Many of us will be heading home over the summer uni break. Some of us will be staying to work in the city; some will be travelling overseas or interstate to spend Christmas or Chinese New Year with relatives.
Whatever our plans, this is a precious and potentially fruitful opportunity for our growth as a woman or man of God. Here are seven challenges to help make sure it doesn’t go to waste.
1. Keep up the good disciplines (or we’ll swap them for bad habits)
When we go straight from the stress of exams to three months of unstructured time we tend to lose all our disciplines. Sometimes that’s a welcome relief – no more 30 hour study marathons, no more having to eat College dinner at 6pm exactly, no more early morning training sessions…
But when we lose structure in some areas we tend to lose discipline in all areas – including the ones which are essential to our physical and spiritual health.
We might think that throwing all our self control out along with our exam timetable will make us free and happy. But it’s doesn’t – it just makes us slave to the bad habits which will usually take their their place by stealth. People often look back over summer with regret – too many nights staying up till
2am 3am 4am watching Netflix, too many drinking sessions on XXXX Gold, too much time wasted online (indeed many men and women stumble in their fight to flee from pornography during this time).
So hold onto those good disciplines:
- Keep regularly drawing near to God in Bible reading and prayer
- Keep doing some physical exercise every day
- Keep up good relationships which keep you honest and accountable
2. Read some serious books (and some fun ones too)
Right now the thought of picking up another book ever again might be filling you with dread. But summer is a good opportunity to read different types of books.
Our understanding of God is foundational for our knowledge of ourselves and the world. It would be a shame if we all got to the end of our degrees with an expert’s understanding of Engineering or German or Physics, but no deeper understanding of God than we had in High School. It would be like building a sky-scraper in a sand pit.
Here are some books you might like to pick up this summer (vaguely ordered by ascending size of read):
- Rory Shiner, One Forever: the transforming power of being in Christ (The idea of being “in Christ” is difficult to understand at first but it is actually crucial to what it means to be a Christian.)
- Edward T. Welch, What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care?: Answers to the Big Questions of Life (We could all benefit from caring less about what other people think of us!)
- Tim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (I’m sceptical about books on prayer for the same reason I’m sceptical about books on dieting – because most of the time there isn’t some trick I’m missing: I know what I need to do I just need to actually start doing it. But this book was actually very helpful for me in understanding both the theory and practice of praying – and it made me excited about praying more!)
And speaking of Keller…
- Tim Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (This is a great introduction to thinking about the most common difficulties people have with Christian beliefs – great if you’re struggling with doubts, great if you want to be able to give better answers to your roommate’s questions next semester)
- John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Classic. Every uni student should read this once.)
- Donald Robinson, Faith’s Framework (Okay, I’ll admit this is a cheeky one for me to include, because it’s written by my grandfather and this website is publishing the book, but it is the shortest and (in my completely biased opinion) the best answer out there to the question “How does the Bible fit together?” It covers how the Bible was assembled, and how we are to read the whole of salvation history together as one story.)
- Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Reading Christian biographies is a great way to spend summer – it’s inspiring and educating to see the good and bad of those that have gone before you)
- Matthew Perman, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. (Did you waste any time this year? Yeah, I thought so. Read this.)
- James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (For those of you interested in the relationship between Christianity and culture and politics this is essential reading.)
- David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss (It’s amazing how many people don’t actually know what we mean when we talk about ‘god’. This is written by a Christian but covers a range of faith perspectives. A bunch of things just clicked for me reading this – like why so often Atheists and Christians can remain completely unmoved by each other’s apparently bulletproof logic.)
- N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3) (This is a big but enjoyable read, and for people wanting to get on top of scholarly thinking about the resurrection I think it’s essential.)
- Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Ever wondered why 500 years ago it was almost impossible not to believe in God, but now so many people struggle to see how it is rational? Here’s the answer. It’s huge, but it’s brilliant and well worth a read.)
And don’t forget to read something fun like a novel – recently I’ve enjoyed:
- Marilynne Robinson, Gilead. (Probably my favourite novel. Just beautiful.)
- P. D. James, The Children of Men. (Much better than the movie.)
3. Soak up some solid podcasts
If summer means more travel time than normal then try listening to some good podcasts.
I recommend staying in touch with the teaching at your own church (if you have a podcast or sermon recordings). For example:
- Barneys Broadway Bible Talks has the sermon from Sunday in audio form or video. You can even subscribe with iTunes or another RSS app.
I went through a phase of listening to lots of big name American preachers online, but I soon found out that they were preaching into a context very different from my own. If you do want to look further afield, then be choosy about what you listen to. I would recommend these local teachers ahead of any big name overseas preachers:
- Rory Shiner at Providence Church
- Mike Raiter
- Ian Powell at St Matt’s Wanniassa
- Simon Manchester at St Thomas’ North Sydney, who also does a regular segment for Hope Media in Sydney (iTunes or web)
- Rowan Kemp at Sydney University EU
- Dominic Steele at Village Church Annandale
Do spend some time offline, won’t you? Facebook and Skype are great to keep in touch with your friend while you’re away, but there is something glorious about leaving you phone at home and just enjoying dinner with family or friends.
At the very least, try not keeping your phone in the bedroom or checking it first thing in the morning. (Yes, I know you need it as an alarm, but they do still sell “Alarm Clocks”.)
5. Actually rest
Here’s the thing – we need rest. And we all rest in different ways. So work out what recharges your batteries the most, and make sure you have a decent, guilt-free chunk of that (for me that means cycling and reading books on the beach with my phone off). Plan a couple of weeks of this in advance. It would be a shame to come back to uni still tired because you ended up doing a million good things and never actually came down off your adrenaline high.
6. Seize opportunities to serve not experiences to consume
Our FOMO culture tends to hold up experiences over possessions. Many students think it is normal to go on an overseas trip every year. But accumulating expensive experiences can be just as much about consumerism as accumulating expensive possessions was for a previous generation.
Rather than consuming experiences, what if you used your time off as an opportunity to serve? You could, say, lead on a Crusader Camp or a Beach Mission. (Or you could even stick around church so that you can help welcome the hundreds or even thousands of visitors at Christmas!)
Don’t hear me wrong. I’m not anti-travel. Previous generations of Christians looked down with a piously disapproving gaze on people saving for an overseas holiday. Mostly this was silly – my friends who travelled during uni were (to be fair) far more disciplined in their work and saving than the rest of us ever were. They may also have used that discipline to be more generous as well. There is nothing particularly virtuous about refusing to travel overseas then blowing all your money on coffee and restaurants.
You’re free to travel, or not travel, as you want. (Just be honest with yourself, though, about whether travel is becoming an idol which stops you being generous with your money in other areas.)
7. Love your family (and your home church)
My last piece of advice is this – please don’t be a jerk over summer.
Let me tell you a story about Bob.
In March this year, Bob came to the Big City from his hometown to study a Bachelor of Fanciness at Fancy University. His facial hair grew ironic, his hair turned asymmetrical and his jeans got slimmer than ever before. He learned all about Cicero and Marxism and N.T. Wright and spent his evenings making witty conversation with his housemates while drinking craft beer in a sophisticated way.
But on returning to his hometown he finds that it has changed. His little brothers and sisters are simply annoying. His Dad knows nothing of politics. Nobody in town knows how to make a double ristretto soy macchiato. His old friends aren’t interested in single malts. Come Sunday, he realises that the 95-year-old lady on organ knows nothing about worship. And the sermon doesn’t even quote the Greek once!
“I have nothing in common with you any more” he thinks to himself. (Maybe he even tells them – and Christmas becomes strangely icy for a 41 degree day.)
Of course, there may be things wrong with Bob’s family, and his hometown, and his church. But more likely he’s just not very self aware. Rather than count the things that he misses about his new big city life, he needs to remember what is unique and precious about life at home.
Rather than constantly criticise his home church for not being what he’s used to at his new church, he needs to get on with serving the people he’s been given to serve. Sure, there may well be things that he now sees differently. He may see weaknesses that weren’t obvious before. That’s to be expected after a year of growth and training. But that doesn’t mean he has permission from God to stop loving his church. From where God’s sitting we must all look pretty pathetic – and Jesus still died for us.
Bob could choose to invest in his younger siblings. He could choose to use all his new grown up independent skills to help around the house. He could choose to speak to his parents as a respectful adult son. He could offer to serve on the music roster at church.
If you take none of my other ideas for summer, then at least do this. Wherever you end up over summer, love the people there.