Renew Your Mind
In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul warns us not to conform to the pattern of this world. This warning is easy to repeat. It comes quickly to our lips in the form of advice to others. However, I find it easier to repeat than it is to follow. Over and over again in Scripture we see people get into trouble when they conform by walking the path that the world lays out for them.
Consider two biblical examples: First, in the events described in Genesis 19, Lot was facing men from his city who were making requests he dared not fulfill. To protect his guests, he chose to offer an option that fit with the pattern of his community, Sodom. It did not turn out well for Lot and his family. Second, in the account found in Judges 13 – 16, Samson followed his heart, which is what our culture often tells us to do. On several occasions, Samson made choices with the goal of pleasing and impressing those around him, when he should have ignored their expectations and followed the Lord. As it was with Lot, Samson’s conforming to the expectations of his culture did not turn out well for him either.
There are many examples, both in Scripture and in the world around us, of the folly of conforming to the patterns of the world. What I find most frustrating is that, even though I know how dangerous it is to conform, I find myself conforming anyway. I talk about being different, but all too often—when I examine my life closely—it looks quite similar to the lives of those in the world around me. Perhaps my conformity to the pattern of this world does not seem as spectacularly bad as that of Lot or Samson, but it is exactly the kind of thing that Paul warns against in Romans 12:2a. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
I’ve recently had several conversations with high school students or their parents about what they should do after graduation. I suppose this is an occupational hazard for a teacher. But the conversations have led me to think about how influenced we are by the patterns of the world. Our culture tells us that high school students are supposed to go right on to college. As parents, we worry about what we would say to our family and neighbors if our children did not head to college right after high school. Heading off to a traditional college has become this culture’s most common and expected choice. But I wonder if that always makes it wise.
Research indicates that, on average, college students in America change majors three times. Colleges and universities expect that many of these students will spend five or six years completing a four-year degree. In fact, less than half of students who enter a traditional four-year college right after high school will graduate within five years.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not opposed to college. In fact, I have several college degrees and each one has been very beneficial for me. However, I also taught for 13 years in a traditional four-year university and I saw many students who were there only because the culture told them that attending college was the thing to do. They were fulfilling a cultural expectation, conforming to the world’s pattern. They were not responding to a call on their lives. Frankly, at times it was painful to watch. On the other hand, I saw many others who had a sense of calling. They were in college with a purpose and it was the right place for them at that time.
The difference between those two types of students is significant. The students without a sense of calling seemed to have little direction. In fact, if they were moving in any direction at all, the trajectory of their lives was difficult to identify. On the other hand, those who had a sense of God’s call for their lives were characterized by a sense of purpose and a drive to fulfill their calling.
Perhaps it’s worth considering an alternative to the world’s pattern. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus calls his followers to “seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness” (6:33a). Seeking the kingdom of God first will require us to examine every area of our lives. It will even drive us to re-imagine our post-high school choices. What if young people in transition—whether between high school and college, or at a transition point during college—took time away to intentionally seek the Lord, to study his Word, to prepare to hear and respond to his call on their lives? What if, instead of going to college because the culture says they are supposed to, they spent some time establishing the trajectory of their lives? Wouldn’t that be much more in line with what Scripture teaches?
There are several places that offer young adults an opportunity to seek the Lord, study his Word and establish godly patterns for life. One of these is the CheckPoint program at Inspiration Point Christian Camp and Retreat Center. CheckPoint is a leadership and ministry training program for young adults. It’s designed to teach young adults ministry and leadership skills in a context that is rich in the study of Scripture and ripe with opportunities to serve. It is a great place to “seek first his kingdom,” and to listen for, and hear, God calling. If you are a young adult who is considering God’s calling on your life, or if you know of such a person, consider CheckPoint. It is a place that doesn’t conform to the typical pattern of the culture we live in. But maybe that’s a good thing.
For more information about CheckPoint, go to www.ipoint.org/about/checkpoint.