rebelling against low expectations

You’re Not a Student First


College students (and even high schoolers) have been told by well-meaning parents, teachers, and academic advisors: “Remember, you’re a student first.” The message behind this advice is simple and seems wise: Keep your priorities straight. Don’t let less important things crowd out the time, mental energy, and focus you need to maximize your time in high school or at college. Your job is to study. Work hard at it. Make your studies your top priority.

But while our studies are important, they are not ultimate. They must not crowd out the time, energy, and focus we need to maximize our entire lives for the purposes of God. We are Christians first, before we are students. And every decision we make, whether to participate in a ministry outreach, to make time for a hurting friend, or to commit to a weekly Bible study, should be made with Christ at the forefront or our minds — not our GPA.

If that resonates with you (or convicts you), check out this video from Desiring God. In it Matt Reagan challenges us with the message: “You’re not a student first.” He says, “I am ten-thousand times a Christian before I’m a student. Before I even think student, I think Jesus. He is my identity. And now, whether I eat or drink or whatever I do, I do it all for the glory of God.”

We’d love to hear what you think about these ideas. How do you balance your identity in Christ with your vocation as a student? What does that look like for you?

Share Your Thoughts in the Comment Section!

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • Oh my word…. *convicted*.

    serving both God and trying to do my study’s is really hard for me, because… i guess you could say that i’m a little bit of an extremest.

    For me, balancing God with School, means shining Jesus to everyone that might need it. Because i *tend* to get really caught up with school, Showing Jesus thought how i act, is (ok. i don’t want to say easier, because being a Christian is never easy, but that’s what i’m going to say.) easier.

    Yes- it means that i have to check everything that i do. (and double check) (and then triple check) But people pay attention to the way that you act. (Ye Olde “Actions speak louder then words.)

    That ended up really long, it was a complicated question.

    Alex and Brett, Thank you so much for this Blog!! It has really helped me grow as a christian and helps me realize that I’m not alone!

    • Hey Awesome Sauce, this whole balancing act definitely counts as doing hard things. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. =)

      P.S. You’re welcome! We’re really glad this blog is able to encourage and inspire so many thousands of young people. It’s really amazing!

  • Yes I agree.

    I feel like my education will strongly help me spread the Gospel in the future/ film, writing, apologetics, communication, etc. It is hard to have our first priority on our personal relationship with God and I know we all have difficulties with this throughout our daily lives.

    “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

    • Good point, Liam. Our studies are an important part of how we prepare ourselves to be useful in God’s Kingdom. The trouble starts when we allow the preparation to take priority over the mission!

      • Immediate Goals –> Future Goals –> Ultimate Goals.
        You will only reach your ultimate goals if you future goals and immediate goals reflect your ultimate goals. For example, if we have an ultimate goal of being the kind of people that God wants us to be, our future goals should be pleasing to God, and an immediate goal should be to learn how God wants us to live and then live it. Something like that anyway 🙂
        You also need to work toward your goals–not just have goals. Don’t sacrifice what you want most for what you want at the moment.
        The idea behind this comment is not original to me. I got it from Baptist Bible College #tlc2k14

      • Hi, Brett,

        I’m sorry to post this off-topic comment, but would you mind checking out the situation with “The Rejected” on “Haley’s Story: I was an Atheist”. I believe this really requires your attention. Thanks,

        God bless,
        – Trent

          • Hey Brett, thank you for responding. I know how busy you must be!

            Well, The Rejected has been very rude, obnoxious, and has been insulting the other commentators.
            He hasn’t gotten any better since you talked to him a few months ago. And even after talking to him, kindly, about the evidence against evolution and the evidence for Creation, he has simply ignored everything and called me a lier. He has also been doing the same thing to Liam and some of the other commentators, to the point where we all know he isn’t interested in the facts, just justifying his beliefs and trying to push it on everyone else. No one is really engaged by his comments anymore, just annoyed or concerned. I would really appreciate it if you would mind talking to him again and convince him to be kind in his words and if he responds by bullying and insulting, then, as much as I hate to say it, block him from commenting, like you had to with Linda, awhile back.

            Now, please tell me if I’m out of line, because I don’t want to overstep my bounds.
            Thanks for listening and God bless you and the other Harris’s. Y’all are an inspiration to me.
            – Trent

          • Thanks for filling me in, Trent. I haven’t been able to read all the comments (there are a LOT!) so I’ve probably missed some of what you’ve described. I will make sure to review everything in the next few days and address it as necessary. At this point I think I may just close the comment thread on that post since it’s an old post and the conversation is pretty far off-track.

          • First of all, thank you very much for the video, Brett! It’s short, but gets right to the point.
            And secondly, I also want to thank you for your decision for closing the thread. I don’t think the conversations were going to change, since he was not sincerely looking for truth. But, thank you for allowing him to converse with us; it was a pretty eye opening experience for me, since I don’t get to chat with people like him very often. 🙂

          • Brett,
            Thank you for closing the tread on “I was an atheist” It was draining to keep up with the rejected and try to keep up with his random notes. (stops and wonders *Why didn’t i just stop?* then shakes head.)

            It also opened my eyes to the fact that there are people in the earth like that–not everyone is like me. and that the world is in a dire need for Jesus.

            Team, it was awesome to hear from you all and get to know you!!! Jesus lives and he is most certainly alive!!!

          • I’m so glad i’m not the only person who does random stuff like that!!! “He’s roaring, he’s roaring he’s roaring like a lion!!!!!”

          • Goes out and air guitars on the street to the song gods not dead… Yeah that’s what I’m gonna do rite now!!

          • Hey, Brett,
            I hate to add to the stuff people want you to deal with, but I have a question about Disqus.
            I have tried to add Disqus to my blog, but it doesn’t show up to use. I use How did you get Disqus to work on the Rebelution?
            – Trent

          • And no, you are certainly not overstepping your bounds. Please feel free to bring anything to my attention that you feel deserves it. I’m here to serve. =)

  • Ya’ll have no idea how far this article hit home with me.

    I’m a sophomore at a small community college spending my Sunday afternoon working on assignments and trying to figure out exactly what God wants me to do with my academic future. I want to go to vet school, but the road to vet school is long, hard, and daunting. I get tired. It’s a struggle and I want to quit. In fact, about five minutes before I opened my laptop and read this post I told my mother I’d really just like to give up on college all together.

    Here’s a little overview of my college experience.

    I began online classes through this community college a year after I graduated from homeschool early. I took the year between homeschool graduation and college to work as a paralegal in a small law office. My first semester of online college shocked me. Not because of the academic load, but because of the Godless content. I was taught that everything I had ever believed was wrong from the creation of the world to the walls of Jericho falling to Christ’s very existence. For the first time I realized that our country is lost. I had told myself that we were still the Christian nation we began as, but sadly, that wasn’t the truth. The semester peaked with the writing of my final essay in English Comp I. The paper was to be an argumentative essay arguing my opinion on a topic of controversy. I chose to write on the recently petitioned and shot down ultrasound law here in Oklahoma. This law would state that all women seeking an abortion must have and watch an ultrasound of their baby before the abortion was performed. The law was shot down on the basis of infringement of women’s rights. I argued in favor of the law and the rights of the fetus with scripture supporting my argument. Upon turning in my essay I was notified by my professor that the topic I had chosen would not be accepted due to the use of Scripture and the risk of offending others in the class. I then asked if I could write on gun control laws in the state. This was also found “too controversial.” I had very little time before the final was due and had already written one entire essay. I then began researching constitutional religious freedom and freedom of speech in schools and universities. As I already knew, my professor was infringing upon my religious freedom and freedom of speech. With that information in mind, I asked if I could write the essay on religious freedom in schools. Once again, this topic was shot down and a note was added that I should not bring religion into the assignment.

    With less than a week to write a rough and final outline, gather works to quote and write a works cited page, write a rough draft, and write a final draft, I was tired of being told I was not allowed to bring God into my essay. I had tried hard all semester to bring His Truth into every written assignment given to me. I looked at the topics submitted by my classmates. Among some very uncontroversial topics there was a paper on “God’s support of gay marriage.” That paper offended me as it was completely unbiblical and even blasphemous of God’s Word. Another paper discussed how bad homeschooling is for children and their families. This argument also held no truth. Finally, I emailed my professor. As politely as I could muster, I quoted The Constitution defending my religious freedom and freedom of speech, mentioned the two highly controversial essays, and informed her that I would be writing my essay on the benefits of home education using Biblical references. I did not get a response to that email, but my essay was accepted.

    I finished a second semester online and now I’m taking classes on campus. I’m currently taking English Comp II. When I enrolled, the only available English class at the time I needed it was taught by the same professor as my Comp I class. I thought about just putting it off until the next semester, but then I realized that God could have a purpose for this and that I needed to trust Him to handle it. My first essay assignment was to write an argumentative essay on social justice. My professor recommended that I write on the reproductive rights of women. In that moment I knew what I needed to write on without the shadow of a doubt in my mind. I asked if I could instead write about social justice and the rights of the unborn. My professor looked displeased, but said that I could write on the topic as long as I referenced one of the writings in our textbook. I thanked her and asked her to please let me know if there was anything I needed to change after looking at my rough draft.
    In my paper I argue that the unborn child deserves the right to achieve social justice which is defined as reaching one’s full potential. I further argue that the rights of the mother should not overcome the rights of the unborn child and that as long as one human being has the rights to kill another completely innocent helpless human being the United States cannot truthfully proclaim, “freedom and justice for all.” I reference medical writings form Princeton University and Scientific Studies stating that life does begin at conception, Martin Luther King Jr,’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” discussing just and unjust laws checked against God’s moral law, and Bible verses stating that children are a blessing from God and that killing is wrong. I received my rough draft back with only one error marked. The Bible verses, the Word of God, was scribbled out in red ink and a note was made to the side saying that these were not credible sources as there “is no Author.” Another student in my class who had also referenced Bible verses received similar feedback.
    I couldn’t stand it. Just the sight of the verses crossed out in red made me furious. I couldn’t sit there with my mouth shut and deny the Word of God. After my other classes that day I met with the two heads of the English department at my school. I wanted to know the school’s policy regarding Biblical citations in essays. The school didn’t have any policies. One head of the department told me that I should reference other religion’s gods or writings so that I could give an idea of all beliefs. I said that I would only be quoting the one and only Truth. The other head of the department agreed with my personal beliefs and is in the process of calling a department meeting to define religious speech and writing policies, hopefully, in favor of religious freedom. When I got home I contacted the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice). I wanted to know what my religious freedoms were within the college classroom. The ACLJ is currently looking into religious freedom within the classroom specifically at my school and will contact me when they have determined the limitations of my rights within my school.
    In the mean time, I’ve turned in my final draft with the Bible verses intact as did the other student I mentioned. I am currently an honor student, my grades are extremely important to me and the fact that I could take a GPA hit for taking a stand makes taking the stand difficult. My priorities are often not in the right place as I feel that I have to be the best in all my classes. I will continue to strive to be my best for the glory of God, but I am also reminding myself that God cares much more about the condition of my heart and the example I am to others than my GPA. I’m giving it all to Him. My future, my GPA, my essay… All of it. I am His and He will lead me.
    I am not a student first. I am a follower of Christ first.
    Thank you for the great article at the exact moment I needed it. Ya’ll are awesome and have continued to inspire me since I first read “Do Hard Things” in 2011.
    Continue to stand strong in the Lord and God bless!

      • Hey AJ,
        I would not mind at all, in fact, I feel honored that you asked. Thank you so much! I’m sorry it took awhile for me to respond. I’ve been pretty busy lately. I can’t wait to check out your blog!
        God bless!


      • I just spent a few minutes skimming through your blog… Wow! Awesome blog! Again, I feel honored. 🙂 If you’re interested I write and do photography for

    • Emily,

      This is inspirational! Keep standing up for the Kingdom of God, and hold fast to His truth!

      “It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.”
      Deuteronomy 13:4

      “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and holdfast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”
      2 Thessalonians 2:15

      God Bless!


  • Awesome video and article. This has really convicted me today! When we think about campus life and being a student, we don’t often think about ministry. But when we put God at the forefront, not only does He affect our decisions at College, but He also directs our ministry. We have an opportunity to reach out to untold people (some from different countries!) at college. If we will take that opportunity, than God can do amazing things through us as students.
    Thanks Alex and Brett for this

  • I think you have a point. My identity is wrapped up in
    Jesus, not in what I study (aka how smart the world thinks I am) or the marks I
    get back. I am first and foremost a Christian; God’s child, and that should be
    my number one priority.

    It has made me think, because my first reaction is that I am
    to be a Christian student. That means throwing my whole heart into study,
    making it a priority in my life, treating study as something for the glory of
    God (regardless of how I use that study later on; studying in itself is for God’s

    But when I think about what you’re saying, I’m reminded to
    balance my priorities with people, because sometimes being a friend, joining a
    Bible study, or being an involved family member, is more important than study!

    While study is very important and one thing that brings God
    glory, so is the other community-building things, and these are important
    things that bring glory to God too. We can’t always afford the time or energy
    to get involved with a ministry (there is a season for everything). But all the
    time, we are to reflect Jesus and love others like he loves us, and we are also to always keep our identity in Jesus, not in our actions.

  • Thank you so much for this post! I’m a first-year nursing student and am frequently overwhelmed by how much work I have to do. It’s really easy to let my quiet time with God slip so I can get extra studying time in or to say that I’m too busy to help with a church event that I know He’s called me to do. Thank you for the reminder that my priority focus needs to be on Jesus and then I can focus on everything else after that.

    Y’all have no idea how much of an encouragement you are to us young people! Thank you so much! 🙂

  • I totally agree that before we can say that we are students, we have to accept first the fact that we are Christians. I must say that our education should not be a reason why we can’t be involved in our ministry. Because it is the fact that we are students that we have the more reasons why we must stand firm on our faith and serve as light and salt to others. Being a student is not an end for a Christian but it is a means to bring more people home to Christ.

  • Hello!

    I’m new to the Rebelution—and I’m so excited for it! Once upon a time, I thought I was a lone teen who had crazy obsessions with being responsible and had ambitions too big for her britches…. And suddenly, KA-BOOM! I’ve found a whole movement of teens just as crazy as I! 😉 Just kidding, I don’t think we’re crazy at all. 😀 And by the way, I was especially excited to find that Alex and Brett Harris interned under a State Supreme Court Justice at the age of seventeen and that they graduated from Patrick Henry College!

    Thank you for this series of Doing Hard Things at School,
    Alex and Brett (and Adriana and Rachel)! It has great reminders for me. In this
    article, however, are you saying that our identities in Christ are not related
    to our vocations as students?

    Thanks again!

  • Yeah it is very challenging because it is so easy to put an assignment first, before reading your bible or spending time with God.

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →