I recently had the opportunity to give the following address at the 8th grade graduation ceremony for the Independent Learning Academy in Orange County.
I want to thank the Independent Learning Academy leadership, parents, and students for the privilege and honor of offering a few words at such an important occasion as this.
Graduation: A Time For Unsolicited Advice
Graduates, this is one of your first experiences of what we’ll call, “A Big Kid” graduation. Though your kindergarten or 6th grade graduation were meaningful and important, they were also very different. You most likely have noticed the differences that come along with a more mature graduation celebration. You may have received better gifts or your having bigger parties. Mom and dad might be dressed a little fancier. Maybe later, your big celebration dinner won’t be at McDonald’s, but something way swankier like Sizzler or more exotic like Taco Bell. Welcome to a new kind of graduation.
There is one specific feature of these “Big Kid” graduations I would like to point out. You may have noticed it already: people love to give advice you never asked for. In your previous graduations, you probably weren’t given much sagely advice (you were still working on not wetting the bed). Now you’re a young adult, you’ll start getting all sorts of un-asked for advice. Sometimes the advice will be good and you’ll remember it forever like, “Don’t leave for tomorrow what can be done today.” Sometimes the advice will be very practical like, “Work hard, and play hard and never confuse the two.”Some of the advice will be surprising and a little weird and you’ll remember it forever like the advice I one time received from a weird family member: “Never make a Samoan angry” (which, I have obeyed to this day!). Whether you find it helpful or weird or confusing, the advice will likely come from a place of love so you can always appreciate the love it came from.
The Need For Good Advice: The Path to Life is Hard
It’s worth asking, “Why do people give advice so easily?” For some of you, it may be because they think, “This poor kid needs all the help they can get.” Others may offer advice because they’ve been genuinely helped by it and they want you to experience the same. I think one reason is this: life is hard to live well and we’ll need help. The really good life that God offers you in Jesus, doesn’t come by going with the flow but by walking a difficult path.
Jesus said it this way:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13–14
Knowing he wouldn’t be with them forever (they’d have a graduation of their own, of sorts), Jesus tells his disciples they’ll be offered two paths to follow and only one can be chosen. The first path Jesus speaks about is the easy path. It’s has 16, very wide lanes and straight roads. Every lane has a fast pass. There are no potholes. And at night it is well-lit. It’s a comfortable and easy road and it is very popular. This is the path of the world in rejection of God. The other path Jesus describes as narrow, difficult, and very unpopular. It’s hard to get on. It’s hard to stay on. But, it is very easy to get off. This is the path of following Jesus.
What path you choose is determined by this: are you focused on the journey or the destination? You live in a world that will tell you to focus on the path and the ease and comfort it will bring. Jesus, instead, calls you to focus on the destination and the eternal life it will bring. As you consider these two paths, consider this truth: the journey is temporary, but the destination is final.
So, why all this un-asked for advice? At least for your Christian, friends and family, it’s because know the world’s path easy and attractive, but deadly. They know the path of Jesus – the path to life, wisdom, and joy – is difficult but life-giving. They know, for you to choose the hard path of life, you’ll need all the help, encouragement, and wisdom you can get.
3 Counsels for the Hard Path
So, allow me to join the chorus of advice-givers and offer three pieces of wisdom to help you take the hard path to life.
1) Trust God’s Word
Proverbs 3:5 gives us this counsel with perfect clarity, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” I understand this is not earth-shattering. This is kindergarten Christianity. But, I find that the most important truths are like the tip of your nose—they’re hardest because they’re right in front of you. So, before dismissing it, let’s dissect it for a moment.
What is trusting God? It’s happily acknowledging him as the leader of all we think, feel, and do. It is scooting over to the passenger seat of your soul and telling God, “You drive.”
Why should we trust God? If you have the smallest knowledge of Him, it’s obvious.
God is all-wise. He doesn’t lack knowledge so he’d never give us uninformed advice. He knows the best goals we should seek and the best ways of obtaining them!
God is all-truthful! He will never deceive us or offer white lies or half-truths. He doesn’t deal in fake news. Everything He says is true and can be completely trusted.
God is all-powerful! Nothing in all the world can overthrow his plans or keep him from fulfilling his promises. His good plan for the world will come to pass.
You may ask, “But, there are a lot of wise and powerful people in the world and they use those qualities to hurt people rather than help them!” And you’d be right. But, there is one more attribute of God that erases that fear.
God is love. God is not only wise, truthful, and powerful; He’s truly loving. Numbers 14:18 says, “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” “But,” you may say, “Actions speak louder than words!” And you would be right! God proves his love in action! John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” Romans 5:8 shows, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God’s wisdom means He’ll never be mistaken. His truthfulness means He’ll never lie to you. His power means His plans and promises will always be fulfilled. His love means that everything He says and does is for your joy in Christ both here and for eternity. God’s wisdom, truthfulness, and power means He should be feared as King and Judge, but His love, proven through the cross, means He can be trusted as Father. Who else is more qualified for your ultimate trust?
Jesus Is My Co-Pilot?
Have you ever seen the bumper-sticker that says, “Jesus Is My Copilot”? I understand the idea, but it is terribly misleading. Usually co-pilots are second in command for a reason, they’re not as qualified as the real pilot. Saying Jesus is my co-pilot is like a high school quarterback saying Tom Brady is my back-up or a Jr. High baseball player saying Mike Trout is my ball-boy. Said simply, Jesus is far too qualified to be your Co-Pilot.
If you want joy in your life, then adopt the prayer of the great theologian and country singer, Carrie Underwood, and from your heart pray, “Jesus take the wheel! Take it from my hands!” Or, to use the words of Scripture, if you want joy, then “trust the Lord with all your heart” (Prov. 3:5). He will never fail you.
This leads to my second counsel…
2) Trust God’s People
The most significant accomplishments in life can only be done with the help of others. Consider a few examples. Wars are won not by one soldier, but an army. Mount Everestis hiked not by one hiker, but a team. Even accomplishments of individuals aren’t usually done alone. Authors usually have a list of people they thank for helping them write a book. Athletes of individual sports usually have a long list of coaches, friends, mentors, or trainers who were essential to their success. The most difficult accomplishments are not the work of one gifted individual, but the product of a community. Difficult and important accomplishments should never be done alone.
This is also true for those following Jesus on the hard road. Following Jesus is not like golf, but football. It cannot be done alone. Even more, God doesn’t want you to do it alone. Consider what God says about our need for help from others.
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. Proverbs 11:14
In abundance of counselors there is victory. Proverbs 24:6
Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Proverbs 19:20
God says the same thing about you that he said about Adam, “It is not good for you to be alone.”
Saved Into a Family
The need for others is even more obvious when we look at what God does for us through Jesus. Galatians 4:4-5 shows us two things God sought to accomplish through the cross of Jesus:
When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
God sent Jesus to redeem us from sin – to eradicate our sin by Jesus being punished for us. But there was a second goal of the cross: “so we might receive adoption as sons!” Through the cross, God has not only saved us out of our sin, but He has saved us into His family – the church. Every Christian is not only forgiven unto freedom, but they’re adopted into a family!
The Blessings of a Church Family
Practically, here is what I want you to understand: God wants you to follow Jesus on the hard road to life with the help of the church! The church is one big hiking party. What does this look like?
- God wants you to not only read and study His Word on your own, but be helped by the teaching and preaching of your church’s pastors and leaders.
- God wants you to learn not only from what you hear people say, but by the example godly people around you give.
- God wants you to have a church family who will pick you up when you fall, support you when you are weak, encourage you when you are discouraged, and spur you on you when you begin to slow down.
- God does not want you to rely on your own experience, but to live off the wisdom of other so you can avoid the pitfalls they fell into and enjoy the blessings they’ve come to know.
God doesn’t want you to do this alone and this is incredibly joyful news!
God Sends His Army
Imagine you were a soldier caught behind enemy lines. How crushing would it be to hear back from base, “You have to find your own way back.” How better would it be to hear, “We’re sending our best solider to rescue you and help you get back home!” But, imagine how incredible it would be to hear, “Hold on, the army is on its way.” This is what God gives you in His church. Not figure it out on your own, not one helper, but an army marching under the banner of his love, dedicated to helping you get home.
Trust the godly people of your family and church.
3) Do No Trust Yourself
We mentioned the first part of Proverbs 3:5, but now I want to read the second half. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” In other words, trust God and don’t trust yourself.
Now, this may sound odd to some of you because, like me, you’ve seen a lot of Disney movies with the opposite message of “Believe in yourself!” or “Follow your heart!” But, as a big Elsa fan, I think Jesus may be the one to go with here for at least two reasons.
First, I think your future self will agree. Think of it this way. As you look back upon your 6th grade self, you most likely are not impressed. Now that you have 2 more years of experience and Jr. High completed, you look at your 6th grade self and think, “I didn’t know anything.” In the same way, think about yourself 4 years from now. When you graduate high school and look back onto this day you will most likely think, “I didn’t know anything! I was a fool!” You see, we often think our present-self is smart, wise, and experienced, but as we grow older and look back, we’re always less impressed. More time and more growth helps us see what we couldn’t in the moment. So, as confident as you may be of yourself now, remember, you’re probably missing something. You may not want to trust that you have everything figured when your future-self will likely disagree.
The second reason I think this is good advice is this: our perceptions aren’t always trustworthy. People studying to be airplane pilots are trained to not trust their intuition or their feelings. At times, planes can fly through fog so dense for so long that pilots lose their sense of up and down. In these times, they can be completely convinced that up is down and down is up and if they followed their feelings and pulled “up” they’d drive the plane straight into the ground. So, instead, pilots are trained that their perceptions and their feelings won’t always tell them the truth. Instead, they’re trained to trust the instruments on the dashboard instead of their feelings.
One of the reasons the easy path is so easy because it requires you only to trust in yourself. There is nothing easier than to be the driver and navigator of our own life. However, self-trust is also the reason that the easy path leads to destruction. We are not good, wise, or trustworthy like God and, therefore, we can never find for ourselves the life only God can give. Therefore, the hard path demands we give up trust in ourselves and cast it completely over to God. The hard path demands tattoo the words of Jesus on our eyeballs, “Not my will be done, but your will.” That’s hard, but it’s the only way to life.
So (1) trust God, (2) trust godly people, (3) don’t trust yourself.
Jesus’ Upside Down Counsel
One last reason these counsels are difficult is because we live in a world that completely reverses the list. The world’s directions for the easy path are: (1) Trust self, (2) trust others who affirm you, (3) don’t trust God. This is why there are two paths and you have to choose one or the other: they’re going in completely opposite directions. Those who put King Self on the throne of their life will always take the easy path to destruction. Those who put King Jesus on the throne of their life walk the hard path to life. There is no third way.
A question for you today is: which road will I take? Will your eyes be on the path or the destination? Will you be a person mainly looking for an easy road or a life-giving destination? Your answer to that question will not only determine the rest of your life here, but forever more.
Commanded For Our Joy
I recognize that so much talk of the “hard path” can make following Jesus seems like an overall dreary affair. Yes, it has a happy ending, but that’s the only place happiness is. But that’s not true. Jesus explains the intent behind his commands in John 15:10-11:
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These (commands) I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
His commands are not to steal our joy, but to give us His joy!
I remember one time I had a birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese’s. As I was playing an arcade game, my mom came up to me with something in her hand that looked like a hair ball I’d find under my bed, except that it was bright blue. She gave me one simple command, “Eat this.” I was stunned. “Eat that? You want me to eat blue hair? You’re kidding. You’re crazy. You’re cruel!” After a solid struggle, my mom ruthlessly overpowered me and shoved the blue hair into my mouth. Right as I was about to cry out for another sane adult to rescue me, it hit me: flavors and sweetness I had never known before. It was like a grenade of joy and rainbows exploded in my mouth. I had never tasted anything like it before. This was the first time I ever had cotton candy.
The purpose of my mom’s command was not take away my joy, but to give me joy. In the same way, Jesus gives you these counsels, “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). He isn’t out to empty your joy but make it full. Even when his path seems hard, you can know it only leads to joy.
Students, hear me clearly: today is a day of joy and celebration. Drink it deeply. But with this celebration, I leave you with these three charges: trust God, trust godly people, and do not trust yourself. If you do, you will avoid the easy path of the world that leads to destruction and stay on the hard path to the abundant, joy-filled life God has created and saved you to have.
Be thankful for the good advice and the wise people who give it.
Laugh at the weird advice and love the weird people who give it.
But cling to the life-giving advice with all you have and follow the Savior that gives it.