On May 22, Grace held the commencement exercises for the Class of 2022. The 66 graduates were awarded $6,206,339 in academic scholarships from colleges and universities, an average of $94,035 per student, our highest average ever. The following is my charge to our graduates.
I will take my customary break from writing over the summer. I pray that you and your family will have a truly restful summer; take care not to over-schedule, but use the season to heal and restore you, and draw you closer to Him. God bless you all.
In Acts 20, Paul speaks to the elders of the church at Ephesus. Paul has built this church, spent years among them, loved them well, and taught and equipped them. He has loved them as his own children, and they have loved him like a father. And, now he is leaving them, uncertain as to what will happen to him, having heard prophesies of his imprisonment and eventual death. As I reflected on Paul’s words, I thought about this moment, the end of what for some of you has been a 14-year journey through most of your life together with us here at Grace. Paul writes:
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.[c]… 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of you all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
As you walk from these doors and out of here, you will leave Grace forever (we hope you’ll come see us often, but never again as a student). And, in a couple months, you’ll leave your parents’ homes, as well. For years, your parents and we have been responsible for teaching you, caring for you, loving you, and pointing you to Jesus. We are now innocent of the blood of all of you, because we have given you the rich legacy of the whole counsel of God, everything you need to carry on a life well-lived in Christ. You are no longer under our watchcare; the responsibility is now yours, and you are now accountable for living that life well.
As I am the last voice you’ll hear from Grace, it is my pleasure and honor to give you three things to think about and remember as you forge this path on your own: Listen, Connect, and Love.
First, listen to the Lord. There are books, and blogs, and articles written throughout the ages about how to listen for the Lord’s voice, but the simple truth is that our Father wants to speak to you, to have a living dialogue with you, much more than we want to hear, most of the time. But, listening to Him requires several things. First, it requires that we be in deep relationship with Him, so that we recognize His voice. Some of you remember my daughter Ellen, who graduated here in 2020. When I was a young dad, my wife would tell me she would be standing in the elementary school office holding Ellen as a baby, when Ellen would start squirming wildly in her arms. Shortly afterwards, my wife would hear my voice down the hall. Ellen, as a baby, was attuned to my voice, blocking out the others, and heard it and reacted to it excitedly before even her mom could. Even then, she was a daddy’s girl. Before you can hear God’s voice, you have to be tuned into it, able to rise above the other distractions, and that requires living in intimacy with Him, through prayer, and silence, and all the practices you’ve learned from Mr. Cook and your other teachers, living in intimate relationship with Him.
It also requires being in a position where you need and want to hear Him, where you are listening. Most of the time, we’re so self-sufficient, so sure we know what we should be doing and where we should be going that we’re not even listening. Listening to Him requires a state of anticipation, believing He’s going to talk to you. I write a blog every week, and God gives me what He wants me to say. Sometimes it’s early in the week, and sometimes it’s late, but He always tells me. So, I go through life listening to what He has to say, whether it’s through my conscience, through listening in community with others, being attuned to creation, or opening my eyes to culture around me. My last several blogs came from something I heard from one of my best friends; from an article I read in the Atlantic; from reflecting on my relationship with my wife; and from watching one of your schoolmates give a chapel speech. God spoke to me in all these ways, in just the past few weeks, because I wanted to listen to Him, and I was listening. And, because you also now know His Word, you can filter everything you hear through the Word to ensure what you hear is true and from Him. Listen to Him.
Second, connect to those who love Jesus. Find your people. It doesn’t matter where you’re going, or what school you’re attending. There are people there who are children of your Father, like you. Maybe even more intimate with Him than you. Find them, go where they go, and spend time with them. God is a god of community and we are a people of community. Life is a team sport, never meant to be done alone. Satan will try to cull you out like a sheep from the flock, because when you’re lonely you’re vulnerable. He did that to me in law school, and I failed, and it was deeply painful, but God saved me. Once you’ve found your people, your home base, a great church or small group or Bible study or group of Christian friends, or all of the above, you can be all God calls you to be to the others around you. It’s the one cornerstone, the one critical decision you’ll make when you get to where you’re going, so make it early.
Finally, love as you are loved. Remember that you are profoundly loved by God. That’s a hard thing for us to accept, because it’s hard to imagine why God would love us that way, and there’s something deep inside our broken souls that make us want to earn what we have, and we can never earn love. And, yet, until you realize how much your Father loves you, you’ll never be capable of fully loving others. How you love others is an expression of God’s love for you. When God created Adam and said it isn’t good for man to be alone, He didn’t mean that Adam needed a date. He meant that Adam needed someone to fully express the love by which God loved him. And so, God created the Other. To be loved, and then love. When you love as an act of the flesh, as something you try to muster or work up for ourselves, it never lasts, it’s always transactional, expecting something in return, and it’s shallow. But, when you truly realize that you are the beloved Son or Daughter of God, not because of anything you’ve done, but just because you are His, loved so much that He didn’t spare His own Son to return you to Him, it frees up something amazing in you. You are no longer tied down in anxiety and fear, but freed to love fully and with abandon, the way you were created to love.
In listening for your Father’s voice, in loving wholly and completely, in going from here, finding your people, and loving them well, you become like the One whose love for you killed the death in you, and the One who through you can kill death in others, too, causing them to flourish. Prove yourself worthy of the whole counsel of God. That is my charge to you.