By Chaplain (Col) Stephen W. Leonard, USA, Ret.
June is the month for many weddings and for most graduations. In two days, I am flying to New York City with my son and grandson, accompanying/assisting me with my granddaughter’s graduation from high school. Graduations are milestones that are significant in the lives of the graduate and their families. They speak to many years of work, sweat, and tears; they speak to growth and maturing, and to pains and victories.
But just in these last few weeks, I have been told of three significant graduations of men who influenced me and who were pastors and preachers par excellence: Stephen Smallman, Harry Reeder, and Tim Keller. These were graduations of the ultimate kind; to meet the King of Kings, and be finally situated in His forever realm of peace and eternal happiness. This is the graduation for which we all long.
My granddaughter’s graduation is the beginning, of a lifetime of service and ministry. These three other graduations are the summa cum laude of graduations, the highest summit to attain. They are not the beginning, but the conclusion of service and ministry, the hearing and performing of God’s sole call to “all the days ordained for me.” (Psalm 139:16)
We all experience graduations at various levels of achievement in our lives. The last one is the graduation which supersedes all others. It is being elevated to the realm which God has prepared for those who love Him.
Yet all the prior graduations are by no means irrelevant. They are critical to the development of who we will be, of who we are, in the supreme war on this fallen earth, of fighting for the triumph of God on this globe, which is a fight for its life and future. This war and its conclusion have already been won on the cross by Christ, the victor. He defeated Satan at Calvary. But we fight to bring the reality of Christ’s victory into our own souls.
This war must be engaged by all of us. Your faith is paramount in this all-everything battle, and graduations are mostly triumphs in the course of the battle, particularly the graduations which better fit us as prepared warriors for the battle. How do they prepare us?
Your mind must be strengthened and sharpened to do battle with “principalities and powers in high places,” to put down opinions and arguments, and “bring every thought into captivity for Christ.” Romans 12:2 incisively instructs you, “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.”
This is what your goal should be in all your studies and learning: to discern what the will of God is, and to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and taking every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) Whether history, English, or philosophy; whether math, chemistry, or physics your goal should always be to discern the will of God in the particular subject, to destroy arguments against the knowledge of God which is exactly what truth is. Truth is the knowledge of God in every sphere.
Perhaps your studying has been to just master the material as it is taught by a professor or book or philosophy, and to ace the exam. But your study ought to be to please God as you gain greater knowledge of Him and His world, and to fit you to His service and the service of others.
The other graduations we experience are not often spoken about. Those are the graduations from one maturity level to another. When you learn valuable lessons in your relationship with Him, whom to know is the ultimate in all your endeavors. You move from one level to another when your relationship with Him excels your sin and self-interest; when sinful habits are broken, and you reach an increased level of sanctification in Him.
You will never “arrive” until you graduate to “face to face with Jesus,” but you yearn to see gradual step-by-step and discernible maturity in your Christian vocation and walk. When you experience such growth, it is, in essence, a “graduation.” Such growth will, in reality, be a greater humbling of yourself, a greater recognition of your sin and unworthiness. Pray you to experience a number of such “graduations” in your intimacy with the “Knower of your soul.”
“We have not known we as we ought, nor learned Thy wisdom, grace, and power; the things of earth have filled our thought, and trifles of the passing hour. Lord, give us light Thy truth to see, and make us wise in knowing Thee.”
(1st verse of Thomas Pollock’s hymn, “We Have Not Known Thee As We Ought,” 1889)