Ask a Chaplain: Jesus at the center?

This post answers a question from our ‘Ask a Chaplain ‘ question box. You will find two answers from two chaplains below. You can ask your questions by visiting Ask a Chaplain.

How can I put Jesus at the center of my life while I’m at university?


From Jean-Daniel Williams (Anglican-United Chaplaincy):

The language of keeping Christ at the centre of lives is not strictly biblical. As in, it’s not really in the Bible, at least not that succinctly. The idea, arguably, is biblical, but it is expressed in numerous ways. Seek Christ. Follow Christ. Hear Christ. Imitate Christ. Be transformed by Christ. Be baptised, crucified, and risen with Christ. Remember Christ. When we speak of being centred in Christ, or keeping Christ in the centre of lives, we mean each of those and all of those, in all the sorrow and joy they all mean.

On one hand, keeping Christ at the centre of our lives is simpler when we are doing those things we call “religious.” What did you do to keep Christ at the centre of your life beforeuniversity? Keep doing those things!  Go to church. Participate in a Bible study. Take daily time for prayer and personal Bible reading. Fellowship, pray, cry, talk, hang out, eat pizza, play board games with, and engage in community service with Christian friends. (I can help you find opportunities for all of those things!)

But, in our Christian maturity, as we grow as people and grow in our relationship with Christ, we need to come to a point where we do not need to be “at church” or “being religious” for Christ to remain our centre. In a romantic relationship, for example, a stage of I-can’t-imagine-not-having-you-at-my-side-constantly is quite normal in the early days of all consuming infatuation, but it is not a healthy place to stay. It needs to transform into a more balanced love. A love that keeps the other person at the centre of our fidelity and priorities, their wishes and needs shaping our choices, even while apart. Time together will still matter, but the depth of the relationship sometimes is more evident when apart. (There is a danger, present in many worship songs, frankly, including many I love, of overly romanticizing our relationship with God, of course, so I don’t want this metaphor taken too far!) So, yes, by all means we need to keep doing those things that are obviously churchy. 

What about the rest of the time? Saint Paul says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:1). Do everything in the name of the Lord. Your whole life is an act of worship, an act of dedicating the talents and intelligence and creativity and opportunities and time and wealth you have. Every moment is an opportunity to making God’s reign be on earth as it is heaven, by living out loving relationships—familial, professional, academic, romantic, friendly; by investigating the complexities of God’s creation and people even in the most “secular” of ways; by pursuing careers that enrich other people’s lives through the arts or research or ethical business. Not every moment is “church,” in a traditional sense, but not every moment should be.

If we follow Jesus, we need to be all in. We need to follow his whole example. On one hand,  he went to worship at temples and study Torah synagogues and fellowship with likeminded disciples. BUT, on the other hand, he also didn’t always do those things. He also went to parties. He made jokes. He spent time in lively conversation with those with whom he disagreed. He had meals with people who did not live according to his values. Keep yourself rooted in Christian community, but do not be as inflexible as a tree. Sound impossible? A little, but nothing is impossible is with Christ at your centre!

The Rev’d Jean-Daniel Williams is the Anglican and United Christian Chaplain at McGill. The chaplaincy provides ecumenical worship services, Bible studies, community service projects, and social events throughout the year, and Chaplain Jean-Daniel is available to talk to or pray with any McGill student or staff regardless of faith tradition.


From David Ritz (Church 21): 

This boils down to 3 different things that you need to understand deeply in your heart that will help you keep Jesus at the centre of your life in university.

  1. Gospel
  2. Being led by the Spirit
  3. Being part of Community

1) Gospel

What is the gospel? The Gospel is the means by which we turn our affections from selfishness to God, from being wholly focused on me to being focused and amazed by God. It is literally good news, and the good news is the story of God and humanity. That is Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration.

Creation: God creates everything, and declares it good! He creates an amazing world with no sickness, disease, sorrow, pain, suffering, any of that. He creates mankind which was for whom the whole world was created for. God places His image into us, and He gave us the whole world to work and enjoy.

Fall: Man rejects God’s law and follows himself, through the temptation of the snake, that is the devil. We are now “naked and ashamed” because our selfishness lays exposed to God. We are now born with “dirty hearts” (as I tell my kids) or born with the stain of sin. We know intrinsically that there is a problem, and we do everything we can to solve this problem apart from God, but we cannot.

Redemption: The rest of the story of Scripture talks about God’s pursuit of man. Notice the order, God pursues man. We have glimpses of the rescue through many different narrative accounts throughout Scriptures. But eventually, God sends His only Son to come and live the perfect life that we could not. To die the death that we deserve, so that we can live with a reward that should only belong to Jesus. God solves our problem of sin.

Restoration: God makes all things new through the work of the cross. We are now given a new identity because of what Jesus has done, not on our merit but on the merit of Jesus. In other words, Jesus came to live the life that we could not, to die the death that we should have died, so that we can have reward that we do not deserve. 1 Peter 2:24, “For He Himself bore our sins, in His body, on the cross that we might die to sin and live to righteousness, for by his wounds we are healed.” Because of this we are given a new identity, we are given new family! By merit of believing that this is what Jesus did, we now have a new identity, we are part of a new family, and at the head of this family is a deeply loving father.

One day, He will restore things to how they were, an amazing world with no sickness, disease, sorrow, pain, suffering, or death!

Myself, and I’m sure other campus leaders can tell you story after story of students who are incredibly smart, have their whole life and careers planned, and find that their grades are slipping. When this happens, I have seen students slip into a depression and massive identity crises.

Why? Because their whole lives, all of their high school courses and marks were because they had a certain career track set up for them. Now that is all in jeopardy because of some bad marks. How does the gospel respond to this?

We in order for the gospel to be part of life survival, we need to move it from a noun, to a verb. From a person, place or thing, or set of beliefs that we agree to to something that is moving in our hearts.

If your grades slip for whatever reason, the gospel responds to this by reminding us first and foremost who we are, because of what Jesus has done. Because you have believed in what Jesus has accomplished on the cross, you are his beloved son or daughter. Just because you have bad marks, does not change that identity. You cannot simply cease being a son or daughter of God. Work hard for your marks, but understand that your future career, your security, your worth as a person is not wrapped up in who you become, or by your marks, but rather by who you are on the merits of Jesus dying for you.

Romans 6:4 tells us, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

2) Spirit-led

We need the Holy Spirit. We need to begin to understand what it is to be Spirit-led. Remember it is not Father, Son, Holy Scriptures, but rather Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Spirit is a teacher, a guide, a giver of gifts, and needs to lead and direct our lives.

It is because of the Holy Spirit that we have boldness to witness and testify to the goodness of the Spirit. The Spirit helps remind our hearts about the truths of the gospel. The whole role of the Spirit is to testify and highlight Jesus.

There is no telling what or how the Spirit may use you in your classes, with your roommates, friends and family. Acts 4:31, “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” Acts 6:10, “But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”

Practically speaking, He is the one who strengthens and enables us to do what we need to do.

3) Being Part of Community

This can never be emphasized enough. We were not created to go through life alone. I know many of the ministers, and leaders of the campus groups, and I know that they would all agree just how vital it is for you to be plugged in somewhere. The worst thing you can do is to isolate yourself from everyone else.

Some find community through small groups,  some its missional communities, there are different expressions, but the goals are often the same. The one thing that we have heard consistently, is when believers isolated themselves from the community that God has placed them in, it impacted them greatly on being able to work through all of life’s stresses. Community is so vitally important! You need people to remind you of your identity in Christ, you need people to pray with you, to encourage you, we were just made for people!

David Ritz is a pastoral intern with Church 21 concentrating largely on reaching university students in the downtown core of Montreal. He is passionate about engaging students with living out the gospel. He has two kids Annabelle and Levi. He has been married for 7 years. You can follow his blog at


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