By Matthew Hannan, Bible Teacher
“Class of 2023 I have just one challenge for you today: Follow your heart… no, wait, that’s the wrong speech. *shuffles papers*
Class of 2023: do not follow your heart, That was the first sin, and the root of all sin, really.
Many graduates have recently heard or will soon hear messages about pursuing self-fulfillment. It sells well from the podium, but does it really have value to a young adult seeking a meaningful and truly happy life? It doesn’t seem to me that this kind of messaging has made many of these graduates very happy or fulfilled people in the long run.
Rather, my challenge has the power to produce lasting happiness, but it is a serious challenge. It will likely be the hardest thing you ever do: do not follow your heart, “for the heart is deceitful above all things.” Almost every message you get these days is going to be: have it your way, yolo, take time for self-care, indulge yourself, buy now pay later… In other words, “this is your life and you should do whatever you want, when you want, how you want.”
Graduates, God created you for a purpose… The Westminster catechism puts it this way, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Don’t stoop to serve a creature (even yourself) when God is calling you to serve the King. Don’t spend your time playing with sandcastles when Christ has prepared for you palaces of gold, lest the tide come in and take away both. Jonathan Cruse put it this way: “When you put your personal will on hold and let God’s take precedence, even when it means waiting for good things that you want, it comes with the guarantee of gaining greater things that you need: joy, happiness, and heaven.” Store up your treasures in heaven, where moth and rust cannot destroy. Jesus paints this picture for us of delayed gratification and of putting God’s will over our own. He went so far as to say that his food was to do the will of God.
“Okay, Mr. Hannan, you have made your point. How do I do the impossible? How do I follow my heart less, listen to worldly wisdom less, and serve Christ as I ought?”
The good news is that you have been training in this for years already. You have spent years serving others in a community of faith (some of you more willing than others). How many yogurt-filled recycle bins, or crumbs from the ‘lil 3’s second breakfast, have we cleaned? How many open houses have we staffed when we have a mountain of work due the next day? How many people have we introduced at Agape lunch? How many times has Mr. Samuelson roped us into carrying around pellets, sweeping the walk, or painting his house when everyone else has gone home (it's part of the school property, folks, don't worry I'm sure its legal).
How many hours have we spent bearing one another’s burdens, in conversations (or literally) on a hike? Playing silly card games together, or losing to Gavin in chess? How many hours of rehearsals and practices have we attended that we may not have needed ourself? How many times have we tutored others in Math or Science (or editing for my Bible portfolios)? How many encouraging words have we spoken? How many reminders of Christ’s love for His people? How many songs sung in worship? How many hours spent fundraising and going on mission trips? How many people have we seen come to faith in Christ? Hundreds, thousands of hours of our short lives spent in denial of ourselves and love of others for our love of God.
Would we look back on that time as wasted, or blessed? Think about how differently your peers in other schools might think of such a high school career. Isnt it interesting that in diligent, rather unappealing work for God, you have so much?
But we cannot allow this time to be just fond memories of the past, or we will fail to learn what God has been teaching us the whole time. We must trust in Him, do all this unto Him, rather than begrudgingly. Make no mistake, you have benefitted beyond what you may ever be able to articulate in your time here either way, but to truly have fulfillment in the moment is to do all things to the glory of Christ.
Graduates, Throughout your path of life, you will be voluntold myriad of times. You have many authorities over you, and many unappealing jobs lie ahead. I will not lie to you and tell you that things will be easier (well, maybe they will be in some ways, right CP students?). But what they are are gifts of opportunity to be conformed to the image of Christ, the man of sorrows who was stricken and afflicted for our sins, yet for the joy set before Him, endured with joy in His Father.
Calvin said that the heart is a factory of idols. Your flesh resists not only hard work and self-sacrifice, but it especially resists doing those things for Christ. Remember the lessons that you learned here. Remember the hours of service, and think of the state of your heart in the midst of them. I am confident that you have a good groundwork of biblical worldview and knowledge, social skills, diligence, compassion, logic, academic excellence. What you need daily is to get on your knees, open your Bibles, and be reminded that your life is not your own. That will buoy you up to be a Christian rather than a Pliable.
So go out into the world. Become titans in the medical field, music, politics, engineering, entrepreneurism. Have families and raise godly future JRHS students. Build strong churches as you have helped to build up Jesse. But never forget that unless you are primarily servants of Christ, one day your sandcastles will wash away and be forgotten. Only those things done unto our Lord will remain.
May you agree with me as I read this Puritan prayer that encapsulates all I have said so eloquently:
It is the flame of my life to worship thee,
the crown and glory of my soul to adore thee,
heavenly pleasure to approach thee.
Give me power by thy Spirit to help me
that I may forget the world,
be brought into fullness of life,
be refreshed, comforted, blessed.
Give me knowledge of thy goodness
that I might not be over-awed by thy greatness;
Give me Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God,
that I might not be terrified,
but be drawn near with filial love,
with holy boldness;
He is my Mediator, Brother, Interpreter,
Branch, Daysman, Lamb;
him I glorify,
in him I am set on high.
Crowns to give I have none,
but what thou hast given I return,
content to feel that everything is mine
when it is thine,
and the more fully mine when I have yielded it
Let me live wholly to my Saviour,
free from distractions,
from carking care,
from hindrances to the pursuit
of the narrow way.
I am pardoned through the blood of Jesus —
give me a new sense of it,
continue to pardon me by it,
may I come every day to the fountain,
and every day be washed anew,
that I may worship thee always
in spirit and truth.
Class of 2023: under no circumstances follow your heart. I promise you will be much better off for it in the end. And come visit me, and remind me of what I just told you.”