Are you going to let God be the focal point of your life when you are at college? Will you follow Him, even when it’s not the popular thing to do?Popular author and speaker Mark Matlock helps incoming freshmen figure out if they are ready to combine faith and college by encouraging them to think about their faith in new ways.
About the Author
Mark Matlock is the author or several books, including Dirty Faith (coauthored with Audio Adrenaline), and the founder of PlanetWisdom.com and the nationally syndicated WisdomWorks radio segments. An ordained minister, he speaks at conferences across the country. Mark and his family live in Irving, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
FRESHMANTHE COLLEGE STUDENT'S GUIDE TO DEVELOPING WISDOM
By Mark Matlock
TH1NK BooksCopyright © 2005 Mark Thomas Matlock
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHAT IS WISDOM? AND WHY ISN'T IT SEXY?
His eyes hurt.
His head throbbed.
Sunlight streamed through a one-inch slit in the drapes. He turned to look at the girl next to him in the bed. He couldn't believe it-he'd done it again. He'd been partying (one more beer couldn't hurt, could it?), flirted with a cute girl, and ended up not only messing around with her but completing the deed as well. They did have sex, didn't they? He could hardly remember. He slid off the bed and flopped onto the carpet, then waded through clothing and puddles of reeking alcohol. The energy that had activated the frat house the night before was gone. Nobody was moving but him. His roommate slept, arm thrown over some other nameless female, drool soaking the pillow. How did I get into this situation? What had gone so wrong in the last several months? He threw on his clothes and bolted. This is the way she would want it, he told himself. How could I stop it? She wanted it just as much as I did.
When he arrived at his dorm, he took a shower to try to wash lingering smells from his skin, but he was really trying to cleanse the inside. Yet he couldn't feel clean because he hadn't taken the time to figure out what went so wrong. Unless he searched deep inside himself for the answer, the cycle was likely to repeat itself.
"I THINK I'LL MESS UP MY LIFE TODAY"
Very few of us wake up with the goal of messing up our lives. In fact, one of the driving forces for attending college is the desire to make the most of our lives. But poor decisions-even the small ones-can ultimately devastate us and those around us. As a minister, I have the privilege of walking with people through some of the greatest joys and deepest pains of their lives. In just the past few days, I've talked to an unmarried college girl who found out she's pregnant. She isn't even sure who the father is. I've talked to another student whose parents' unresolved bitterness has finally led them to divorce. The whole family is deeply depressed and furious, leaving the student frustrated and wanting to vent in some way but not sure the right way to vent.
None of these people intended to be in those situations. They didn't wake up one morning and say, "I think I'll completely ruin my life today by making a stupid decision." No, they made foolish little decisions that led to others, and still others, until one day they found their lives speeding in the wrong direction. The result feels like a war zone, lives pockmarked by the bullet holes and shattered by the explosions of destructive decisions.
No, not everyone is on the brink of destruction. And even if you do make a string of bad decisions, it's not a guarantee that you'll completely destroy your life. But the list of college pressures and excitements can really stress a person out. You might be worrying about which college major is best for you or wondering if you should change roommates because yours is driving you crazy. Or maybe you're hoping you'll find the right friends or even "the one." Situations like these make it even more obvious that if you want to make the most of your college years, you'll need wisdom. The good news is that no matter where you are in life, wisdom is not far away.
You already know that going to college opens the door to a new world of possibilities. If you live in a dorm or your own apartment, the first couple of weeks are like summer camp. Your parents aren't around, and there are no curfews. Nobody is looking over your shoulder, so you can do whatever you want. You make new friends. There are parties almost every night. Students egg each other on to do something a little crazier, a little wilder, sometimes a little more dangerous. Things start out pretty tame, but before you know it, you may find yourself in situations you hadn't planned-situations that have the potential to be really destructive.
Instead of letting bad things happen, you can use wisdom to help you develop a pattern of life that takes advantage of the new freedoms (you can still have fun) but doesn't hurt you, your college life, or anything else important to you. That's part of developing wisdom. Plus I'm going to share some wisdom I've gained on my journey so far-why wisdom's often overlooked, what it is exactly, what can stop its progress in your life, and how to apply it to some specific college situations. In doing so, my goal is to help you make the most of your college experience. I want to help you have a great time while learning to avoid some of life's pitfalls.
FREEDOM AND THE PRODIGAL SON
Most people would agree that it's instructive to learn valuable lessons from punishment and painful consequences for poor choices. But most would also agree that it would be far better to not make those choices in the first place. In the story of the prodigal son, Jesus tells about a young man who decides to go off on his own. He takes some of his dad's cash and heads off. Never having had financial freedom before, he blows his money and does nothing to multiply the opportunities presented by his upbringing and surroundings. And then what happens? He ends up on his knees, eating pig food and begging his father to take him back (see Luke 15:11-21).
If only the prodigal son would have considered the consequences of what he was about to do before he did it. See, wisdom is taking our knowledge of the way God works and applying it to our world. No, we cannot know God's mind perfectly, but He has revealed His take on life in nature and in His Word. It is one thing to know the best choice, but wisdom is the tool we'll need to actually act on it.
After reaping the consequences of his rash actions, the prodigal son musters up the courage to act, and the result is still favorable. He chose to learn from his mistakes by swallowing his pride, and in doing so, he took a key step in the right direction. He stepped toward wisdom, not away from it.
Wisdom may seem elusive and difficult to define, yet we can recognize and admire wise people when we see them. But what exactly is wisdom? This is a question I've been interested in for much of my life, and my definition has evolved over time. In my search, I've seen that wisdom is "the human capacity to understand life from God's perspective." Now, that is a fairly short definition, but it's got great implications. I've tinkered with this definition over time. I used to define it simply as "seeing life from God's perspective for the purpose of living well," but living for Christ is not always easy, and I wasn't certain "living well" was really the ultimate accomplishment wisdom offered.
There was also the issue of God's great knowledge and understanding: Could I really have God's entire perspective? So I added that wisdom is the "human capacity" to understand this point of view. I also realized that because we have God's Word, it is possible to have God's perspective on life and still fail to live by it. Having wisdom does not ensure that I will follow it.
SOLOMON'S REQUEST AS THE KEY FOR DEFINING WISDOM
In the first book of Kings, God comes to Solomon offering him anything he desires. God is not in the practice of acting like a genie and granting three wishes, but in this instance, He gave Solomon an opportunity to ask Him for anything his heart desired. Realizing that he was young and fairly inexperienced at life, Solomon asked for wisdom. Why? Let's look at the biblical account for insight.
"Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?"
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, "Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be." (1 Kings 3:7-12)
God was thrilled with Solomon's choice. Rather than asking for money, fame, power, or the perfect marriage partner, Solomon asked for a foundational skill for living successfully-wisdom-and God delighted in granting it (see James 1:5).
Realizing that he was being called to govern the people of Israel, Solomon wanted God's insight and perspective so he could do his job successfully. Essentially Solomon was asking for the ability to see life from God's perspective. Of course, we can't fully comprehend all that is in the mind of the eternal, omnipotent, all-knowing Creator of the universe, but God has given us principles and truths to trust on this side of eternity. He has wired the world to work in a certain way, and we'll benefit tremendously if we understand His ways sooner rather than later.
WISDOM IS MORE THAN GOOD CHOICES- IT'S ALSO AN ATTITUDE
Good choices are a benefit to living wisely, but the ability to make good decisions is not the end of wisdom. A wise person also has the right attitude in life and knows how to respond to others in a mature way. They, like Solomon, see the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom (see Proverbs 9:10).
I like playing games, but my wife says I'm a terrible winner. Once when we played Monopoly, I made a series of good purchases and really totaled my wife in the game. During the game and afterward, I just couldn't help but gloat at my perfect execution during the game. My wife was not amused. Yes, I had won, but continually rubbing her nose in my victory was not the best response I could have had. My choices were good, but my attitude was not. Wisdom is not just about playing a perfect game, but it is also "how" you play the game.
The book of Proverbs was written by Solomon (the king of Israel and the wisest man on earth), and it's almost entirely about wisdom.
Solomon personifies wisdom and foolishness as two women, Lady Wisdom and Madame Folly, calling out to people in the city. Both women invite people to come to them, both make promises, and both give predictable results. Every day you're in college, your primary freedom is to accept one of these two invitations.
In Proverbs, Lady Wisdom invites to her home those who will listen to her when she says, "Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding" (Proverbs 9:6). The promise that those who respond to her "will live" doesn't just mean they'll breathe, eat, and sleep. It means they'll really live. This promise reminds me of Jesus' statement, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10)-that is, bursting with meaning, richness, and mystery. So, what does this kind of life look like? Previous chapters in Proverbs tell us that those who seek God's wisdom will be protected from the devastating consequences of foolishness and that they'll experience the positive results of physical health, peace, and strong, honest, intimate relationships. That's wisdom's promise to you and to me.
Meanwhile, Madame Folly is across the street, standing at the door of her house and calling to those who are walking by. Her invitation sounds exactly like the wise woman's, yet she represents foolishness. Where Lady Wisdom wants to do what is right to preserve a long and God-honoring life, Madame Folly wants to do what is exciting, what feels best, and what gives her maximum temporal pleasure. When she calls out, she's just as welcoming as Lady Wisdom, but her promise is much different. She entices people with sensual pleasure and the tempting element of danger: "Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!" (Proverbs 9:17).
Madame Folly's invitation is described further in chapter 7. With seductive language, she tempts those who will listen. After she grabs a man and kisses him, she tells him that he alone is the object of her affection: "I've been looking for you-just for you" (see Proverbs 7:15). (Of course, she says this to anybody who responds to her, not just this guy.) She tells him how she has prepared her bed with the finest spices and promises that because her husband is far away they won't get caught. "Come," she purrs, "let's drink deep of love till morning; let's enjoy ourselves with love!" (Proverbs 7:18).
But instead of life, the result of responding to her temptation is death. Solomon describes the results in both chapters. First: "All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose ... little knowing it will cost him his life" (Proverbs 7:22-23). Solomon then puts a knife in the heart with this conclusion: "But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave" (Proverbs 9:18).
It is true that her words are filled with excitement and adventure. They make our hearts pound; we feel alive. Yet this feeling is short-lived. In the end, Madame Folly offers more than she can give. Instead of life to the fullest, we are left with only a hangover from the fleeting burst of gratification.
Folly keeps her door closed so those on the street can't see what's inside. That description reminds me of adult video stores I drive by every day. Have you ever seen one with windows? Not having windows hides the shame and embarrassment that comes from participating in foolish activities. Also, these porn shops instinctively conceal what's inside from those on the streets because it makes the shop more alluring. Inside they hide a lingering emotional and spiritual death.
Oh, come on, you might be thinking. My decisions aren't life-or-death choices. True, your daily choices may or may not end or continue your life as you know it, but they certainly determine the quality of your life. Each foolish choice you make can eventually rob you of meaning, hope, and joy and take you a step toward shame, discouragement, and loneliness.
Whose invitation will you choose today? You need to choose intentionally, because whether you're aware of it or not, you choose without thought all the time, every day.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH WISDOM?
If wisdom is so terrific, why isn't it the hottest topic around? There's a simple answer to that question: it's because in our culture, the call of foolishness is depicted as incredibly attractive, sensuous, a bit dangerous, and often without major consequences.
Excerpted from FRESHMAN by Mark Matlock Copyright © 2005 by Mark Thomas Matlock. Excerpted by permission.
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