“Spiritual formation” has been defined as the process of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God and the sake of others. In other words, it is a pilgrimage with a clear, specific destination: Christ-likeness. The apostle Paul speaks about this journey when he tells us that we, as believers, are “progressively being transformed into his image from one degree of glory to even more glory which comes from the Lord, who is Spirit.” (II Cor. 3:18)
It is arguable that the four years you spend in Christian college will be the most shaping of your life. Why is this? For one thing, you are making significant life decisions such as what type of career to pursue, what goals to prioritize, and what kind of person you will eventually marry. These are big decisions to settle!
Also, as you move out from under your parents’ roof, a significant transition happens. You must decide for yourself whether their faith will become your own. This “hand-off” can be shaky and awkward to say the least. You must wrestle with questions like: what about my upbringing do I agree with and want to repeat in my own life? Do I see aspects of my parents’ faith as genuine and worth emulating? Are there life choices I would change or do differently than what I saw modeled for me? What do I believe and why do I believe it? Though sometimes uncomfortable, this shifting, questioning, process-of-becoming is normal and healthy, and can lead to much spiritual growth.
So, you may ask, what should my journey with Jesus look like in college? And how can I move forward in my own ongoing story of spiritual formation in these years of monumental upheaval and shaping?
Seize the day! One obvious fact that deserves mention is this: Christian college offers you more opportunity for spiritual growth than you may ever encounter again. Take advantage! Between campus Bible studies, weekly chapel offerings, service opportunities and a plethora of Bible and theology classes, there is no shortage of spiritual input. Some of it may be required, some of it may be optional. But commit yourself whole-heartedly to learning all you can, then roll up your sleeves and dive in! Spend time in God’s word and prayer and let your roots go down deep.
Engage in Christian community. When choosing friends in college, be intentional to form friendship with a spiritual component. Seek out people whose faith you admire and get to know them on a deeper level. Faith is personal, but it’s also sharpened within community; look for individuals who will push you to grow and mature. There are professors and campus leaders who are willing to invest in you spiritually if you seek them out as mentors. Choose to be discipled by someone further along in their faith journey. Until now, it’s likely that you did not choose your own church—but now it’s up to you to prioritize gathering consistently with a local body of believers. Shop around and find a church that feels like home, where you’ll be well fed spiritually, and can serve and get involved.
Let life circumstances mold you. College is a stretching time. You will be challenged in new ways. For example, the concepts of “time management” and “money management” take on new meanings when you’re living on your own. There are pitfalls if you aren’t on guard! Similarly, there is new relational ground to navigate such as living with roommates who can sometimes be selfish or difficult. Or navigating family relationships from a distance. Or maybe learning to cope with homesickness. These trials are chances for growth. In each one, we are faced with choices regarding our response. Will we choose faith or fear? Selfishness or servanthood? Forgiveness or bitterness? Defeat to our own flesh or victory through Christ’s Spirit? When life gets hard, we have just been given the opportunity to exercise and grow our faith! We can either cave in and do whatever comes most naturally, or bravely walk out our faith through God’s help. Spiritual formation is about opening our hearts towards deeper intimacy with Jesus. Sometimes it’s the hard things in life that cause our hearts to become soft and open to Him. Lean into the challenges!
College can be a season of unparalleled spiritual growth! It is a time when we can “own our faith” in a deeply personal way. Paul talked about laboring in prayer for those he loved. “I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” (Galatians 4:19) May you journey with Him until He is clearly visible in all areas of your life!