To All Graduates

God has a plan. He will pursue you. He will use you mightily—just trust him.

A while back, McLean Presbyterian Church in Virginia tweeted a question out to several evangelical leaders in preparation for an upcoming weekend youth retreat. Their request: words of wisdom to share with seniors in high school as they prepare to navigate the challenges of life and faith in the years to come.

You can read the tweets and responses here.

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about this. This year, I had the privilege of speaking at the graduation ceremony for Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and will speak at Timothy Christian High School’s graduation on Friday. So, I wanted to update this article, which I shared years ago on my blog, and post it here.

Graduation at any level is an important time of new beginnings and excitement. But high school graduates face the unique transition into autonomy and self-discovery. What can we say to encourage and guide our graduates? I’ve been thinking about that as I prepare my commencement speech for this weekend.

It’s an important question. We’ve all heard start about student dropouts. Some students who found themselves eager to attend youth group and spend time in scripture during high school head to college and later find these disciplines hard to maintain. They’re isolated from their family—in many cases, the bedrock of their faith—and often attend secular universities where Christian communities are few and far between. Navigating a new schedule, environment, and community makes it easy for faith to get lost in the shuffle. 

There are other students who find that their faith has not yet been equipped to withstand challenges, questions, new ideas, or diversity. So instead of examining and strengthening their beliefs to reconcile its deficiencies, they choose to let it go. 

I thought back to a few years ago when McClean Presbyterian Church tagged several of us in the tweet and received many good responses. My answer is at the end of the article, but let’s take a look at some of the best advice offered in response to their bold question:

Tim Keller

Tim Keller was the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Before his death, he led Redeemer City to City, which has since launched 250 churches in 75 global cities. His books—The Reason for GodThe Prodigal God and Generous Justice, and others—have been enjoyed by millions. Much of his work focuses on contextualizing and recognizing the relevance of our faith and the Bible in our daily lives. 

In his response, Keller advised students to “be resilient.” He points out that college is a place of discovery—a time to deal with life’s biggest questions of “identity, purpose and choice.” Going to college means leaving behind the familiar comforts of family, friends, church that youngsters rely on for support during times of trial and weakness. According to Keller, this transition requires students to open up the floodgates and allow their minds to venture into dangerous territory asking things like “Who am I?” and “What’s the point of everything?”

As difficult as these questions might be, he advises that students not ask them in a vacuum but instead seek answers in a community.” A good faith community and close Christian friends provide support, love and wisdom when we struggle for answers. 

Beth Moore

Beth Moore is an author, speaker, and the founder of Living Proof Ministries, an organization that aims to encourage women in their spiritual journeys as they come to know Christ through the study of his word. In addition to her in-depth study of scripture, she is also known as an advocate for abuse survivors and a voice of accountability and justice within the church.

Moore instructs students to pray daily for God to grant them a “supernatural, otherwise unexplainable, love for Jesus.” The cultivation of this devoted love allows the Lord to drive people’s passions, ultimately giving them the courage to “follow him anywhere” and “serve him valiantly” all the days of their lives. As his followers, we find ourselves pulled each day towards a place of surrender to God’s good plan and purpose.

Our prayer life is often neglected, yet it is so formative to our faith and manner of thinking. Students who may have had set prayer times with family or friends will go off to college and no longer be present to participate. But prayer can be incorporated into any part of our day where there can be just a few seconds of silence. With Beth Moore, I strongly encourage students to find windows of peace in their daily routine to pray boldly for “supernatural, otherwise unexplainable, love for Jesus.”

Derek Halvorson

Derek Halvorson is the President of Covenant College, a Christian liberal arts institution in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. In conjunction with his position at Covenant, Halvorson also serves on the boards of both the Chalmers Center for Economic Development and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

His words of wisdom were this: “Don’t buy the world’s definition of what constitutes success. God doesn’t need for us to do great things in order that he might be glorified. He calls us to be faithful, and to put our talents to work.”

This advice is critical for not just students, but Christians in all walks of life who feel the weight of this world’s preoccupation with success. Strive as we might, the bigger houses and better jobs aren’t enough to fill the hole in our empty, aching hearts—only God can do that. A successful Christian life is one that seeks first the kingdom of God and seeks to give glory to God in all that we do. 

My Take

In most cases, students need help knowing what should be prioritized and how to honor that priority in their daily lives. There will always be things that end up taking more of our time and attention than they should, but we learn those lessons as we go. Now, don’t get me wrong, some priorities remain non-negotiable. After dropping off your bags and getting that dorm room decorated, finding a local church to plug into is critical to the spiritual formation of any student. Planning to attend each Sunday—regardless of workload, previous plans or other excuses shouldn’t be a “maybe.” It should be a must.

But let’s not forget—there are some things that you just can’t control. During those times, it is crucial to remember that God will never abandon you, even in the darkest of valleys. 

College is a time to reach high, dream big and imagine life outside the confines and familiarity of home. Our world tells students that no plans are lofty enough or ambition great enough; unless your life goal includes changing and reshaping the universe, chances are, you’re settling.

To all the students reading this: ambition for ambition’s sake is pointless. We live under the great umbrella of God’s good will. We should work hard and strive to do good for the kingdom, but not because we’re following our cultures call to “reach for the stars” in ambiguity. Instead, we are seeking the kingdom of God.

Know this: God has a plan. He will pursue you. He will perfect and protect you. He will use you mightily—just seek him.

This article originally appeared here and is reposted by permission.

Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer is the editor-in-chief of Outreach magazine, host of the Stetzer ChurchLeaders Podcast, and a professor and dean at the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He currently serves as teaching pastor at Mariners Church in Irvine, California.

He is also regional director for Lausanne North America, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by and writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. He is the founding editor of The Gospel Project, and his national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates.