I have just finished my first term studying English Literature at the University of Kent, in Canterbury. My brother said recently that going to university gives you a chance to be an influence, be influenced and be under the influence… He may have been joking, but he has a point: university is without a doubt a poignant stage of life, where it is a challenge to make sure you are being an influence, rather than being influenced. Although I haven’t always got it right, God’s been teaching me about how to be an effective witness and influence the people He has placed around me.
At the start of November I went on a weekend away with the Christian Union. One of the speakers, Michael, gave a talk about living for God at university, focusing on the need to be in the world, but not of it. These words had become familiar to me and so had lost some of their meaning. You may have heard these words so often in church that you too have become desensitised to them, or perhaps you never really understood what they meant in the first place…
Michael summed it up with this catchy one liner: “We need contact with the world, but we need to be a contrast to the world.”
Contact and contrast
This is God’s plan for all of our lives; no matter what stage of life we are at. Whether you’re at school, college, or in the workplace, the Great Commission is for us. Jesus sent His disciples out into the nations to spread the good news. As Christians, Jesus has also sent us out into the world. He has a purpose for your life, and it is to make Him known. He has put you where He wants you and He has given you the opportunity to be a witness and influence on the lives of those around you. As your home is ultimately in Heaven, Jesus’ other desire for your life is holiness. That’s where the contrast bit comes in to play. We are called to be set apart, as His holy people. As a result, because you love Jesus your life starts to look a little different.
And herein lies the difficulty: living a life that is God-honouring, whilst being immersed in the world. If you’re anything like me, it doesn’t sound all that easy. The balance of contrast and contact is hard, and of the Christians I’ve met at university, I think they tend to choose one or the other. But I believe they are intended to work hand in hand. As always, Jesus is our perfect example: He spent most of His time with sinners, yet He never sinned. How’s that for contact and contrast?
As you can imagine, or may know from experience, university life is definitely not short of opportunities to be in contact with the world. You’re suddenly surrounded with an entirely new community of people, and by being a Christian you are immediately placed in the minority. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is also your experience at work or school. You may not just feel like the only Christian, you probably are. At university I quickly realised that it was going to be hard to live my life in contrast to that of my friends! But I also recognised this as a unique opportunity to be an influence. You may be the only Christian in your class, or in your office, but God has a plan for you being there. You may know the song about letting your light shine, well they’re not just nice words we sing, they’re a reality. Jesus has placed a light in you, so you can go to dark places and make them that bit brighter.
So what does this look like for me at University?
I think it involves just sharing life with the people I live with, my other friends and my course mates. Spending time with them (contact) and letting them see the difference Jesus makes in my life (contrast.) A few examples of the kinds of things that have been cause for conversation with my friends over the past few months include: the fact that I don’t swear, drink to excess, smoke or stay in the same room as my boyfriend, etc.
As a firm believer that Christianity isn’t a list of don’ts, I’ve tried to actively do things to show the difference Jesus makes in my life. For instance, I’m still the hard-working nerd I’ve always been, and people notice that I actually do all of the set course reading. I do go on nights out with my friends and have a good time. If they need me to, I take them home and make plenty of tea and toast. If they’re sick, I hold back their hair and mop it up. Sometimes I do the washing up or tidy the kitchen. I listen to their problems and am often a shoulder to cry on. I’m honest about my weaknesses and I tell them I’m praying for them. I invite them to CU and invite Christian friends over so they can meet other Christians and see we’re normal people, and even fun to be around! Things like this seem to have had the biggest impact on my friends’ lives and their perceptions of Christianity.
Clearly these are all really student specific- sorry! However, your relationship with Jesus does affect the way you behave and how you mark yourself as different to the people in your class or from your colleagues. You may be the only Christian your friends ever properly meet. Be an influence in your school and place of work. Be involved and be different. Don’t be ashamed to live a life that contradicts what society says is normal, whilst constantly moving towards people and loving them. Break down the stereotypical views of Christianity and show people what Jesus is really all about.