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"A Perfect Calling - You Can’t do Everything": 2024 Commencement Address by Matt Hannan

Updated: Jun 20

By Matt Hannan, Faculty

"As your last worldview lesson from Mr. H, I want you to consider how the world approaches commencement fundamentally differently than we do, and why that might be so. Millions of students have heard recently from valedictorians, former presidents, and famous actors that they can do anything. Well, you have only me to speak to you today, I hope that is okay. Seriously, I am so proud of each one of you, but I respectfully disagree with that messaging. You cannot do anything you put your mind to, and no one else can either.

Now hold on a second. This may sound a little strange. It may actually seem like a demotivational speech. Hang with me. I promise you that this message will free you to live a more fulfilled and encouraged life than what other commencement speakers might be selling. …I want you to seriously consider the pressure under which your unbelieving peers struggle… They must figure out their place in the whole world on their own, finely tune their skills to provide for themselves despite present turmoil and an unknown future, all the while meeting standards for success that may be completely arbitrary or impossible. This is exhausting, defeating, and downright depressing to many. Worst of all, it often leads to idolatry of self instead of reliance on God. 


Like always in our worldview studies, we learn to think about these things in order to both empathize with others and to correct areas of our own failure to apply biblical wisdom. Maybe you have struggled recently under these kinds of weights, I know I have. Well I am here to give you one last piece of advice before you set off on your next step: …The Lord has a perfect plan for you, and He will perfectly shepherd you into it… This is not a mere platitude that Christians say to one another when things get tough. It is a fundamentally different way of seeing and interacting with the world around you, one that is far more empowering and freeing than encouraging you to be great all on your own. I say again, The Lord has a perfect plan for your life. I pray that you believe that this morning.


It's going to be okay guys, because God has made a promise through Christ to save and sanctify His people. He has given you the breath of life and maintains it moment by moment until the day when He has appointed that your work here is done. Remember that you are invincible until then. The same is true of all people, but to know this and to live in light of it is our shield of faith: it can withstand the hottest dragon’s breath, but it can also shield us from our own dark thoughts. And it motivates us like nothing else can do. Let's look at a few examples of this from Scripture.

Fiery Darts

Think of how differently Paul lived compared to Job’s wife. One willing and able to suffer anything for the sake of Christ and the Kingdom of God, and the other cursing God when evil came. One sees their crosses as calling, the other as abandonment. And see how much differently that faith works itself out in their living: Paul the greatest evangelist, humble, loving and kind. But Job’s wife plays the fool, and is used by Satan to tempt Job to turn away from his God; a kind of anti-evangelist. Tragic.


What is the difference here? The mercy of God struck Paul on the road to Damascus and gave him a new heart. God used the perfect path of Paul’s life to bring him to that moment of faith, and continued to bring him through impossible circumstances to build that faith so that he could one day become the titan we see in Acts. Later, he explains to the Roman Christians that God has formed us all like pottery for a specific use. It is the same with you, students. The darts of Satan, evils of sin, and the incredible goodnessess of God to you are all to guide you into deeper faith and assurance of His love for you: a vessel created for noble use.


Life’s Calling

Think about another example: the Apostle Philip, literally carried by the Spirit to preach the gospel to the Ethiopian Eunuch and then citizens of Azotus and Caesarea. Compare this with Jonah, who resisted God the entire way. Where did he end up despite all his efforts? Nineveh, full of hardness of heart. Students, you are going to Nineveh either way, led gently by the Spirit, or dragged there painfully by the arm of God. They both knew that God is alone God, but see how one thinks their plan is better than God’s and the other understands that we were all once God’s enemies until He drew us near by His love.


Philip was not teleported the entire way, but was carried by the Spirit nonetheless. He gladly went along the path that he likely did not himself know, joyfully preaching to everyone as the opportunity arose. God does not often direct our steps in such a miraculous way, but they are no less divinely appointed. So walk forward, work for the Kingdom, evangelize the lost. As Augustine said, “Love God and do what you will”. Trust that your way on the straight and narrow path is set for you by our loving God to accomplish all He has for you. That is your calling.


Jesus the Substance of our Faith                                                      

Now what I am not saying this morning is this: just do better, work harder, drum up greater faith in your own life. Remember this is a message of peace and hope. What I want is for you to think about your worldview, to think about your anxieties and plans for the future. And I want you to see that you have every reason to trust your God. He has never given you a reason to doubt Him, never wounded you except for your own good, never withheld anything that was truly a blessing for you. I want you to remember that, “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” All things.


You have been through some “things”, guys. Heart wrenching, horrible things. Wonderful things. And you will go through even more things. The Holy Spirit is carrying you into and through these things just like Philip, or Paul, or our Lord Jesus Himself. You are divinely appointed to be here at this very moment, and you will be where God wants you every subsequent moment of your life. All for good. Although we may not understand exactly how, we see with the eyes of faith.


Reflect on your career at JRHS. How many hours of classes and homework? How much time spent serving others on top of that? How many math problems explained? How many papers edited? How many deep conversations? How many burdens borne? How many tears of laughter and of sorrow? See how God has changed and shaped your heart through these “things”, how you perceive the world and your work in a different light than your peers. This perspective will only continue to mature as God leads you through the rough and still waters.


Now these things did not happen to you, you did not merely observe these experiences from afar. You walked them out, you moved, you responded to the circumstances that God gave you. And you must continue to do. Remember that faith works, or it is dead.

Fortunately, God has given us a plan for doing in His Word. Jesus taught us that those who do God’s will are His brethren. Paul teaches us in Romans 12:2 (which is the school theme verse of the year): “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.” A better translation might be “Do not conform, but be transformed”, as we are active in our rebellions but God is active in our transformation, we receive it from His hands. He searched us out like a lost coin or sheep, and rejoiced to save us. Remember that Jesus is shepherding us, not leaving us to our own devices.


What are the means by which you will be transformed? Remember as you leave here you will need to know and apply these things in your own lives. You need to drink deeply of God’s Word, to pray continually for God’s will, and to worship regularly in a healthy local church. Through these means of grace, God will grow your faith so that you can stand firm through whatever “things” God sends your way.


Isn’t it interesting that I did not speak of your abilities this morning, formidable as they might be? I put no pressure on you to figure it out on your own. Be free from such things. There are many Job’s wives out there, telling you that you must do this for yourself, or that there is no God because of how much evil exists in the world. There are many Jonahs that will tell you that you are fundamentally better than others or that your plans are superior to God’s. I want you to sail through those rough seas that may capsize your peers, guided by the Word and Spirit back to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of your faith. You can't do anything you put your mind to because that is fundamentally not how Creation works: you have a perfect plan set before you, and God will bring you through it to the end. Take one step at a time, and love God, and trust that He loves you back. You are headed to the Celestial City, pilgrim. The way is long and difficult, but God’s hand is sure.

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