To what extent do I pursue God versus to what extent do I pursue my studies? This an important question perhaps not pondered enough by students. It is the first question in a thought process questioning the balance of time between God and school, or more generally God and life. However, in itself this question is flawed. It assumes that the pursuit of God is separate from the pursuit of your career and educational goals. I want to reveal the joy sapping, stress inducing consequences of this assumption and correct the issue of disobedience that many college students, and even employees, don’t realize they are committing.
School/life and work/life balances are difficult to manage and our society has done a horrible job of balancing the two. With high divorce rates and extremely limited family time, it’s no wonder our society isn’t a happy one. I’m not saying that society’s discontent is only due to how it prioritizes its time, but I do believe this issue plays a large role. This post is directed at college students and their management of time, yet many of the principles are applicable to life in general.
I want to start by pointing out a subtle difficulty in the language we use when we talk about spending time with God. When we say, “time spent with God,” we generally mean time spent either studying his word, praying, and/or reading or thinking on some principle directly related to him. This is important to define, because in everyday language, it sounds as if our time spent doing other things, such as studying, isn’t time with God. We know this is not a true experience because the Psalmist makes it clear that we can go nowhere which God is not, “Where can I flee from your presence” (Psalm 139:7). Jesus himself promised that he would never leave his people when he said, "I will be with you always" (Matt 28:20). Even though we might not be studying God in the moment, it is a biblical truth to know that God is with us in every moment and therefore we can always be mindful of what pleases God regardless of our work at hand. He is involved and has authority over everything we do. Thus, he is directly involved in school and your study habits.
In addressing the issue of studying, I’m going to use my own experiences as an example. When I arrived at the University of Montana (UM) there arose a difficult balance to life. God, school, and social life all demanded my attention and with limited time it was hard to find the correct balance. To spend time on one aspect of life was to take from the others. This was made more difficult, because the aspects I knew I should spend more time on (God and school) were both aspects that I didn’t comparatively want to spend much time on. By God’s grace though, I was able to find right priorities and work out a healthier balance.
So, what is the correct way to prioritize your time and balance these areas? Well, number one, it is your responsibility to put God first (Matt. 6:33). He is your first priority. Jesus died that we may have fellowship with him. If the original plan in creation was that we were to dwell with God, to drive a barrier between you and God is to be disobedient and essentially commit the same sin as was perpetrated in the Garden. Your success in school, work, and life is not due to your efforts, so much as it is a gift from God and is accomplished through him. All of your activities fall under his jurisdiction. The amount of time you spend in each area is going to look different for different people but it is important to remember that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17) and in all we do “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).
Many people think that in order to get good grades you must make school your top priority. This is a fallacy in itself and is also wrong in its chief end. School is never a top priority, neither are good grades. You should go to school in order to serve God. In fact, good grades may not be something you need in order to accomplish God’s will for your life. This doesn’t give you license to slack off in your studies, for “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). To put God first means that he is your motivation for studying. To seek to please God in your studies is a joy-producing endeavor! In fact, to seek to please God in any task, to seek his presence and directive, is to allow him to produce in you a joy that is separate from that task. It is how you find joy in all circumstances (John 15:10-11).
Another reason prioritizing school first is wrong is because it assumes that your ability to achieve good grades hangs completely on you. However, God created you and gave you your strengths (Psalm 139:13-16). Thus, he is not surprised if achieving an “A” requires more work on your part than someone else’s. To sacrifice your time for God in order to achieve an “A” is a subtle form of disobedience similar to Saul’s disobedience in 1 Samuel 15. It also assumes that you know better than God, denies his sovereignty, and reveals a lack of trust in him. The funny thing is that though we think it will make us happy, this strangely selfish pursuit stresses us out and robs us of joy.
To say this is one thing, but to experience this is another. In my own experience I can see times where I anxiously neglected God in pursuit of academics and other times when God was pleased by the posture of my heart regardless of my GPA. Furthermore, I know that there were times that God gave me higher exam grades than what I feel I should have received for the amount of time I studied. This was God’s work, not mine, and I want to remind you that when you sacrifice for God, he can make up what you have lacked. Looking back I don’t regret putting off my school studies for time that I had prioritized for God, including college ministry, church attendance, and Bible study. I think this is a way we can give God our first fruits, to make God our first priority.
In conclusion, you weren’t meant to go through life alone, God designed you to operate through him and inside his local church. He works through our weaknesses and priorities to achieve his will and glory. We see this ultimately true for all of us in the cross. Because of this we do not work under the burden of approving God or finding our own identity. Our salvation frees us to pursue God and life to the fullest for our joy and his glory.