Lt. General James N. Mattis, USMC, commander in the battle for Fallujah, November, 2004, raised the ire of the news media for enjoying his work too much. “Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight…I’ll be right up front with you, I like brawling. You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway.” Is it wrong for a man to enjoy his work, no matter what he does?
Martin Luther wrote a booklet entitled, “Whether a Soldier Too Can Be Saved” arguing, God had appointed earthly rulers to restrain sin and given them the authority to “bear the sword.” Gifted by God in this life, soldiers can know Scripture legitimizes their place. Luther said the soldier should think, “it is not I that slay, but God and my prince, for my hand and my body are now their servants.” Humble and reserved before God, soldiers should “smite [the enemy] with a confident and untroubled spirit.” Shouldn’t we be glad some have the calling to shoulder arms against evildoers? Aren’t we pleased that our physical safety is helped by people dedicated to the task? All people, no matter who they are, what they do, how old they are, have a calling.
Over the more than a quarter century teaching junior high through master’s level students, this idea that students have a calling has been pressing on my mind. I have been struck by the implication that Christian views of vocation or “calling” seem to be left for later in life, after schooling is complete. But I would contend that from the earliest period of their lives, young people can practice their vocation as “student.” Christian school teachers must help students to see they should learn, then live.
When teens whine, “Why do we have to go to school?!” the suggestion becomes academy work is an imposed tyranny. The proper attitude would be to accept the responsibility and fulfill the gifts of being a student. The teaching of providence—God personally plans and oversees all events—suggests that our time, place, and opportunity is dependent upon Heaven. With the command to scatter and multiply in Genesis one came the designation of people by language and territory (Genesis 10:31-32). “I summon…from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose” God tells His people (Isaiah 46:9-11). And Paul’s apologetic for “the unknown God” includes the fact that He “determined the times set for [every nation] and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26). For students to complain about their placement in human affairs is to directly raise a fist toward Heaven.
Imagine Esther rejecting her providential position to save the Hebrews from genocide. Mordecai’s question “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) suggests truth for all people, for all time. Students are precisely in the exact moment for which God has ordained their presence. The Psalmist concurs, “My times are in His hands” (Psalm 31:15). C. S. Lewis adds,
“A man’s upbringing, his talents, his circumstances, are usually a tolerable index of his vocation. If our parents have sent us to Oxford, if our country allows us to remain there, this is prima facie (“on its face,” or obvious) evidence that the life which we, at any rate, can best lead to the glory of God at present is the learned life.”
The teaching of providence in time tells the class we are to learn, then live.
The old adage “too soon old, too late smart” suggests youth has the power of strength yet great weakness in wisdom. Ecclesiastes says it best,
“Be happy, young man, while you are young and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment…Remember your Creator in the days of your youth…” (11:9; 12:1).
So, providence includes our time of life—youth—as students. There will be things we regret (not standing up for others), things we wish we would have continued (piano lessons!), and things we’ve done we wish we had not (the list is endless). School days must be among those things for which Solomon encouraged full participation, laden with great responsibility.
With increased cultural pressure for “career development” it would behoove us to encourage high school students that this may be the last time they have time to study. Young adults need to read big books, write big papers, and converse about big ideas. Why? Not only will everyone spend the rest of their lives working, but each tick of the clock brings us one second closer to death. “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life…each man’s life is but a breath” (Psalm 39:4-5). As the old rock song says, “Time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking, into the future.” Students must be pressed with the understanding that preparation for the rest of life begins with our time as students.
But some may ask, “How much time is necessary for life preparation?” The providence of time gives ample example. John Mark, in Paul’s mind, needed over a dozen years to be “helpful” to the apostle’s ministry (2 Timothy 4:11; cf. Acts 15:36-41). And for his part, at least thirteen years preceded Paul’s first missionary journey. Paul’s pedigree was second to none (cf. Philippians 3:1-6) but he needed preparation for his new ministry (cf. Galatians 1:13-2:1). After killing the Egyptian, God gave Moses forty years of leadership training prior to the Exodus (Exodus 2-4). And our Lord was thirty before his ministry began as recorded in The Gospels. If time is important even in the development of Jesus, how much more for students preparing for life?
The providence of time for students to grow in their thinking is buttressed by the teaching of place in God’s economy. As evidenced in Genesis 10, Isaiah 46, and Acts 17 where we live is important to The Creator. Students must learn to appreciate the place they live that encourages learning. Many children throughout the world work to support their families from the earliest years. We Christian school teachers must point out the privilege of providence in allowing students to learn, then live. Often teenagers are anxious to “get out” or “get away” from hometowns without understanding what they have or what they give up. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book” (Psalm 139:16) encourages gratitude for a student’s time and place. Instructing now for the acquisition of knowledge that will be lived later is the underlying premise of Christian school teaching.
The comment most rehearsed from students over my 28 years of teaching is “I wish I had paid better attention in class.” Yet some are anxious to learn. In Afghanistan today young women are going to school for the first time. Often their meeting place is a hovel—the trailer of an 18-wheeler in some circumstances. But the smiling faces looking at books in their hands explain they are taking full advantage of their opportunities. The teaching of providence in opportunity is summarized well by James. “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes…you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that…” (4:13-17). Everyone lives at the behest of The Sovereign of the universe. What is a student’s responsibility? To buy up every opportunity (Ephesians 5:16). Many reading this article live in the most prosperous, peaceful regions of human history. Students should thank God for their providential opportunity to learn in this place and time.
In eighth grade I couldn’t wait to go to high school. During ninth to twelfth I anticipated college. Collegiate experience prompted dreams of grad school. You know what I learned? Don’t wish for time to go faster. The clock seems to race against itself. Applications to life today abound. I will suggest three. (1) Time is a commodity; don’t waste it, (2) place is community; don’t take it for granted, and (3) gratitude is a mark of character; give it. Students must thank parents, administration, teachers, and of course their Creator for student life afforded them now.
I’m personally indebted to Lt. General Mattis for his vigorous execution of his calling to be a soldier. Indeed, I revel in the business of every person’s gifts. As a teacher, I have come to learn that vocation is not something that we wait for later to pursue. Calling in the earliest years of life is to be a student. Preparation must precede ministry. Study must come before work. Learning must set the stage for living.
First presented in the spring of 2005, Mark has been giving a 3-part lecture on this topic ever since. And Mark also believes that if he ever ceases to be a student, he will cease to be a teacher. Mark currently practices his vocation as student-teacher at Crossroads Bible College.
 Gene Edward Veith, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” WORLD 26 February 05, p. 28.
 “Calling” is a supernatural, sovereign direction in a believer’s life based on the gifting of The Holy Spirit, local church guidance, and providential circumstances.
 C. S. Lewis, “Learning in War Time,” The Weight of Glory, p. 58.