By / Aug 6

In June of 1996, I walked down the aisle, with 13 others, at Quentin Road Christian School in Lake Zurich, Illinois, and received my high school diploma. I distinctly remember the mixture of anticipation and hope I felt that day.

Twenty years later, I look back with amazement. First, it’s hard to believe it has been over 20 years. I don’t feel that old. Second, I’m stunned by the grace of God displayed in knitting the strands of my life together. Third, there are so many things I’ve learned in 20 years that I wish I could tell 18-year-old me. Here are 20 things I’ve learned since that day, in no particular order:

  1. School is just the beginning of learning. Much of what we learn in elementary, middle, and high school is quickly forgotten (until we need it again to help our kids with their homework). Of course, the basics of math, reading, science, and history are vital, but what’s even more important is learning to learn. School sets the trajectory for the rest of our lives. Wise people realize that, upon graduation, their education has just begun. They read, study, and grow, pursuing knowledge and wisdom (Prov. 4:7).
  2. We make choices, but God directs our steps. I remember hearing teachers, coaches, and parents telling me that the choices I make in my teens and 20s would set the course of my life. They were so right, in ways I haven’t even begun to see until now. But even more important than making good choices is the willingness to depend upon the Lord to direct our steps. Our choices are mere tools in the hand of a guiding, teaching, directing Father. We are not, nor will we ever be, self-made men. Ultimately, God uses flawed people who often make poor choices to build his church.
  3. Life is made up of seasons. When you walk down the aisle, and are handed that diploma, you may think you must chart your entire future. Planning is good stewardship, but hold your plans loosely. God will guide you into different seasons of life. I’ve already had a season as an editor, a season as a pastor, and am now in a season as an executive who writes and preaches. There are seasons yet ahead.
  4. A life of influence is mostly built in the daily disciplines of ordinary days, not in transcendent moments of glory. Yes, you will have moments and memories: that one camp meeting where you gave your life in service to Christ, the talk with a mentor that shaped your future, the movie or book or song that stirred your heart. But mostly, your life is built on the steady, patient, obscure business of doing excellent work that nobody sees. Commit to this kind of life.
  5. Work is necessary, but also a joy. There is something satisfactory about working for a long time in the area of your giftedness, not simply to make money but because of the joy that the work itself brings. Ambition is good, but ordering your life simply to get to the next rung on the ladder can be wearisome. It’s better to find deep joy in the work we do now. Work is not a means to an end. Work is a good gift from a wonderful God.
  6. Gratitude opens doors; entitlement shuts them. If you live as though the world owes you everything, you will quickly be disappointed. But, if you live as if your opportunities are gifts, you will always be surprised. One of my first jobs after high school graduation was at Ace Hardware. I was fresh off of being the “big man on campus” in our tiny, obscure Christian school. I had even won student leadership awards. Yet my boss at the hardware store didn’t care about that. His only concern was that I get to work on time, that I stop making keys that didn’t work, and that I stacked the piles of fertilizer in the correct manner on the pallet. This experience was good for me.
  7. Talent is helpful, but hard work and character are vital. I learned this playing basketball. Talent is important, hard work will get you farther, but character matters most. I’ve seen plenty of people with great talent flame out because their lack of character caught up with them. I’ve seen folks with marginal talent go far because they had integrity and were willing to work hard despite the fact that they may lack in other areas. I’ve learned and am learning the importance of cultivating the inner habits of the heart.
  8. Relationships are God’s tool for sanctification. God’s desire is for Christ to shape us more into his image, and human relationships are one of his main methods of doing so. Yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit, your spouse, your children, and your co-workers will change you in ways you cannot imagine. They will expose your deepest sin patterns and force you to your knees in repentance and grace. Don’t resist this challenge. Embrace it. I have learned much from my roles as a husband, father, pastor, and boss.
  9. Who you marry matters. If God calls you to marriage, whom you choose as your mate is the most important decision you face. You will make a solemn commitment before God and others to live with and care for this person for the rest of your lives. So marry well. I married extremely well. I can’t, nor do I want to, imagine my life without Angela. We marry, not merely for pleasure or companionship, though those are good fruits of marriage, but as an opportunity to show the world a glimpse of Christ’s great love for his church.
  10. Adversity can be your greatest ally. Nobody desires hardship, opposition, and pain. Nobody asks God to rain down trouble. But trouble comes, and it comes for all of us. And if you believe in a sovereign God who loves enough to prune and sift and filter, you will slowly, over time and through much reflection, begin to see your trials as God’s handiwork of blessing. A few years ago I was betrayed and hurt in a deep and difficult way by people I loved. I would not want to live through those years again. This season caused great anguish of soul, but I can testify to experiencing God’s refining grace.
  11. Bitterness will poison; forgiveness will free. Perhaps the most important trait for a leader to cultivate is the ability to forgive. And you can only do this if you know the One who has forgiven you of much greater sins than have been committed against you. Bitterness only hurts the one who is bitter. Don’t nurture your grudges and let forgiveness form a crust around your soul. Let forgiveness free you to love and serve and lead well.
  12. Discipline is a gift. A few years ago my wife and I were counseling a young woman who made a statement that has haunted me since. She said, “I wish someone, somewhere had given me some rules to live by.” At that moment I was filled with gratitude for parents willing to teach and enforce right from wrong. They weren’t perfect, as no parents are, but what they gave me, by being parents instead of mere friends, was a gift that has shaped my own adulthood. I still need Jesus, but my parents’ discipline saved me from a life of bad choices and even worse consequences. If you have parents who loved you enough to provide meaningful structure and rules, you possess a rare gift.
  13. The gospel is the best news in the world. I know this is a cliché, but I feel this more strongly now than ever before. The Christian story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation stands alone in answering the deep problems of the world, in fixing my own inner corruption, and in providing a future in Jesus’ cosmic renewal. In my darkest moments, when my heart is overcome with fear and uncertainty, I’m comforted, not by political movements or powerful leaders, but by the simple phrase I learned in church: “Jesus saves.”
  14. If you want to change the world, do it by loving the church. You will undoubtedly have many opportunities to use your gifts and talents to affect social change in big and small ways. God has put you here, on this earth, with your unique mix of gifts, talents, and opportunities to give yourself in service to others. But while your mission will likely be more than what you do on Sundays, it will never be less. The church is where God is most active in the world today. The most important gathering this week will not happen in a town hall, a stadium, or the White House, but in congregations big and small, around the world, where God’s people are proclaiming the reign of another King and another Kingdom. If you love Jesus, you will love the church he loves. The older I get, the more I realize my deep need for the church.
  15. The hymns I learned in my youth have stuck with me. From the time I could read, I was learning and singing, three times a week, the hymns of Luther, Crosby, Watts, and Wesley. I didn’t know what the words meant in those early years, but they were catechizing my soul for future life. Today, in moments of despair, joy, doubt, and uncertainty, the rich hymns of the faith are a reminder of the fresh theological truth, even though I learned it long ago. When we sign hymns, we are not simply providing “filler” for the rest of the service. We are declaring the reign of Christ to the world. We are teaching ourselves doctrine. And we are embedding, in the heart, powerful, sustaining truths.
  16. I never “get over” my need for grace. I used to think the gospel was something I did when I was 4 years old. But the older I get, the more I realize how desperate I am for Jesus and how little I can do without him. I recognize that the gospel is not just for sinners “out there,” but also for this sinner, right here.
  17. Asking questions and spending time with smart people is wise. Someone once said that if you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room. This is so true. I’ve learned much simply by asking questions, reading, and realizing how little it is that I actually know. My father once said, “You never stop learning,” and he was right. I’ve learned the most from people who were much older than me, different than me, and were willing to challenge my thinking.
  18. Old paths are good paths. Along the way, you will be tempted to embrace fashionable new doctrines and fresh theologies bent to the times. But it is the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3) that will be your surest guide. Beware of novel new interpretations of Scripture untested by church history. Truth and orthodoxy endure, because Christ endures. He is building his church, not on the slippery whims of modern thought, but on the sure foundation of his revealed Word.
  19. Community matters. We were not made to live alone, but in community. We worship, not in isolation, but with our brothers and sisters in Christ. I have found strength in deep friendships, intense conversations, and joyful community. But it’s up to you to cultivate that community with intentionality and the willingness to both forgive and be forgiven.
  20. Both impulsiveness and passivity kill. I’ve learned to take a lot of time when making a major decision, to get advice from a diverse group of wise people, thinking about all the major ramifications. But once I’ve counseled, prayed, and researched, it’s important to actually make decisions. Rash decisions have always hurt me, but so has “paralysis by analysis.” Endless navel-gazing is as damaging as intemperately quick decisions. Avoiding both has served me well.

If you are a parent shepherding your children through school, a pastor preaching to youth, or a student navigating the various challenges of growing up, don’t underestimate the value of what the Lord will do through these impressionable years. Make the most of formal learning, but don’t just focus on studies and grades and accolades. Instead, concentrate on growing in Christ so that you can look back on these school days, amazed at how the Lord has directed your paths and displayed his faithfulness. 

By / May 26

Tis’ the season of turning tassels. If your family is like ours, your calendar is full of graduation ceremonies and parties to attend. Since we all have a call to impact the next generation with God’s Truth (Titus 2:1-5), this time of year presents an exciting and unique opportunity. The graduates in our spheres of influence are at a crossroads, eager to find purpose and identity. Instead of simply offering platitudes and “Atta Boys/Girls” we can seize this moment and hold high the banner of Truth.  

Here are some ideas for how to bless the graduate in your world by giving gifts that matter.

It starts with the card

The demands on your graduate's time and brain space are high. You may not get a lingering lunch with them or a morning at the coffee shop to talk about what matters. What you do get is “The Card.” Don’t think of graduation cards like folded cardstock with bills tucked inside. Think of them as a pulpit, an opportunity to download some wise counsel straight into the heart of your graduate.

One pitfall of graduation is that for a moment, the world seems to be all about you. Everyone seems to be asking, “What scholarships did you get?”, “Where are you going to college?”, “How’s your job searching going?” Instead of simply scribbling “Congrats!” take a moment to remind them that their future belongs to the Lord. His will is paramount. His promises are waiting for them on the other side of the graduation stage.

Here are some great verses to include:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-34).

Better than a stack of benjamins

Most graduates might initially disagree, but it’s been long enough since my own graduations for me to realize that there are many gifts more important than money. Instead of stuffing some cash in the card you just took so much time to write, consider these gift ideas designed to help you do more than celebrate graduation, but to pass the baton of faith to the next generation. Your graduate needs more than adorable dorm decor; they need resources to keep them rooted and grounded in God’s Word. Through years of student and college ministry, these have become some of my favorites:

Books

Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will by Kevin DeYoung. This little book makes a great gift for all graduates. Author Kevin DeYoung offers practical and biblical guidelines for decision making. The end result is liberating, as readers are freed from the pressure to seek God’s will in all decisions through cosmic confirmations.

“Jesus does not want us to worry about the future,” DeYoung writes. “God knows what we need to live. When He wants us to die, we will die. And as long as He wants us to live, we will live. He will provide us with the food, drink, jobs, housing, with everything we need to live and glorify Him in this life until He wants us to glorify Him by dying. Worrying and fretting and obsessing about the future, even if it is a pseudo-holy worry that attempts to discern the will of God, will not add one single hour to your life, and it will certainly not add any happiness or holiness either.”

The proud members of the Class of 2017 (and 2018, and 2019. . .) need the wise and practical reminders in this book.

Speaking of Kevin DeYoung, I’d recommend his book, Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem for graduates too. Like Just Do Something, Crazy Busy is a call to sanity in response to God’s Word. Our graduates have had a steady drip of the lie that busy people are better people throughout their academic career. This book points them to dig up the root problems that lead to busyness and commit to serving Christ for the long haul.

This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years by Jaquelle Crowe is a great gift option for the high school graduate in your world. Written by a young writer for young readers, this book applies the gospel to daily life in a way that is essential, and so often hard to find. If you want your graduate to define their identity, their relationships, their sense of community and their role in the church through the lens of the gospel, grab this book.

The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics and The Complete Chronicles of Narnia. I gave these books to my husband when he was ordained into the ministry (a graduation of sorts), and we have enjoyed them for many years. Beautifully designed and loaded with the riveting storytelling and wisdom unique to Lewis, any graduate would be lucky to have these books on their shelf.

Bibles

Since there is no greater source of wisdom, knowledge or purpose than God’s Word, Bibles make the perfect graduation gift. Here are two of my favorites to give away:

The She Reads Truth Bible. The young women you know likely already love and follow SheReadsTruth.com, a ministry with a simple mission to see women in the Word of God everyday. Hot off the presses, just in time for graduation, The She Reads Truth Bible is beautifully designed, while pledging uncompromising allegiance to the authority of Scripture. With features like key verses, reading plans and highly designed maps and charts, the student in your world will become a better student of God’s Word with this resource.

The ESV Study Bible and ESV Single Column Journaling Bible. These are legacy Bibles that your graduate can keep for a lifetime. The ESV Study Bible is jam packed with notes and cross-references. The journaling Bible offers space to annotate. Both make beautiful gifts and even more beautiful changes in the heart of the reader who opens them.

Studies

Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby. My own mentor gave me this study when I graduated from high school and challenged me to dig in as I adjusted to life as a college student. Newly independent, I had to decide whether I would use my wings to fly toward rebellion or toward righteousness. It seems like an easy choice now, but it didn’t always then. I have vivid memories of laying out a blanket on the lawn of my college campus and digging into this study. I’d like to picture the graduate in your world doing the same.

Seeking Him: Experiencing the Joy of Personal Revival by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Tim Grissom. This 12-week study has had a profound impact on my life and the lives of many others I know. In addressing topics like humility, honesty, repentance, obedience and sexual purity, this study plays out like spiritual bootcamp. The graduate who completes it will find themselves deeply rooted in God’s Word and better able to respond to their circumstances with an eternal perspective.

Fun gifts with purpose

A compass

A favorite graduation gift we love to give away is a nice compass inscribed with Proverbs 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” It’s a practical and beautiful reminder to point our hearts and lives toward Jesus and simply follow where he leads us.

The Settlers of Catan

It would be a stretch to try to find a deeply spiritual meaning behind this gift, but I still recommend it. This strategy game is a favorite at our house, and I imagine it would be in dorm rooms and student unions too. Your graduate is going to make new friends in the months ahead. Let them know that you’re praying those friends will be of the godly, iron-sharpening-iron variety who love to spend hours playing board games.

The best gift of all

Of course the best gifts can never be wrapped up. These are the ones your graduate needs most of all. Model the life you long for them to find. Love God, love others. There’s a good chance the graduates in your world will notice and follow your lead. Then pray like crazy. I don’t need to startle you with the statistics about young people and the church. I bet you already know that there is cause for concern. But there is also cause for great hope. God’s plan has always been for faith to be passed down through the generations. He is already equipping the next generation to lead, love, serve and make disciples. Let’s do everything we can to point them to Jesus along the way.

By / May 22

Christians view parenting as a really big deal. We invest almost two decades teaching our children to love God, to know his Word and to walk in his ways. Parents guide, model, inspire and correct.

Your parents may have done a good job, but it’s also likely they missed the mark along the way. But graduation day is not about what your parents did or did not do. Graduation day announces that it is now your turn. No more delay. This is the day you step forward. But you may have noticed the hand-off from one generation to the next does not always go so well. After Joshua, the great leader of Israel, died, the next generation walked away from God:

“The Lord raised up judges, who saved them from the power of their marauders, but they did not listen to their judges. Instead, they prostituted themselves with other gods, bowing down to them. They quickly turned from the way of their fathers, who had walked in obedience to the Lord’s commands. They did not do as their fathers did.” Judges 2:16-17

This new generation “quickly turned from the way of their fathers.” Their parents had walked in the way of the Lord, but the kids did not. It doesn’t have to be that way for you. Many Christians are wringing their hands and worried about the future, but this is no time to run and hide. This is no time to lose heart. Your generation has the opportunity to show and tell the gospel with a clarity we have not seen since the Protestant Reformation.

I don’t want to over-speak at this point, but I do not want to under-challenge you either. Instead I want to offer you four keys for your future. These four keys may or may not be new to you, but if you will use them, God will open new opportunities for you to live on mission with him that you never thought possible.

Key 1: Anthropology

I know, you thought school was out, but anthropology is the news of the day. Technically, anthropology is the study of humanity. It helps us answer the question of what it means to be human. What is male and female? How are humans different than animals? It seems the influence of humanistic, evolutionary philosophy has trickled down into every part of our lives. As a result, we often don’t know how to think about the differences between men and women, or the foundation and purpose of marriage, or roles and responsibilities of a husband and wife, or the value of children.

While we may be familiar with a Christian culture in our home, too often, we don’t have a well-formed biblical worldview when it comes to the basic question: “What is a human?”

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.” Gen.1:27-28

We are not little gods, but as human beings, we were created in the image and likeness of God. That simply means we were created to represent God. Unlike any other created being, humans were created to reflect the glory of God. The image of God stamped on our hearts gives us a distinctive dignity and an eternal purpose.

Contrary to popular opinion, God did indeed created us male and female so that we could complement one another and complete one another in marriage for his glory. While the pervasiveness of sin confuses us and tempts us to distort our understanding of sex, marriage and gender, God created us male and female. Marriage, sexual orientation and gender are not subjective notions of our psychology; they are objective realities of our biology. In other words, we are not what we think or say we are. We are what God created us to be. And that is not a consolation prize. It is God’s greatest good for us to live, breath, marry and procreate for his glory.

Key 2: Authority

Whenever things go bad for a generation, we can always look back and find the moment when that generation rejected authority. That’s how sin entered the world from the start. The serpent tempted Eve by saying, “Did God really say . . . ” (Gen. 3:1). After the death of Joshua, it is said the people of Israel turned away from the commands of the Lord (Judges 2:17). Then at the end of Judges we read:

We like our independence, so we tend pick and choose the authorities we prefer.

“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever he wanted.” Judges 21:25

Just as a reminder, it never goes well to do just whatever we want to do.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” Prov. 14:12

We like our independence, so we tend pick and choose the authorities we prefer. We see ourselves as the ultimate authority over our authorities. And while not all human authorities always deserve our allegiance, our divine authority does.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim. 3:16

The Bible is not chicken soup for our soul. It’s not simply good advice. It’s not inspirational art for our coffee mug, bathroom painting or our tattoo. The Bible is the revelation of God that invites us to know him by placing our trust in his Son Jesus as the Lord of our life. So when we read that the Bible is inspired by God, that doesn’t mean it’s just inspiring. It means that is it God-breathed. It is God’s eternal, authoritative Word to us.

The result is that our posture toward God’s Word is one of humility. It means we adjust our life to God’s Word rather than expecting God’s Word to adjust to our life. It means we interpret our experiences through the lenses of God’s Word rather than interpreting the Bible through the lenses of our experiences. It means that rebuking and correction from God’s Word are normal parts of our life as we learn to follow Jesus and make him known. So graduation day is not Independence Day. It’s submission day—the day we yield our lives to the Word of God that we may walk in his ways.

Key 3: Community

God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness” (Gen. 1:27a). From the very beginning, we see the triune Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit functioning in community together. The relationship of the Godhead is a mystery we’ll only fully understand in heaven. Nevertheless, it’s a model for how we function in community with others.

When God called Abraham, he called him to build a people. After the Exodus, God’s people lived in smaller tribes, then later in territories and cities. And when the Holy Spirit birthed the church in Acts 2, he launched a church planting movement from Jerusalem and throughout the known world. Believers would gather in communities of faith called local churches to worship God, grow in the Word, serve one another and share the gospel.

Despite a world that’s more connected through technology than ever before, we frequently live isolated lives. What’s more, family is an extremely confusing thing for most people. Many of us don’t even come from a two-parent family anymore. So we really don’t know how to relate to people, build friendships, have meaningful conversations or serve one another. We live on an relational island. Solomon had this to say about that,

“One who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound judgment.” Prov. 18:1

Isolation is not only selfish, it’s dangerous. We usually don’t accomplish anything meaningful that we accomplish alone. We were made for community. Some people are critics of texting. I’m not one of those people. Some of the best conversations I have with my wife are through texting, while in the same room together. But there are some things that words alone cannot do. Sometimes people just need a friend with skin on, a helping hand and to see love in action.

So the local church is not just a group of friends who enjoy music together. It’s a gospel community built on the person of Jesus Christ. The church is not an event we attend with cool activities and inspirational teaching. It’s a people to whom we belong in order to live out the mission and declare the message of Jesus Christ. The church is God’s “plan A” for making Jesus known in all the world. There’s no “plan B.” That means as individual followers of Jesus, one key to fulfilling God’s purpose for us is to build biblical community in a local church.

Key 4: Calling

As you graduate, the primary question is not what career you will pursue. The question is not who you will marry, if you will marry, where you will live or how much money you will make. The big question is not what you will do with your life. The biggest question is: What will you do with Jesus? This is not a cliché. This isn’t a guilt trip. This is a question of what it means to be a follower of Jesus in this generation. The question of what you will do with Jesus and how you will live on mission with him is a question of calling.

We often think that we’re here to pursue our own pleasure. “Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life!” is the advice we often hear. And I want you and my kids to do what they love. But what we love is discovered in the God who first loved us. God created us. He loves us. And he sent his Son Jesus to redeem us from sin and give us new life.

King Solomon, who achieved amazing wealth and influence, finally came to the place where he understood that meaning and significance in life is rooted in the glory of God. Everything else is emptiness. Instead, it’s the glory of God that defines our calling in life.

So our vocation, our family, our hobbies, our location, our friendships and our faith are not separate compartments competing against each other. Instead, we offer the whole of our life to announce the glory of God and beauty of the gospel to the people around us.

The finish

We aren’t in a hurry for you to grow up, but that’s out of our hands. Graduation is the day we say, “It’s your turn, because this is your time.” This is your moment. Whatever your parents or friends or church have done, you are now responsible. I’m praying and believing that as you turn the keys of anthropology, authority, community and calling, God will unleash a Jesus movement in this generation that will turn the world upside down.

This article originally appeared here.

By / Jun 3

High school graduation is a rite of passage unlike any other. You move from being treated like a child (legally) to being counted an adult, both in society and in any academic setting you might enter. Colleges aren’t even allowed to discuss your grades with your parents apart from your consent. Childhood is over. Adulthood beckons. How should you respond to the blessing and challenge?

1. Own Your Faith.

If you come from a Christian home, you have benefited tremendously from a host of supportive circumstances (household rules, numerous protections, church life). Testing awaits as you enter the world. It won’t be enough to ride the coat tails of your parents’ faith. If you’re not sure about Christianity, now is the time to settle the matter (Eccl. 12:1). Christianity is a faith unlike any other because it’s based on historical events that were verifiable to thousands of people in Christ’s day (1 Cor. 15:3–6, 12–14) — some of whom died for what they would have known to be false, had it been false. If you have doubts, ask away. The existence of God, the reliability of the Bible, the resurrection of Jesus, Jesus being the only way to God — there is a wealth of material which addresses these and other questions.

But do you want to base your life on Jesus Christ? You’ll soon encounter new opportunities to misuse God’s good gifts in ways that seem alluring — that seem to offer immediate pleasure. Will you believe the lie that God is a cosmic killjoy, out to rob you from experiencing the good things of life (Gen. 3:6)? Or will you trust that the One who made you knows best, that his rules are an expression of his love, and that his ways lead to your greatest happiness (Ps. 16:11)?

2. Own Your Relationships.

The Christian faith is lived out in community. So you’ll need to find a good church. Somewhere you can worship, learn, grow, and serve. Somewhere you can form friendships and where you can be a friend. Look at a few church websites before you leave home. Check out their beliefs, listen to their sermons, and be aware of their ministries. Make church attendance a priority early. It’s a harder habit to form later.

At college, the easiest friendships aren’t always the best. To become wise, you need to walk (or do life) with the wise (Prov. 13:20). Look for others who share your commitment to the things of God and faithfully invest in them. Relational evangelism is worth pursuing, especially at college, but make sure you also nurture friendships that strengthen your faith (Prov. 27:17). We’re commanded to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13–16) — which presupposes we are salt and light. To make a difference in the world we must be different than the world. Holiness in lifestyle, combined with a gracious demeanor, provide a winsome alternative to the wasteland of hedonism and materialism that are rampant on college campuses and youth culture in general.

3. Own Your Decisions.

Assessing situations, weighing alternatives, and thinking critically are like using muscles. Flabbiness comes from disuse; strength comes through practice. The next few years are full of choices — which college (or trade) to pursue, what to study, how to pay for it, and more. It might be nice if God spoke with an audible voice at each crossroads, but that’s not been my experience. We should pray (Jas. 1:5). We should seek counsel from trustworthy people who know us (Prov. 15:22). We should consider where we’ve been successful and what activities we enjoy, as these point to where, over time, we might be most useful in this world for the good of others and the glory of God.

Panicked that you’ll miss God’s will? God wants us to follow him more than we do. His moral will is revealed in the Bible. His sovereign will is revealed as we live it. So make the best decisions you can based on sound judgment, accept the consequences, learn from any missteps, and trust God to shower you with mercy and goodness (Ps. 23:6). With God no path is without difficulty and no path is without blessing.

Congratulations on your graduation. Godspeed in the days ahead. Grace be with you to the end.

Originally published at the Desiring God blog. Republished with permission.