I have some straight talk for my college and postgraduate-aged friends who are facing a world that is increasingly, and aggressively, opposed to a living faith in Jesus.
The less you cultivate your interior life of engaged intimacy with the Spirit of God, in consistent private worship, communal worship and faith-demanding social action, the more susceptible you are to the culture’s noise derailing your faith.
Post-Christian culture thinks faith in Jesus (or singular faith in Jesus) is ridiculous. Full stop. With broad and boisterous claims in the academy, a veritable playground of sloppy spiritual ideas in movie and music culture, and world religions and spiritualities climbing all over you at every turn, you live in a disorienting world of “faith opinions.” Your “churched” or “churchy” background will not be enough to help you get across the finish line well. It won’t. Stay connected, but stop expecting your tradition to have all the answers.
All systems are imperfect, like families. Start searching for your answers with Jesus and his living words yourself. Show up each day to the Spirit of God, ready to work in you, with you and through you. Here’s my straight talk. Without a cultivated intimacy with Christ, you will be disoriented and derailed in your faith. You will. Many all around you have already fallen away—but many more are gutsy and are living out what I say next. What you listen to, what you feed on, will eventually overtake intellectual belief if you’ve not cultivated a vibrant, passionate, risky life with the Spirit of God. It is your heart being captured again and again, as the power of the Gospel is at work in you, that will form your intellectual undercurrent and will root you in a destabilized and destabilizing world. Root you in what? Love. You have one life to live, and every faith choice alters your destiny. It’s time to wake up to the battle that’s on, and to stop thinking that there is no enemy seeking to derail you in your life journey to the very Heart of God.
As has always been true, for thousands of years, it is your deepening, living encounters with Christ that enable you, equip you, empower you to stand firm in your faith till you face death. You must stop being sloppy about your intimate, spiritual life with God in Christ. If you are sloppy about it, day after day, you will lose your footing—I promise you. I’ve watched it a hundred times. All academic claims, no matter how objective they appear, come from a worldview—all spiritual perspectives take some leap of faith. In our day, they are all battering you, evangelizing you, with virtually every TV show, every movie, every standard radio song sequence, every Facebook post, every celebrity and political commentator you see or hear.
As Paul said, and I say now, don’t you dare be quick to throw away your transforming faith because some sharp professor (operating from their unspoken ‘faith’), or an entire demographic, impresses you with some intellectual or emotional banter—or a cool cinematic plot line. Listen to a bunch of 80- to 90-year-olds before you listen to the hip cultural noise. The closer we get to death, the smarter some of us become. My grandfather saw Christ on his deathbed and ran to him with eyes full of love.
Most of your professors and fellow students won’t even be around for that moment in your life. They’ll happily help you deconstruct your belief system while taking no responsibility for the results. But Jesus will be there now at the end of your life. You’ll know him, and he’ll know you. And then you’ll realize, like so many have before you, that it was all worth it. All the suffering, though it won’t make sense to you still, will find itself absorbed into the love of God that greets you. Your work, your spiritual job, is to daily respond to Christ’s claim on your life, cultivating your faith anchored in a loving God Who—in Person and activity—stands at the center of your cosmos. You do your part, and God does His. You drop your part because of boredom, pride, unfiltered listening, misplaced desires, crankiness with the church, an untethered intellectual feeding frenzy or your advanced spiritual quest? Watch your world deconstruct over a lifetime. You will only retain your convictions if you continue to meet, face-to-face, with the Jesus who has been pursuing your life from the start. Don’t let go of the hand that loves you. Let worship help you hold tight. Linger in it. Stay in it. Recognize you are in a war for your soul, then stand and fight.
Feed yourself with music, with mentors, with spiritual habits, with a faith community around you who will continually point you back to Jesus—instead of over-processing their own spiritual questions with you to the point of deconstruction and no conclusion. It’s time to commit, and to say yes to doing your part to finish this spiritual race well. When you commit, Goethe said, all of Heaven is moved to back you up. I’ve seen that a hundred times, too. Here is my challenge to you, my call to action for the sake of your life. Commit yourself to a daily and weekly cultivated life with the Spirit of God.
Pray continually, and feast on the living word of God as the primary voice speaking into your life. Stay connected to others who are engaged, passionate and have their eyes set on following Jesus all the way through to the end. The Body of Christ, for all of its faults, is still the safest place on earth. Find a worshiping community that is passionate and oriented to living out the Jesus-life in our day.
There is no smarter, broader, more realistic or more enlightened path than the one that ends in Jesus. I will be praying for you as you choose, once again, to walk that path.