What you spend your time doing is a pretty good indication of what matters to you. If you give up your weekday evenings to go to the athletics track and train, then athletics is probably important to you. If you play on a games console day in, day out, then playing computer games is probably important to you. In general, we spend more time doing the things that we like the most or that we think are the most valuable to us.
Things get trickier when the things that we’re spending time doing don’t reflect the people that we’re trying to be, or the values that we say we hold. When we’re so busy with random stuff that we can’t make time for the things that we say matter to us, or when we’re spending lots of time doing something that is damaging in one way or another, it’s probably a sign that we’ve got our priorities wrong.
I want to write this post now partly because it’s Freshers’ Week here in Nottingham, and students are returning to the city or coming to it for the first time in their thousands, and working out what life is going to look like for them between now and June.
But I’m also kind of writing it for myself, and maybe for any of you who can identify with me. After a relatively quiet summer, my life is starting to get busier once again, and I’m going from a time where it’s been pretty easy to prioritise the right things, to a time when it will be much harder. I just want to take a moment to pause, reflect, and try to work out how I keep myself pointing in the right direction.
For me, and, I assume, anyone who says they’re a Christian, the direction that we need to be pointing in is towards Jesus. Everyone’s walk with Jesus looks different, but I want to just touch on three areas that I have personally found to be essential in making sure I focus on Jesus, and they’re all areas that I want to prioritise over the coming weeks.
Personal time with God
There is no substitute for spending time alone with God. He’s real and he wants a relationship with us, and relationships don’t work if the two parties don’t spend time with each other. This means that we need to prioritise reading the Bible and making the time to speak to God about it, and about what’s going on in our lives. I believe that if we get this personal time right, then it gets much easier to hear God during the rest of the day, and respond to what he’s saying.
Time at church
This one’s a little easier for me, given that I spend two days during the working week at church with my Discipleship Year. I’ve also written about church more extensively in the past, so rather than repeat myself, you’ll get a good idea of why I think church is so important if you read this.
If you are a Fresher reading this post, and you’re a Christian, I do just want to say to you specifically that getting stuck into a church at university is massively important for your faith and will often make your university experience so much better. You will meet people that you would never have met in a student bubble, and you’ll get to be active in the community in a powerful way that just doesn’t really happen otherwise. The people that I met at church whilst I was a student mentored me, encouraged me, and supported me, and were probably the single biggest earthly reason that I fell in love with Nottingham.
Investing in Christian friendships
I’ll start this point with the caveat that I am not saying you should only spend time with Christian friends. If Jesus had only spent his time with like minded people, early Christian history would probably have looked very different!
But in terms of trying to prioritise your relationship with God, I think it’s so important to be able to spend time with close Christian friends outside of an organised church context. It’s in these friendships that you can really come alongside each other, encourage each other, and push each other closer towards Jesus.
If you’re coming to university for the first time, then just have in your mind that you’re looking to grow these sorts of friendships. Take advantage of church small groups, walking buses or CU events to meet as many Christians as you can.
And if you already have a group of Christian friends around you, all I would say is don’t neglect them when life gets busy. Make time for them and enjoy the times that you have together.
One of the best pieces of advice that I have been given going into my Discipleship Year is to set my priorities ahead of time and stick to them. For me, two big things are spending time with my fiancée and making sure that I can socialise with work colleagues in my new job. The nature of my DY year means that, thankfully, spending time at church and with Christian friends probably won’t be much of a challenge, though I do need to also make sure that I can spend time alone with God.
Different interests mean different priorities
I’m aware that the way I’m talking could make it sound like the only good way to spend your time is in specifically ‘Christian’ environments, but that’s not the case. I used the example of athletics at the start because spending several evenings a week training is what my sister does – and she is very, very good at her chosen events. The way she prioritises her time will be very different to me, simply because she is rightly pursuing something that she is really good at. It means that she will have to make sacrifices in different areas to me, and I imagine that the ways that she spends time with God and in church situations are also very different, but she does it in a way that reflects her own relationship with God, and if she tried to structure her time more like me, it just wouldn’t work.
The way my sister worships God with her time is simply different to the way I do, and if you have something that you love to do, whether it’s at church, in a sports club, or somewhere else entirely, then I think that really should be a priority for you in most situations.
This all boils down to one question. What matters to you?
Answer that question honestly, set your priorities, and then stick to them. It’s when we get confused and start pouring time and effort into the wrong things that we get burnt out and tired. I know, I’ve done it.
My overall values include growing closer to God, developing close relationships with the people in my life, and giving myself time to keep writing fiction and my blog, but I’ve 100% been guilty of pouring time into things that don’t help those goals. And it’s tricky, sometimes you can start spending time on something that is good, and then pour so much of yourself into it that it becomes unhelpful. That’s where having close Christian friends that can challenge you and keep you accountable becomes essential.
If you’re a Christian starting out at uni, or returning for another year, I would just say this: keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, and just try and make everything that you do come from a core of love for him. You won’t always succeed, but he is so merciful, and he loves you. If you fall down, pick yourself up, set your eyes on him again, and keep going.
To be honest, the same is true for all of us, students or not. Let Jesus come first, and everything else will follow much more easily.