I recently had the opportunity to give a talk to the senior class of the high school I graduated from in 2019. It was great to see my old classmates again. In preparing what I would say to the graduates (who graduated today, as I write this, congratulations!), I couldn’t help but consider the memories of my high school years as well, and of course, the memory of my graduation. I then thought about all the Lord has brought me through in the past two years, and I decided to share a few things I have learned in the first couple of years of being out of high school.
Everything I talked about in the speech is applicable to every graduate who professes to be a follower of Jesus, which is why I decided to share it on here for anyone graduating this year or in the years to come.
First, let me be one of many to tell you Congratulations, you earned it, and you should be so proud!! Right now, some of you probably are ready to just get on with it, while others are doing everything they can to take it in, to savor these last moments of high school. For me, it was the latter. After doing everything in my power for the previous three and a half years to rush through high school and move on with life so I can finally be “independent,” there I was, trying to soak in this last week of freedom- freedom from difficult homework (this freedom ended once I got to college), freedom from the reality of failing if I don’t get up all on my own for my dreadful 8 AM class, and freedom from having to do the whole “adulting” thing such as paying for my own food, or car repair, or even doing my laundry on my own, which was the worst adjustment of all.
So, let me encourage you all to enjoy and savor your graduation week. It’s a rite of passage unlike any other. Let me also encourage you all to be gracious with the parents’ tears and frequent “I just can’t believe you grew up so fast” recollections. It’s a rite of passage for them too.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned in my own journey as a young Christian.
First, the road that leads to life is hard. The road you’re about to set off on is a road that leads to life, but only if you follow the Way (John 14:6). There will be times where this road seems very hard, and you may question if it is even worth it. Other roads might seem attractive to you when you are tired, confused, angry, tempted by some desire, or hurt. In these moments, those other roads will seem much easier. Be careful in those moments. The path of least resistance is the path of least reward. Jesus goes much further: A path like this leads to destruction. It can literally ruin your life. I speak from experience. Some people will tell you that life is all about the journey. Try to stay away from situations where those people can influence you. It’s not true. The journey is all about the destination. What matters most is where you end up. You will have to sacrifice temporal pleasures in order to reach “that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19). I encourage you not to settle for short-lived pleasures; If God is your treasure, you’ll gain everything. If he isn’t, you’ll lose everything. So be ready for the challenge, and consider all that the Lord has done for you. In the same way, he will see you to your destination, with him.
Second, trust God’s Word𑁋 not your perceptions. Proverbs 3:5-6 says to “trust in the LORD with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” The best way to keep the evil influences of this world from clouding your perceptions is to trust in God. Trust in his Word. The only way to trust in his Word is to know his Word. So, study the Word of God. What the Bible says, God says. So, don’t neglect what the LORD says to you by not reading his Word. It’s there for you. Psalms 119:11 teaches that the best way to live a life pleasing to God is to store his Word in your heart. Reading the Bible is not a ritual we must do to please God. It’s for our spiritual survival. If you live your life in line with what you read from the Bible, then God is pleased. The Bible is also how we know what’s true in the world. While your feelings, your senses, and your emotions tell you that they know the truth about your life, God’s Word says that Jesus is truth and that he comes to give life, and life abundantly. While the world says to follow your heart, God’s Word says that “the heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable.” Rather, you should follow Jesus, giving your sinful desires to him because he knows what is best for you. College friends, co-workers, even strong influences in your life, might tell you that the best way to find happiness and joy is to experience all that life has to offer. This is a fool’s mistake. God’s Word says that joy is found only in the Lord. Exciting experiences are fun, but they are fleeting and meaningless. You experience it, and then what? Life goes on, and that experience then has nothing left for you, while the joy found in Jesus empowers you to go on living in a way that pleases God. It comes down to one question: Which voice will you listen to? God’s voice, or the world’s? And I will leave that open-ended for you.
Lastly, remember what true freedom is. You’re about to enter a new chapter in life. You’re probably excited about all the freedoms you’ll have, and you should be! It’s a part of growing up. However, as I said before, the world might tell you to follow your heart because that’s when you’ll have true freedom. But, this is a lie. As a Christian, you are not only free from the life of sin, you aren’t only free from the ultimate consequence of sin, you aren’t only free from the power of sin, but you also are free to a new life. You’re free to the life that Jesus said he gives us: an abundant life. You’re free to live in the design that God created you to be. This is the beauty of the Gospel. When we live how God wants us to live, we experience the power of the Gospel in our lives and we see a difference in, not only how we live, but who we actually are. 2 Corinthians tells us that anyone who is in Christ is a “new creation; the old has passed away, and the new is here.”
Many in our generation see God’s commands as his attempt to take away our fun or our ability to enjoy life. C.S. Lewis said it best in his book, Mere Christianity,
There is a story about a schoolboy who was asked what he thought God was like. He replied that, as far as he could make out, God was ‘the sort of person who is always snooping around to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it.’C.S. Lewis; Mere Christianity, pg. 69
I’m afraid Lewis’ story represents how many, if not most, non-believers think of God. This raises an important question: What does it mean to be free? In his book, Chasing Love, Sean McDowell argues that true freedom is not doing what one wants without restraint as some people believe it to be; rather, true freedom results when we cultivate the right wants that allow us to properly love God and love others as they were intended to be loved.
So, as one who is getting ready to graduate and experience what might seem like the most freedom you’ve had in your life, I challenge you to ask yourself if you are truly free to live the life you were intended to live. I also challenge you to orient your life to God’s design and cultivate the right wants that ultimately will lead you to true freedom in Christ. Again, congratulations to all of you who are graduating! I can’t wait to see what God does in you and through you.
Sean McDowell; Chasing Love: Sex, Love, and Relationships in a Confused Culture
C.S. Lewis; Mere Christianity
Desiring God Blog; Dear Graduate
Desiring God Blog; The Blessing and Challenge of Graduation