I was blessed with an opportunity to speak at a graduation banquet for high school seniors a few weeks ago. I share my thoughts for those of us who work with young adults and also for any high school/college graduates who may be reading.
• If you’re on your parents insurance, go to the dentist. Often. Get any procedure done on their dime while you still can. If you don’t, you will one day find yourself faint as the dentist informs you that you need $2500 worth of work done when you don’t have dental insurance. Not that I know from experience. I just know a guy.
• Not all degrees are created equal. I was told that all you need is a degree and the world will open for you. Not so. If you’re really unsure of what you want to do, take your time on the front end. It’s better to graduate in 5 or 6 years with a useful degree that you really want than to rush through in 4 with a degree that doesn’t really qualify you to do anything, or at least anything you really want to do. It’s always harder to go back to school than it is to delay graduating.
• The relationships you make in the next few years will be the ones that stick around and influence you for years. You may not speak to these people every day, but they will be the ones to whom you continually return. Right now, I could call 6 or 7 good friends from college to whom I may not have spoken for a few months and we could pick up like no time has passed at all. Choose your relationships wisely and invest deeply.
• Don’t begrudge your singleness. Some of you will meet the love of your life quickly. Some of you will wait 10 years while allowing yourself to be miserable thinking that there’s something wrong with you, that you can’t be loved, etc. Spend your single years making the most of it. Travel! It costs twice as much when you’re married! Take spur of the moment trips and do crazy things just because. Take that unpaid internship in the field that you think you might be interested in. When you have a significant other you have to make additional considerations that make doing things like this a little more difficult. Invest in yourself. Become the person you would want to marry.
• Take the next few years to explore who you are. Try new things as often as possible. Don’t give up on something because it doesn’t work out the first time. Keep an open mind and an open heart. It was in college that I learned I actually loved Chinese food, international students, and missions.
• Try new things in the realm of your faith as well. I am a convinced Baptist, but I’m a convinced Baptist because I’ve visited Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Pentacostal, non-denominational churches, and more. That doesn’t include the 4 or 5 campus ministries with which I became familiar that were sponsored by various denominations. You can learn from them. You will be challenged by them. Your faith will be deepened in the process.
• Stop putting Jesus first. Sounds odd, right? I should be telling you to make Jesus your priority and to not let your faith grow cold as you move on. Why would I tell you this? I discovered that thinking like this creates some serious problems. For one, it promotes an unrealistic division between “sacred” activities and everything else. If Jesus is first and everything else falls under that priority, then Jesus has nothing to do with your schoolwork, your job, your relationships, or the way you spend your free time. Once you satisfy the “Jesus first” requirement, you’re free to do whatever you want.
Instead, I encourage you to make Jesus your lens. Put Him on– meaning spending time in Scripture and in prayer is still important– and let Him change the way you view everything else. When Jesus is your lens instead of your first priority, He changes the way you approach relationships. He changes the way you treat others. He changes the way you make decisions. He launches you to be on mission and to do difficult things.
The question that will probably drive you the craziest over the next few years is also the best one with which to demonstrate this principle: “What I am going to major in/do with my life?” No one can answer that question for you, but when Jesus is the lens through which you evaluate everything, through which you order your life and make decisions, you begin to understand that there are things you can devote yourself to big picture wise and trust the details to the Lord.
Have you ever considered why the church emphasizes verses like the Great Commission so much? It’s because they fit under a category that I call “first-order things.” First order things are things that, regardless of your life situation, your education level, your intelligence, your ability, your affiliations, demographics, geography, etc., you are still able to order your life around them. For followers of Christ, making disciples is a first-order thing. You can do it now, you can do it in 50 years. You can do it with a high school diploma, you can do it with a PhD. You can do it as a ditch-digger, you can do it as a CEO.
This first order commandment of Christ only presupposes on thing: that you are actually a disciple yourself. Only disciples make disciples.
The details of what you will do with your life can drive you crazy. When you devote yourself to first-order things, when you make it your aim in life to be a disciple and make disciples and to pursue Jesus above all else, do what is on your heart and trust the Lord to direct you.