It’s hard to believe it, but another summer has passed and another school year has begun. Before the pressures of exams begin, it’s a great time to step back and think about how to stay connected to God in the year ahead. Obviously, there are a nearly-infinite number of things we could say here, but what are the keys?
Let’s consider just two, taken from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). These are things you already know, but might practically forget under the pressures of exams, boards or rotations.
First, commit to making Jesus your priority, no matter what else is going on around you. Jesus says this in many ways in this passage – he talks about our treasure (Mt. 6:19-21), choosing between God and money as our ultimate priority (6:24), seeking His kingdom first (6:33), and two types of trees (7:15-20) and houses (7:24-27). Although the images vary, His point is essentially the same: we need to build our lives around Him if we’re going to hold up when the “rain”, “floods” and “winds” (7:27) of life come at us.
Although we will be far from perfect at living this out, it’s an important target to shoot for. Practically-speaking, we can do this by spending time with God by reading our bibles and talking to Him honestly in prayer. Remembering that our time with God is all about relationship, not so much duty, is helpful. I know one physician who sets up two chairs and coffee mugs – one for him, one for Jesus – to remind Him that Jesus is actually there. (For the record, Jesus’ mug gets water: “He can turn it into anything He wants”).
But keeping Jesus at the center of our lives is not something we can do alone. Jesus surrounded Himself with twelve disciples, three of which became His closest friends. It’s mind-boggling, but Jesus Himself didn’t attempt the Christian life alone, and neither should we. And so, the second key to a “successful” year is community.
Part of that is connecting with a solid, local church. At a minimum, the church should be committed to following the bible, teaching the gospel (Jesus actually died and rose again to make us right with God – see 1 Cor. 15:1-4), and offering the sacraments. In the church, you will benefit from a diversity of people and real accountability that are hard to find in your local campus group. To experience the full benefits of the church, though, it’s important to actually become a member. In doing this, you’re putting down roots and giving the church leaders permission to shepherd you during this challenging time in your life.
Practically-speaking, I encourage people to visit 2-4 local churches for at least 2-3 weeks (every church has an ‘off’ week!), and then make a decision. Since you may not be in town all that long, it’s important to get connected sooner rather than later.
Of course, part of staying connected should mean some sort of involvement in your campus medical fellowship. Your believing classmates can understand exactly what you’re going through, and can help you figure out what it means to serve Christ in healthcare. Your local group is usually a great place, too, to find at least one other person who knows what’s “really” going on in your life.
Although it’s hard to put Jesus first, and stay connected to others, it’s absolutely worth the cost. Jesus makes that plain in Mt. 6:33, where He says, “But seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.” He’s talking about the basics of life (food, drink, clothing, etc.), but we can broaden what He’s saying, too. If we put Him first, then everything else (including medicine) falls into place. It doesn’t mean we’ll get everything we want, but it does mean that, no matter what happens, He’ll give us everything we need. And, most importantly, we’ll have Him.
As your year begins, what specific commitments do you need to make to stay connected to Him and others?