I begin this essay by describing the busyness of student life and the tremendous pressure upon students today to stand out through their achievements to secure a certain type of job. I argue that wrong ideas about work and success drive this pattern of living and enslave students (and workers) to a way of life that is full of high levels of stress, anxiety, and sometimes depression. To close, let me briefly describe a few more implications of living out a God-centered understanding of work and success for college students.
Students who are confident that God values all types of work are most concerned in their education with developing their interests and gifts, learning how they can best channel both of them to serve others and redeem culture. They do not focus on money or prestige, but on stewarding well their God-given abilities and education, because they know that our world needs all type of workers. They do not feel ashamed if they realize that God has gifted them for a lower paying job. They do not believe that they are throwing their lives away to take on the work of parenting, homemaking, or nursing an ailing loved one.
Students who serve Christ as their primary focus know that how they work with integrity and excellence is more important than the measured results of their work. This frees them to focus as much on being a witness in their classes as excelling in those classes. These students have courage to lay down personal ambition and stop studying in order to serve a friend in crisis the night before an exam. They view their extracurricular interests not just as one more thing to build up their résumé, but as a way for God to use their interests to put them near other people with the same interests for the sake of building relationships for Christ.
As these students pursue their careers, they focus on laying up treasure in heaven through their profession. For example, Christian pre-med students are willing to consider practicing medicine overseas as medical missionaries or serving in under-resourced rural or urban areas in our own country because they are concerned with the unique opportunities that can come through physical healing in the name of Christ. Students majoring in engineering consider taking their training to places around the world that do not yet have clean water or basic infrastructure to dramatically improve the quality of life for those served and to open up doors for the gospel. Students heading into the business world concentrate on how they can buy, sell, and manufacture with integrity and how they can maximize their earnings to give to others. The examples are endless, but they are united by the fact that treasure in heaven holds higher value than any reward this world can offer.
Students who are confident that God will provide for them today and tomorrow have genuine peace about everything from their midterm and final exams to their future direction. They stand out from their peers who are constantly complaining about how stressed out they are. This peacefulness attracts attention in a positive way and provides opportunities to testify for Christ. Trusting in God’s provision, these students carefully manage their time to have space for adequate rest and healthy living, leaving ample margin in their lives for serving others. They do not overcommit because they know that their overcommitment is not what provides for them. Sundays are special Sabbath-days of corporate worship, meals together, activities that renew and energize the students, and time spent in purposeful conversation with each other.
Students who live this way genuinely flourish. May we all, students and workers of all types, greatly glorify God through our God-honoring work and rest!