Meeting a future spouse, gaining a new friend group, falling in love with a new city, taking the first step towards the dream job. These are some of the common responses given by graduates as they reflect on the highlight of their university years. These are all great things, but what if there were more to your university years than culture, coffee and company? What if you used your time at university to answer a call met by millions of people throughout a timespan of thousands of years?
At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus speaks those famous words in Chapter 28:18-20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This is the call to which all followers of Jesus have a responsibility to answer — to “make disciples of all nations”.
Are you ready?
In this current age of narcissism we as Christians can get caught up in serving ourselves; our time, our money and our desires often come before sacrifice, service and solitude with God. However, Mark Dever in his book ‘Understanding the Great Commission’ writes, “Think of how the flight attendants on an airplane tell you to put the mask over your own face before placing it over the face of the person traveling with you. In the same way, it is okay for you to care for your own spiritual health first. You need to be able to breathe and grow spiritually if you want to help others”. In 1 Peter 3:15 it says, “but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” In other words, the requirement for Christian service is that you are in a position of right standing with God, revering Him as Lord as a result of the finished work of Christ at the cross, and seeking to know and love Him more every day.
Learning from Jonah
In the book of Jonah we read of an unfaithful prophet and a faithful God. The majority of the lessons to be taken from this book involve adopting the opposite approach to that which Jonah took. In Chapter 1:2, Jonah receives a call from God to “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” Jonah thought that he had two options: to go and tell the Ninevites of their impending destruction and use the opportunity that God has blessed him with, or to serve himself and reject the call. But God was not asking, He was instructing.
We all know how the story plays out, Jonah boards a boat to Tarshish (which was right on the boundary of the known world) and attempts to flee from the presence of God. But God pursues Jonah and sends a storm which eventually leads to the sailors throwing Jonah overboard (read for yourself Jonah 1:3-16). The story could end there and we could learn from Jonah’s mistakes, but God demonstrates once again His relentless love towards unfaithful people in that he provides a great fish to swallow Jonah whole. In this fish Jonah comes to a point of realisation, repents to God (Jonah 2:1-10) and then reluctantly answers the call of God.
But what are we as 21st century Christians to learn from a story of an Old Testament prophet neglecting the call of God and being swallowed up and spat out by a big fish? Jonah was tasked with bringing this message from God to the people of Nineveh, the capital of the neo-Assyrian empire. The Assyrians were renowned for their ruthless military tactics and were no stranger to attacking Israel. Therefore, Jonah as a citizen of Israel and prophet of God found his sources of identity to be in conflict. When presented with the opportunity to bring a message from God to this city Jonah allowed his own personal biases to come before his mission field. We cannot allow pride, hatred or judgement to prevent us carrying out this Great Commission; in fact, each of these sins need to be put to death in our lives. When we find our identity solely in Christ, the one who befriended the friendless, we can no longer be swayed by such things, but can instead learn to bring a message of hope to all tribes, all tongues and all nations.
Perhaps for some of us our cultural background plays little part in the formation of our identity. But maybe we would choose to see ourselves as ‘student’ first and ‘follower’ after. Tim Keller, in his book ‘King’s Cross’, writes that, “The Bible says that our real problem is that every one of us is building our identity on something besides Jesus.” In the daily humdrum of our lives it is easy to make one small choice after another where we choose being a student over being a follower of Christ. We may allow ourselves to become consumed by study and neglect opportunities to get involved in outreaches, or we may choose to socialise solely inside our comfortable Christian friendship groups instead of forming friendships with people on our courses and on our sports teams who don’t yet know and love Jesus Christ. In Luke 9:59-62 it says, “He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Jesus is telling His followers how to live their lives: with hearts of complete devotion to Christ, to seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Wherever you end up career-wise, your purpose it to make Christ known. Everything else is secondary.
As I reflect back upon my university years I can think of countless opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ, opportunities which I regretfully wasted. Whether you have just started university or are in your final few months, make the most of the mission field God has placed you in. He calls you to fully devote yourself to Him, to die to yourself, to live for Him. He is calling you to go.