the only reason I have the ability to try and work hard for the sake of the Gospel is because He has given me that ability and that I am completely hopeless in my efforts apart from Him. The world does not have to understand me because He does. I see that most clearly when I stop in order to be still and listen to the whispers of the Lord of my heart. The glory belongs to Him.