This seems like as good a time as any to officially let you know what I’m up to next: I’m headed back into the crazy world of telling college students about how much Jesus wants to radically transform their lives. Yes, yes, I’ve done this before. And I loved it and missed it so much that I’m doing it again. This next year I’ll be based at a community college, so I hope you’re prepared for some really really fun stories.
To give you a better idea of the kind of things I’ll be doing, I’m going to give you a bit of a visual…stay with me, it might be rough at first. When solving systems of linear equations using a graph, there are three potential outcomes: one solution, no solution, or infinite solutions.
When the system has no solution, it looks like this on a graph:
Note that the lines don’t overlap; those in the know (that group does not include me, I asked my math teacher dad) call that parallelism. I often meet people whose lives are marked by this phenomenon. This happens when they’re living dual lives: trying to keep their relationship with or thoughts about Jesus separate from every other thing that they do. A few years ago, I mentored a college student who was a perfect example of this. She would come to Bible study every week, praying fervently for her fellow classmates, and then she would leave and conveniently forget about everything we had just talked about. Her life in the ‘real world’ showed no evidence that Jesus played any part in her actions or decision making. I’ve also met students who don’t think that faith has anything to do with their lives at all, so they just choose not to think about the effect it may have on them.
When the system has one solution, it looks like this:
You’ll notice here that the lines overlap once, but only once. This solution does a pretty good job of representing the way of living that you or I probably see most often. When we live believing that Jesus is important, but only when we want or need him to be, we create an independent system (coincidentally, also the name for the graph pictured above). We tell Jesus we want him to be in control of our lives, but only so long as he’s letting us do what we want. The intersection occurs when we’re faced with a difficult situation, when we realize that actually we can’t do this life on our own. The unfortunate thing about this is that there’s very little lasting impact; you’ll notice in the graph that the lines diverge again. I’ve met with many students whose lives are characterized by independent systems–they seek guidance from the Lord only when it is convenient for them. And then they wonder why things fall apart.
There has to be a better way.
Don’t worry, there is. Here’s what a system with an infinite number of solutions looks like:
Check this out. Matthew 4:18-21 is one of the accounts of Jesus calling his first disciples. It says,
“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there…”
I’m only quoting the verse up to that point because I want you to take note of the fact that Jesus doesn’t wait around for the disciples to follow him; he says, “Let’s go!” and then keeps moving. The disciples could have kept living in their small independent system, intersecting once with Jesus, but not letting him fully impact their lives. But instead they followed him into a system of dependence, of relying on him to take care of them no matter what was ahead. And yeah, they definitely lost sight of this at times, but most of the time they found their way back.
So that right there is the simplest thing I want my students to internalize: that we are a part of a system that functions when we are fully dependent on Jesus, when we are following him without looking back, when we let him change our trajectory so that our lives begin to line up with what he has for us.