It is weird to think that it wasn't that long ago, but I remember this period of the year very well. The tension in the air, everyone walking a little faster than they used to, the odd eating habits, the smell that emerges in the library as students decide they no longer have enough time to wash. Naturally, I don't miss it that much! But I remember how much this time can swallow up your life. It feels like it's everything! You long for the relief of knowing you will get the result you need and everything will be ok.
Almost five years ago now, I remember receiving my AS-results. I had it in my mind that I would study law, but my results made me re-evaluate this. I remember feeling crushed. All my worst fears had come true. I felt I had disappointed myself, I felt I had failed and the future now seemed so uncertain. I lay on my sofa in tears for a good few hours before my mum came in, with so much love, and said 'Are you going to cry all day, or are we actually going to get on with this?' This was probably the tough love I needed, although it felt hard at the time, but my reaction is quite telling of how much exams and results can affect us. Five years later, I know everything is better because of those results. God knew what he was doing. But in that moment of panic and feeling of failure, I couldn't see that.
Things definitely improved and God blessed me with the A-level results I needed to get onto a great course. However, although I'd like to say my results at University were always amazing, that would be a lie. I wanted to float through my three years, excel at everything, be top of my class and never feel that ache of failure again. But that wasn't how it went at all. Time and time again, things were really hard. The pressure mounted and it seemed like everyone was consumed with the need to just get through it. So, why is it that these results mean so much to us? Are we trying to prove ourselves? Are we trying to find security and certainty about the future? Are we trying to please our parents? Are we trying to find a purpose and a meaning?
As this exam period becomes even more tense and our lives seem to be centred around our work, when does God fit into that? So often, he just takes a back seat in our mind. Church attendance drops off because people simply don't have time for it. Work takes a priority and God becomes what we turn to when we are falling apart or when we can find time for him. But, if this our attitude, we have this completely in reverse of how it should be. God should not be who we turn to when things get hard. He should be the point that we start. Everything else we do should come from him.
In my talk, I referred to John 15:1-8. I won't copy it up, but this may be a good passage to read at this point. There are two things we can get from this passage.
1). God calls us to be fruitful and productive.
2). Apart from God, we can do nothing.
So, let's look at the first point:
God calls us to be fruitful and productive.
It states in the passage that God prunes us so that we may become even more fruitful. Being fruitful and productive is a gift from God, it is a part of our calling. In fact, God's first commandment to Adam and Eve is 'to be fruitful and multiply.' This is often considered to be about reproduction (and, don't worry, I'm not telling you all to go do that!), but actually it is also about creating things, producing things, bearing fruit. Before the fall, work existed and it was a good thing.
Our student team has studied Mike Breen's book 'Building a Discipling Culture' together and, in this book, he refers to how we should go about working and resting. Breen states that when we are not being productive, we are not living up to our godly calling. Think about how you feel when you have achieved something, even the tiniest of things. There is a reason why we get that buzz off being productive. We were designed to be so. As well as this, God has given us skills and passions to be used in effective ways. If you think about the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:13-40, this reveals that God does not want us to waste our talents. The degrees we pick and the things we care about are so important to God.
The second thing we can learn from this passage, though, is that:
Apart from God, we can do nothing.
Often people have different opinions of what rest looks like. The way Mike Breen defines it is 'abiding with God.' It is through God's pruning of us that we become more fruitful. This can only happen through abiding with him, allowing him to shape us so we can be even more effective. We should not be leaning on our own strength, but leaning on his. Mike Breen states that rest is God's healthy starting point. Although God rested on the seventh day, for man, it was day one. Therefore, Man started on a rest day. Our society has this completely the wrong way round. We don't tend to champion the ability to rest well. We are encouraged to work until we can work no longer. And how often does this seep into church life too? How often is it seen as more righteous to completely exhaust yourself in serving the church? It is worth mentioning that one of the ten commandments is to take a rest day. God takes this very seriously!
Getting the balance
The bible doesn't define a godly lifestyle as working until you can't take any more. The bible sees a godly lifestyle as one that gets the balance right. So, how do we get the balance right?
When it comes to getting the balance right, we should start with abiding with God. We spend time with him, lean on his strength and, through that, he prunes us. Through his pruning, we grow, just like a plant would. After growing, we bear more fruit. Fruitfulness is important, but it comes from first abiding with God. Just like the pendulum swing, we constantly need to be brought back in order to gain our strength from God. Apart from God, we can do nothing. We are never told we have to do it on our own.
'Don't be afraid, because I'm with you; don't be anxious, because I am your God. I keep on strengthening you; I'm truly helping you. I'm surely upholding you with my victorious right hand.' Isaiah 41:10
Another story I want to look is that of Mary and Martha. This is the passage:
8 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42
So, let's have a look at the two women here. Martha has a lot of good traits. She works hard, she wants to do what is right, she fits into the role that would be expected of women at that time. Her mistake was that she misunderstood what Jesus wanted of her. She had worldly priorities and she was distracted with all the things the world told her she should be doing.
Mary, on the other hand, is completely captivated by Jesus. Social protocol won't get in the way of her desperation just to sit at his feet. She hangs on every word he is saying. He holds her focus and no amount of work could ever tear her away from him.
Of course, work is important and needs to be done, even the most mundane of tasks. But how often do we allow it to consume our lives? How often do we think, 'I might spend time with God, if I get all my work done'? We so often have our priorities wrong. How much time do we spend just sitting at Jesus' feet worshipping him, completely captivated by him? Do we come to him first, listen to what he needs to say, because nothing on this earth could ever be as important? Have we, like Mary, chosen what is better?
I wanted to get some practical tips together to show you how this could be applied to your studying and life in the next few weeks.
Take a day off.
It is in the ten commandments and there is a reason for it. Taking a day off will help your work. Sunday is good because, if you see it as the beginning of the week, then you can start on a rest. Obviously this may not be possible though. On your day off, spend time abiding with God. This can take many different forms, whether it's going for walks and talking to God, using worship music, reading your bible, listening to online sermons etc. See what works for you. Also, spend time with friends and do fun things that are nothing to do with work. Don't even talk about work. It might be helpful to turn your phone off and not look at social media for a day. If this is going to remind you of work, don't even look at it. Be very purposeful about having a break!
Start the day with God.
When you are working through the week, start the day with God. Before you even think about work, turn to the Lord. This may be as you wake up, but I, personally, just want to go back to sleep. So it may be doing something while you eat breakfast or even doing it in the library before you start working. Pray, listen to a worship song, read a passage of the bible. Get yourself centred on God! After that, don't stop there. Continually come back to God. Lift your worries to him- 1 Peter 5:7 'Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.'
Take regular breaks.
I would advise taking an hour off at lunch. You need to make sure you eat and it breaks up your day nicely. Eat with people, if anyone is around. Arrange this beforehand so someone holds you accountable for it. Taking a five minute break every half hour or so is also proven to keep you more productive. If you time yourself and keep yourself to this schedule, it can prevent you from procrastinating. Anything that might be distracting you can do in that five minute break.
Look after your physical health.
Eating well, sleeping well and maybe even doing a little exercise is so important. Not just because, otherwise, you can become very ill, but because your physical health will affect your mental capacity. Keeping a good routine and looking after your body will make you more productive. This is all about getting the balance right. It's so important that you don't exhaust yourself and reach burn out.
So, in conclusion, the main things I want you to take away from this is that, first, we are called to be productive beings. Work is a gift from God, our passions and creativity are a gift from God and it is not to be wasted. Our productivity, though, comes from abiding with God. Apart from him, we can do nothing. Let's keep remembering that Jesus is the better thing. May we remain captivated by him, longing to just sit at his feet, even when there are so many things in our life that might distract us. With all our anxieties, may we keep lifting them up to him. With Christ, we never have to do anything on our own.
Written by Livvi Scales, Student Forgee