A Student Movement of Prayer

Trent Sheppard of Campus America writes about the spiritual passion it will take to maintain a movement of student prayer.

At last count, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were more than 20 million college and university students in the United States. That figure includes 17.1 million undergrads and 3.4 million graduate students. Of that total number, more than 600,000 are international students, representing almost every nation on earth. Although specific enrollment figures for colleges and universities worldwide are more difficult to determine, recent estimates suggest there are between 110 and 130 million students actively involved in full- or part-time study on campuses around the world right now, and more than 40 million of those students are studying in China and the United States.

It is important to understand the vital role college and university students play in the world. While your numbers only represent a small fraction of the 6.8 billion people on the planet, your potential influence in every area of culture and society is astounding. “Where do the leaders in these realms come from?” asks Professor Charles Malik in The Two Tasks. “They all come from the universities.”

A nonstop year of prayer that connects every campus in America—or every campus in the world, for that matter—must not be viewed as the end goal or “holy grail” of our engagement with God. It should be viewed instead as the next step forward in a long and inspiring lineage of faith and education, a holy heritage that has in many ways been abandoned on campus and that is now being humbly reclaimed in the sacred space of prayer. What begins in that sacred space, however, must not end there: this extraordinary season of student prayer must ultimately result in a more Jesus-like engagement with the needs of the world through mission, mercy and marketplace.

Mission is telling the story of Jesus, who He is and what He has done.

Mercy is loving people like Jesus did, and it especially involves loving the poor.

Marketplace is where we live like Jesus, including every area of culture and society.

The Kingdom that Jesus talked about is a holistic God-centered reality that utterly remakes our lives. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the apostle Paul refers to this miraculous transformation as a “new creation” (NIV). Christianity is not simply a religion in fierce competition with other religions, worldviews or any other sort of “ism” (e.g., Christianity vs. Humanism or Christianity vs. Islam, etc.). According to the New Testament, Jesus did not pioneer a new religion at all, and there is in fact no record that He ever even spoke of such a thing. On the contrary—through His life, death and resurrection—the God-man actually pioneered a new way of being human altogether: a renewed humanity that celebrates the coming Kingdom of God by sharing the Gospel, serving the poor, setting slaves free, caring for our planet and loving one another.

Considering the comprehensive and far-reaching embrace of this Kingdom, what better place for it to be explored than on a campus, where students are involved in multiple disciplines of study that influence every area of life? Communications and the arts, business and science and technology, education and health care and international development, linguistics and diplomacy and intercultural studies, philosophy and history and the humanities: the campus, like few places in the world, is truly a microcosm of the various and vital activities that help to determine the grand direction of humanity. If God is not welcomed on campus, how will God be welcomed in the world?

According to the scriptures, to love God fully means to love God with every area of our lives, and according to Jesus, such all-consuming love is the most important commandment of all. In translating Mark 12:30 for The Message, Eugene Peterson rendered the words heart, soul, mind and strength as “passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.” Peterson’s point was to help us see those significant words—heart, soul, mind and strength—in all of their original and transformative meaning.

Heart is what shapes our passion.

Soul is what shapes our will.

Mind is what shapes our understanding.

Strength is what shapes our service.

When we embrace the full anatomy of transformation, rather than just a part, we soon realize God is as concerned with the secret place of passionate prayer as He is with the marketplace of global ideas. In the mind of the Creator, there is no divide between the sacred and the secular. God made it all. Because of this, learning to love God with the entirety of our being means learning to love God with all of our passion, with all of our prayers, with all of our intelligence and with all of our energy. When we remove any one aspect of love (heart, soul, mind or strength), or when we exclusively focus on one area of love over and above another, we miss the mark of loving God fully.

Passion draws most of us to God in the first place. In fact, even in the formation of a baby in the womb, the heart takes shape before the brain. What would life be without laughter, tears, passion or pain? Our emotional connection to God is foundational. At the same time, however, if we only love God with our heart, we may soon discover our following of Jesus is based on feelings alone, and as anyone who has ever been in a lasting relationship can tell you, a relationship that endures requires a commitment to love when you feel like it and when you don’t.

Loving God with our soul involves our will; it is the portion of our being that chooses to love God, regardless of our emotional ups and downs. Such love includes not only extraordinary periods of prayer but also (and most especially) spiritual disciplines of prayer. It is through the sacred rhythms of simplicity and solitude, confession and celebration, daily devotion and a lifestyle of fasting that the Holy Spirit enables us to mature in our faith in such a way as to not be ruled by feelings alone.

To avoid the tendency toward drudgery and legalism in such practices, the discipline of loving God with our choices must be rooted in the understanding that loving God is not only the right thing to do but is truly the best thing to do. That insight is nurtured by loving God with our mind, when we begin to thoughtfully explore and carefully discover reflections of the character and nature of God in the sweeping contours of history and the startling patterns of zoology, in the intricate and essential dance between economic principles and the practice of justice, in the mind-blowing marvels of astronomy and the artistic epiphanies that inspire creative design. Loving God with our mind means the prayer room is no more holy than the classroom.

As is the case with every aspect of love, though, to exclusively love God with our mind is to fail to love God fully. The result of such exclusivity in this particular area of our lives is that we either become arrogant about all we think we know (which produces that false sense of intelligence known as cynicism) or in our passionate pursuit to intellectually understand all things, the simplicity of our faith is crushed by the profound mysteries of the mind of God. Sometimes it is comforting to rest in the simple knowledge that God is God and we are not.

When we love God with our heart, soul and mind, it is natural to love God with our strength as well: that is, in the daily areas of service to which we are all called. One of the most disempowering and shortsighted misunderstandings in the history of Christianity is that the calling of a pastor or preacher is somehow more sacred than the calling of a research scientist or elementary school teacher. Jesus was no less holy as a carpenter than as a rabbi, was He? Loving God with one’s strength means loving God with whatever area of service we have been entrusted, whether that is in a sanctuary or a laboratory, in a carpenter’s workshop or a college classroom.

Trent Sheppard lives in Boston, MA, with his wife, Bronwyn, and daughter, Miréa. They are on staff with Campus America. This article is adapted from God on Campus: Sacred Causes & Global Effects. Copyright © 2009 by Trent Sheppard. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.

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