Words for graduates

What follows is a brief address I gave to my daughter’s graduating class this evening.

You’ve made it. Finals are finished. Projects are done. The only thing left is to get that piece of paper from your parents, shift your tassel. And shout. It’s all over but the shouting.

Or so they say.

You have done well to get this far in your education. And now you think, “This is great! We’re finished! It’s all over!”

I have some bad news for you this evening. You aren’t finished. In fact, you haven’t even really started yet. All these years have only been preparation for what is ahead. Your parents have been running a race — that race has been to prepare you for your entrance into the race of life. For these 18 years, there is a sense in which they have been carrying you through life’s race. They have been equipping you while they have held opponents at bay. And now it’s your turn to enter the race. You’ve been in training, and now the real race and battle begin for you.

You aren’t finished. The starter’s gun is about to go off and you are about to begin the race of life.

So as a parent and coach on the sidelines, what can I say at the conclusion of this evening and this portion of your life to equip you as you enter the next phase of life?

Let me draw your attention to a portion of Scripture that I trust is familiar to you — Hebrews 12.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1–2)

There are a number of things that would be fitting to say from this passage.

I could say, You aren’t the first one to pass this way. We have a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. There are many who have run the race of life and done well. In fact, the writer identifies many of those faithful people in chapter 11 — Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and Moses and Rahab and Gideon and Samson and a host of others.

There are many examples of faithfulness in Scripture and even in your own churches and lives. When you enter difficulties, you can look to some of those faithful people and follow them in the same way that they followed Christ.

I could say, Lay aside everything that is an encumbrance. An encumbrance for a runner was anything weighty that might slow down the athlete. It might not be something bad, just something extraneous. The writer says to put off everything that is not essential. Only take on things in life that are essential to your task of faithfulness to the Lord.

I could say, Be especially mindful of sinful entanglements. I don’t envy the world you live in now; it’s not easy to be a young man and avoid sin in this world. Sin isn’t just indulged; it is embrace, worshipped and celebrated. And righteousness isn’t just avoided; it’s ridiculed and punished and persecuted. So I don’t envy the world in which you will live and ultimately raise your families over the next 20-30 years. The world has always been evil; it seems especially so now and the entanglements of sin are too easy to find and more complicated to shed. Sin appears harmless but it will always take you further than you want to go and cost you more than you want to pay. Beware of every sinful temptation and at all costs stay away from sin.

I could say, Run with endurance. You have just started the race. The inclination is to run fast and hard. But you aren’t in a sprint. You are in a marathon. It’s hard to see that now. You just want to run fast and take charge of the world. But the race isn’t won by the swift; it’s won by the patient and those who pace themselves to still be running at the end. Run to endure. Look far down the road of reward and accomplishment; don’t be distracted by temporal, short-term gains. Don’t be discouraged by losses and failures now; what counts is what you will be 30, 40, 50 and more years from now. Run with endurance.

All those things would be good to say. But I don’t want to focus on any of those things. I want to focus on five little words at the beginning of verse two: fixing our eyes on Jesus.

When running a race it’s essential to keep your eye on the goal. And the goal is Christ. The goal is to be like Christ and the goal is to honor Christ. The goal is to honor Christ in everything. The Bible says that in many different ways:

  • Ps. 27:4 One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple.
  • Phil. 3:8, 10 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…
  • 2 Cor. 5:9 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
  • 1 Cor. 10:31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

The essence of those passages is that there is only one thing that counts — and that is to live by and for and with Christ. It’s easy to forget that. The goal isn’t graduation — from high school or college. The goal isn’t marriage or having children. The goal isn’t avoiding illness and staying in shape and healthy. The goal isn’t making money. The goal isn’t a leisurely lifestyle and avoiding problems. The goal isn’t entertainment and pursuing pleasure. The goal is to be like Christ. God is in control over every event in your life, and every circumstance that God brings into your life is to cultivate Christlikeness in you. God designs every blessing in your life so you will learn to treasure and delight in and enjoy Christ more than you enjoy anything else. And God designs every hardship and every sin you endure so that you will learn to treasure and delight in and enjoy Him more than relief from the hardship or relief from the sin that has been committed against you. Whether you are sick or healthy, prosperous or poor, well-known or forgotten, the goal of your life is fix your eyes on Christ and emulate Him and honor Him in everything you do.

If you forget what or where the finish line is, you will pull up short or run off-course or not run fast enough. If you forget what prize is offered at the end of the race you might be tempted to become apathetic about the race or you might quit the race because you figure it’s unimportant. If you forget that Christlikeness and honoring Christ is your single goal in life you will miss what God has intended for your life.

As you leave this room tonight and as you enter the race of life for yourself in the weeks ahead, there are five simple words you must remember. Your life and your success in that life are dependent on whether you remember these words. Fix your eyes on Jesus.

3 thoughts on “Words for graduates

  1. A trully wonderful message Pastor. It is awe inspiring truth that, if heeded, will certainly bring about sucess of eternal value in us all.

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