As I’ve worked with college students for most of my adult ministry, I’ve often heard the question, What is God’s will for my life? Young people of an average university age are constantly trying to figure out what to major in, who to date, how to spend their time, and what job to shoot for after graduation.
Naturally, with huge life decisions comes speculation about what God wants for them, and how they should proceed. There’s a fairly abundant fear of the unknown amongst college students, but we all know that fear isn’t exclusive to them.
Back when I was a single dude living with a few other guys in an apartment, one of my roommates had a medium-sized, twenty-gallon fish tank with three or four fish in it, positioned in his room right next to his desk. And every now and then, I would go into his bedroom to sit in his desk chair and swivel it toward the fish tank to watch the little creatures about the size of a car key swim around their home. I did this a lot in order to help me relax a bit after a long day of work, because watching fish swim can be very therapeutic (that’s why you find fish tanks in doctor’s offices).
Anyway, one day I found myself sitting in my roommate’s chair, staring at one bright orange fish, a.k.a. Albert, as he swam from side-to-side in the tank, nibbling on little black specs of whatever gunk was in there near the tiny pebbles at the bottom that made up his home’s floor. As I watched him swim and nibble, swim and nibble, swim and nibble, a thought came to my brain that made me take pause.
I grew up as a military brat, meaning my dad was in the Air Force branch of the United States military, and we moved around quite a bit. As a kid, I lived in a lot of interesting places, and when I was in late elementary school, my dad got stationed at an airbase on the island of Guam. So for two years, me and my family lived in the tropics. In case you’ve never heard of it, Guam is this little island way out in the Pacific Ocean near the equator, about 4,000 miles west of Hawaii. It’s a place of tropical excitement and exhilarating adventure, but also an environment that is no stranger to these crazy storms called typhoons. Now, if you don’t know what a typhoon is, I describe it as a hurricane on crack.
And wouldn’t you know it, during mid January of our first year there, Typhoon Roy hit the island of Guam…and he hit it hard. All of our house windows were boarded up, trees were blown over and uprooted, coconuts flew through the air and smashed into car windshields, rain fell at monsoon levels, and electricity was inevitably lost from the island for days.
The story is told of three military recruiters being invited to a high school assembly for the purpose of communicating the benefits of military life after graduation. The assembly gathered in the gymnasium and all the students took their seats on the wooden bleachers. The principal of the school was emphatic that each of the recruiters only speak to the assembly for 20 minutes so they would all have equal time before the hour-long meeting was over, after which the students would be able to check out their booths if they wanted more specific information on how to join a certain branch.
The recruiter for the Army was up first and he spoke passionately about how great the Army was and why each and every student there should join. His zeal led him to talk for 25 minutes.
Right around the time I started taking some proactive steps toward growing in my faith, something struck me about my lifestyle that made me want to reassess how I spent some of my free time. Midway through the first semester of my junior year at college, I came to the realization that I had planted myself firmly in the middle of the Christian subculture that existed at my school. Quite literally, all of my close friends were Christians. And, deep down, I knew there was something wrong with that. I knew I needed more motivation to be connected with people who wouldn’t call themselves followers of Jesus Christ.
The truth was, however, that I was surrounded by non-believers all the time every day on campus. I ate meals on campus with them, I was in a study group or two with them, and I even sat next to them every day in classes. So why wouldn’t I call any of the people I interacted with outside my Christian world a true friend?
The Christian life is always meant to be experienced in the context of community and fellowship with other believers. When we begin to separate ourselves or break away from the pack, so to speak, a number of bad consequences start to creep into our lives. The Christian’s three enemies: the world, the sinful nature or “flesh,” and the Devil, can easily gain a foothold and influence our decision making in a negative way. However, if we proactively involve other caring believers in our lives, they are often able to spot areas where we might be prone to compromise and succumb to temptation.
For dating couples, the urge to isolate frequently rises up and it can be tempting to cut other people out. “My dating life is nobody else’s business,” someone might say, or “We just want to be left alone because we don’t get enough time with just the two of us.”
Whenever I end up talking about the subject of sexual purity and the importance of remaining sexually pure in a dating relationship, I inevitably end up getting asked a series of very legitimate follow-up questions about sexual impurity in the past. Anxiety can flood someone’s heart when they hear what I share, and thoughts somewhere along the lines of, well, that’s great for people who haven’t screwed up their past yet, but what about me?, end up rising to the surface.
Questions like this are valid. If we neglect these kinds of issues and pretend that nobody has ever messed up in the past, we are being obtuse and ignoring a large section of the population who longs for answers and the kind of grace that is lavishly poured out on each of us in the truth of the gospel.
The three enemies of a Christian (the world, our sinful nature, and Satan) are professional liars. That’s all they do is lie. The Bible even goes so far as to say that the Devil is the “father of lies,” and when he lies he is “speaking his native language” (John 8:44). There is no truth at all in anything our three enemies tell us about how to achieve a healthy sexual relationship, but the astounding thing is that nearly everyone on the planet has bought into those lies.
The Enemy would have you believe that getting married as a virgin is ridiculous because why would you “buy a car without test driving it first?” Why on earth would you walk into marriage without knowing what your partner is like in bed? You don’t really even know who they are if you’ve never had sex with them, right? “You need to have plenty of sexual experiences,” says the world, the sinful nature, and the Devil, “then and only then will you have a thriving, intimate relationship with your partner, because practice makes perfect.”
People are pretty split on the idea of the all-you-can-eat buffet: some love it, some gag at the thought. But as a general demographic, I think it’s safe to say that most American college males love the concept.
“Pay one low price and get to eat all you want? How on earth could this be considered anything but amazing?” says the dude. However, there are many people in society that would rather eat at a gas station on their birthday than pay good money to eat from what I sometimes call a “trough of poorly prepared, poorly warmed, bland tasting slop for the masses.”
A lot of people talk about what they think dating should be like in order to give definition to it. I like to talk about that when I’m able, but let me take a different approach for a moment…here’s what I think dating should not look like. As Christians, we allow culture to define who we are and how we behave in our everyday lives way too often. This is especially true when it comes to the practice of relating with the opposite sex. What is widely accepted as standard or “normal” in the dating world at large, sadly becomes the standard for Christians as well.
According to a recent NY Times article1, many young singles are now in the practice of living inside a “dating culture [that] has evolved into a cycle of text messages.” Because we live and breathe and hide behind our phones, the non-committal “whatever” attitude in culture has downgraded this opportunity for encouragement into something referred to as, “one step below dating and one step above high-fiving.”