An Open Letter to the Student at the Start of a New Semester
This article is part of the Open Letters series.
Did you ever take back-to-school pictures?
When I was a kid, my mom loved taking these pictures. Every year, on the first day of school, she’d capture a picture of me in my new clothes, with my new school supplies, looking a little giddy, a little nervous, but eager and ready to go. That was in September.
We didn’t take pictures in January. That’s because, by that time, my enthusiasm and unlimited energy had dampened—mostly because I was tired. Christmas break was always wonderful but rarely restful. And now it was time for a new semester and there was so much to do.
When I started high school and then college, I recognized this familiar pattern. The start of the school year is always teeming with possibility, excitement, and nervous energy. But by January, students just need sleep. You may still love school, but with the start of this semester, you have a lot on your mind.
There are new classes, new schedules, new projects and assignments, new questions and stresses. After coming back from Christmas break, your mind is going a mile a minute trying to process and manage it all.
You Are Not a Student First
And in the midst of this, it’s easy to make school our number-one priority. We shift all our energy and efforts to revolve around school, and unwittingly we are tempted to let this new semester rule our lives. We submit our plans, emotions, words, relationships, and actions to the lordship of school.
But as Matt Reagan, a campus minister from Minnesota, says, you are not a student first. Sure, that may be your primary vocation right now, but if you are a Christ-follower, he says, you are ten thousand times a Christian before you’re a student. Jesus is your identity, not academics.
So how do we faithfully approach a new semester as Christian students? How do we steward our studies well and honor Christ without idolizing this vocation?
Jesus is worthy of our worship, obedience, trust, and submission. So as you approach this new semester, go to him.
Submit This Semester to God
It comes down to joyfully submitting this semester to God.
Abraham Kuyper famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
That includes school. It includes this semester.
Jesus said that “all authority on heaven and earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). That means he’s the sovereign Lord over every decision we make, every place we go, every person we meet, every word we say, every paper we write, every test we take, every class we attend, and even every coffee we drink.
His authority extends over every possible area of our lives, and absolutely encompasses school. We are not the lord of our lives. School is not the lord of our lives. Jesus is the Lord of our lives.
Submitting with Joy
This semester, we need to recalibrate our heart’s attitude. We are called to be students who joyfully submit to Jesus’s authority.
Many among our generation don’t like the idea of authority. They want to rebel, not submit. And if they’re forced to submit, they’ll do it with begrudging bitterness.
Christians are called to a different way. We are called to happy obedience. We’re called to gladly deny ourselves and crucify our idols. We’re called to taste and see that Jesus is good and his authority is for our eternal joy. He’s not a cruel dictator; he’s a loving king.
And when we see this, we can trust him with this semester. We can believe that he holds it in his hands. He sees the beginning from the end. He knows every difficulty you’ll face, every grade you’ll get, every conflict you’ll deal with, every book you’ll read, every paper you’ll write. And he will be with you every step of the way.
This Changes Everything
Written by a teenager for teenagers, This Changes Everything is a deeply theological yet practical and accessible book on how the gospel radically transforms every aspect of the teen years.
So when you’re tempted to get frustrated at that pop quiz, deny yourself and submit to Jesus.
When you don’t feel like doing your best effort on an upcoming project, deny yourself and submit to Jesus.
When you pull an all-nighter on Saturday and you think you’re too tired to go to church on Sunday, deny yourself and submit to Jesus. (And even better, that may look like planning so that you don’t have to pull all-nighters on Saturdays.)
When your brain feels like it can’t take anymore studying and God’s Word feels too taxing, deny yourself and submit to Jesus.
Jesus is worthy of our worship, obedience, trust, and submission. So as you approach this new semester, go to him. Look to him for help and peace. Read his word daily for renewal and strength. Gather with his people for fellowship and hope. Don’t sacrifice commitment to Christ for commitment to school.
Submit this semester to him, and he will take care of you.
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