In my series on “Top Ten Ways to Spiritually Prepare Your College Freshman for Campus,” I’m serving up way number three: Develop or reinforce the basic spiritual disciplines of Bible Study and prayer.

It’s doubtful parents would send their kids to college without a meal plan. Are we as diligent to help set up a spiritual meal plan? Once that dorm room key is issued, there will be no more spoon feeding by the youth group. It’s time for our kids to feed themselves or they could spiritually starve to death.

One practice found to be important in encouraging emerging adults to remain connected and committed to their local church and their Christian beliefs is having them–as youth—establish the habits of engaging in personal Bible reading and prayer. (I contend it’s not too late.)

If you’re not modeling this for your kids or haven’t already helped them develop this discipline, don’t let a guilt trip or excuses stall you into inaction.  If needed, admit your past lack and express your current desire to change as an incentive for both of you to start. You could even hold one another accountable and/or share what you’re learning. Need some help? Host a get together with other college-bound Christian friends to encourage and equip them to dig into this discipline. Call in a trusted Christian mentor to share their personal insights on the importance of reading the Word, committing to prayer time, and using trusted tools and resources (Research also shows that maintaining relationships with parents and having other adults they respect invest in their lives, helps emerging adults stay connected to church through and after college.)

Where to Start
Devotionals:

  • Devotionals can serve as an appetizer to prepare the palate for the main course. Encourage using a devotional book that quotes scripture daily. If they never get to the main course, at least they will have had a taste of God’s Word that day.
  • Don’t be afraid to introduce college kids to the classic devotionals. The writing and theology is rich and these writers connect them to our shared Christian heritage and history. (Some have been updated to more modern language. For example, www.utmost.org for Oswald Chamber’s devotionals.)

Bible Study:
Talk about a smorgasborg–there are so many approaches to Bible study it’s hard to know where to start. Why not ask your students what appeals to them? A historical biblical figure? A book of the Bible? A theme? A word study? Or use this list to help:

  • Studying basic theology can be helpful and grounding for students. An introduction to the orthodox Christian tenets is key to recognizing heresy. (Try Grudem, Horton, or Geisler in book form or Chafer’s “Major Bible Themes” as a free pdf.)
  • Studying the attributes of God can develop their knowledge of God and their trust in him. Knowing our never-changing God provides a compass in an ever-changing culture. (Try Tozer, Sproul, and Packer.)
  • Studying the fruit of the Spirit helps develop spiritual maturity in college and a way to personally measure their own growth.
  • If they join a campus ministry and local church as suggested in post number one, they could take a cue from whatever that ministry or church is studying and chew on that in personal study time.
  • A chapter a day from Proverbs is easy to digest and gives great insight in both wisdom and warnings. (Help them keep in mind the pithy sayings are principles not promises.)
  • The Apologetics Study Bible has great articles on pertinent faith questions which will come up in college, a worldview chart explaining what other religions believe, sections called “twisted scripture” on passages commonly misused or misinterpreted. It’s a great reference tool and study Bible and has online studies.
  • The ESV Study Bible continues to get high marks both for the translation and the study materials.

Go Digital— Since our students are such a digital generation, engaging them through their thumbs and earbuds with Bible study and prayer apps might be the best way to get them connected, literally.

  • Dare to Share app—study competing worldviews and how to share your faith.
  • I Disciple—has topical Bible studies you can read or listen to, daily devotionals, life theme studies. Very cool app that should appeal to college students.
  • YouVersion has great Bible study and reading plans that can be chosen both by topic as well as by length of time to complete the study. Includes video, audio, and much more.
  • Blue Letter Bible has a Bible reading plan in addition to devotionals, dictionaries, lexicons, Bible studies, maps, charts, fee online books and more.
  • Bible Gateway has a verse of the day upload, a Bible reading plan with a daily reminder alarm, an audio play of Bible readings (what if they did that on the way to class?)

Prayer–while there are tremendous books available on prayer, maybe going digital here would have the highest success rate. Personally, having a prayer partner in college with whom I studied a book on prayer changed the trajectory of my prayer life. (Learn more in a later blog in this series about how we can pray for our kids while they are in college.) While corporate prayer is extremely important, and prayer groups are popping up on campuses everywhere, personal prayer time is crucial as well.

  • Abide prayer app—rich tool for both prayer and spiritual discipline guides. Hear pre-recorded prayers by topic, and use those as starters into your own prayer time. The app can be set to send you a daily prayer at a designated time.
  • There are prayer apps that help develop prayer time as well as ones that help keep track of your prayers.

Time–Encourage your students to find the time that is best for them, so they will stick with a plan. Chances are if they have an 8 a.m. Chem  Lab, they are not going to get up and have a quiet time. But if they have a break on campus from 1-2 p.m., maybe they can find a nice spot to spend 15-20 minutes in the Word and prayer. Share your own struggles and successes with maintaining a consistent personal study and prayer time.

So before that last trunk is packed, consider giving them a special new study Bible, pocket Bible, or leather-bound devotional book with a personal inscription in it. Wrap it in a new set of ear buds with a note to “plug in daily” to God’s word. Challenge them to weave scripture reading and prayer readings into their play list. And don’t forget the value of scripture memorization which requires active mental engagement. Check out this classic tool from Navigators.

David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group says, “… Millennials who retain a longer-lasting faith than their peers are more likely to find a sense of authority in the Word of God—both in the pages of the Bible as well as in their experience of intimacy with the God they follow.” Let’s let that be an inspiration to not neglect assisting and encouraging our college students to pursue the Good Book as much as we do their textbooks.

A nourishing daily diet of God’s Word and prayer will go a long way to help our college students resist the temptation to ingest the junk food they will be offered by peers and professors.

(Research referenced in this article is from “Lost in Transition” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/october/21.34.html.)

Julie Loos

Julie Loos is the Director of Prayer and Women’s Outreach for Ratio Christi. She has 12 years of leadership in the Moms in Prayer International. Julie Loos lives with her husband and two sons in St. Louis, MO. You’ll usually find her not far from a cup of coffee and piece of dark chocolate…

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