A few weeks ago we attended a graduation ceremony for homeschooled children who had completed Grade 8 and Grade 12. It was the brainchild of a small group of parents who decided they wanted a significant event to mark the accomplishments of the children. It was well attended, well organized and very thoughtfully planned. The organizers did a wonderful job.
I was asked to give the address and was very pleased to do so. By request, I have decided to post the transcript here. A speech is different from an essay so I was reluctant to post it as is, but wanted to edit it to make it more suitable for reading. However, I think the transcript captures the mood of the moment, so I decided to post it verbatum and beg your understanding.
Well, congratulations. The end of grade eight, or twelve. It marks the end of a long string of years. Well done. And congratulations, to you all. This is not just a great accomplishment for you students, but it is the culmination of years of effort and planning by your parents and families as well. What a testimony this day is to the perseverance of students and parents.
I heard a comedian talking about home schooling. He’s an American and he was observing that those bumper stickers you sometimes see on cars in the United States that say things like “My son is an honour student at George Eliot Elementary”, or “My daughter is on the Dean’s honours list at Steven Ross Secondary” can be a little intimidating for homeschoolers. I mean, many of us don’t have report cards and can’t rank accomplishment relative to others. He suggested that homeschoolers might want to have bumper stickers made up that say, “My son is homeschooled, and we have no idea how he’s doing.” Well, I can tell you, and the footprints on the wall can demonstrate, and the testimony of your families and friends, the presentations we’ve already hear, the fact we’re gathering tonight to celebrate your accomplishments all say how you’re doing: just fine. You’re doing just fine. And for those of you graduating, and your families, you’ve done more than fine, you’ve excelled, you’ve conquered!
And this is a night and a great program that’s been put together to help commemorate how you’ve done. Hasn’t it been great? Didn’t the folks who organized it do a terrific job? Don’t you love the footprints all over? We had a great time putting them together at our house. What a clever way to prompt memories of the past year. And the theme verse, Proverbs 16:9: The mind of a man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps. is a wonderful reminder of not only how success is determined, but even how it is defined.
Think back to when you first started school. Perhaps you started off in the government schools, or perhaps private schools, or maybe you were homeschooling from start to finish, or possibly some combination. Regardless, think of the plans that were laid for you and with you by your parents. Think about the journey you’ve made, and however long it’s been: eight years, or twelve, do you think you could have predicted where you’ve ended and all the changes along the way? You see, the mind of a man makes plans, but we’re just not able to plan perfectly. The steps belong to the Lord. The outcome is God’s, and not ours. Despite our most elaborate plans, God is working out His purposes and His plans. And He is always faithful in doing so: working His plans and directing our steps. Think back over your schooling journey, and you will see that God has been faithfully working together all things according to His purposes and for the good of those who love and serve Him. God is faithful. He will work out His plans. Before you move on to the next stage of your life, whether that’s high school, or university, or a career, or marriage, or something else, take some time to not only reflect on His faithfulness, but to establish memorials to it. Like the footprints, like a favoured school project, or a subject that seemed impossible, until you suddenly “got it”. Hold on to those and in years to come, when you face discouragement, when you face set backs and you wonder what is happening, when doubts creep in and fear begins to crowd out the hope in your heart, pull out these memorials, these reminders, and let them testify to you God’s goodness.
This is not a new idea. This is a biblical idea. One of my favourite hymns is “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”, but not the revised one, the original lyrics. A line in the 2nd verse claims “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thine help I come”. I suppose one reason that they changed it was some people read that and thought “What’s an ebenezer?” Perhaps some of you are here tonight. Well, I think ebenezer is a good word, and biblical word, and it’s important that people understand what they sing and are taught.
So, what is an Ebenezer? I Sam 7 talks about it. It’s a memorial stone. You see, God had just delivered Israel in a great victory over the Philistines. So, Samuel intentionally plants a memorial stone to not only declare his appreciation, but also to remind himself, and all around, that God is faithful. Right here, in this place, God was faithful. “Thus far the Lord has helped us” I do not know what the future holds, but I do know that God has faithfully brought me to this place, that up to this point, this turning point, He has directed my steps for all the years up to now, and I am trusting Him, believing Him, that He will continue to do so in the future. But I forget. I always forget, and so I am planting a permanent reminder here that God is faithful.
So, what will be your ebenezer? What will remind you of God’s faithfulness to this point? The footprints have helped. This ceremony and the photos and memories can do it. Perhaps you can paint a picture, plant a tree, write a poem or some music, do a page of math problems that once seemed impossible to testify to what you’ve learned. Anything, at all. But I urge you, do it. Because the future will be sometimes hard and will have moments that will cause you to doubt and despair. Do it, because you will need it. You will need an ebenezer.
The mind of a man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps. We’ve talked about the past, but what about the future? What about what’s to come? If God directs the steps of a person, then why do we need to plan or think of the future at all? John Stott has said, “God’s promises of guidance are not given to save us the bother of thinking”. It would be nice if they did though wouldn’t it? It would certainly be easier.
No, the point is that as you plan for your future, whatever that is, more school, or careers or businesses or travel or jobs, whatever you do, no matter what you set your heart to do, no matter how detailed and careful and elaborate your plans, the ultimate success or failure rests with God. How liberating! God determines success. Your job is to determine God’s will for you. As you think of all the future may hold, all the options you have, it can be difficult to choose. There seem to be so many choices.
So, regardless of your plans, make sure that God is in them.
But how, how do you do that? How do you make sure that God is in your plans? Well, there are a number of ways I’ll mention. It’s not an exhaustive list, but hopefully will move your hearts and minds as we reflect on them.
First, ask yourself, not what you desire and is that okay with God, rather think about how your plans will fit in to God’s will. That is, God is working out His purposes, and how can you be a part of that?
Second, use your mind and the mental faculties you have just spent these years working on. Do not do as many and use faith as an excuse to avoid reason. Instead, do as the Scriptures suggest and let your mind be renewed by God (Rom. 12:2, Eph. 4:23) and prepare your minds for action, and be sober-minded (I Peter 1:13).
Third, search the Scriptures. Not as a collection of random verses, but search and study them using all the tools of proper biblical interpretation. Don’t pull verses out of context to justify your own desires. I’ve heard of people randomly opening the Bible and taken what they find there as direction. For example, (Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you” – II Sam 7:3). Well, beside the fact that it didn’t work out for David in the end, I have to tell you, but I’m not the prophet Nathan, you’re no King David. Don’t use Bible verses like Tarrot cards or tea leaves, but study to gather principles that God teaches that will help guide your decision.
Fourth, seek good counsel. Prov. 12:15 – The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. There is no shame in seeking counsel. Moses took advice from Jethro, David from Abigail, Rehoboam took the wrong advice, so counsel ought not overrule the other elements, but seeking it is wise. For those of you still living at home and under your parent’s protection and authority, they are authorities God has placed in your life for your good and protection. Welcome their advice and instruction, do not spurn it, but be wise.
Fifth, pray earnestly. When planning, it is easy to succumb to a purely logical or academic way of thinking, but this is a sacred, a spiritual endeavour also. James 1:5 assures us that God willingly grants wisdom to those who seek it. So seek it!
Finally, remember Psalm 37:23. The steps of a man are established by the LORD; And He delights in his way. Notice here that it’s God who is doing the delighting. So, ask yourself some questions. Are these plans something God will delight in? Will my actions be something that gives God pleasure? Is it intrinsically worth doing? Even if you could make no money, or accumulate glory, or even satisfaction, would you still do it? Is the pleasure of your heavenly father sufficient?
God has shown faithfulness in the past, and He is Sovereign over the future. So, as you celebrate and comemorate this past and look to the future with eager anticipation, may it be with a profound awareness of our good and faithful and Sovereign God. Congratulations to you all, may the memories of this day always give you cheer, and may God bless you in the days to come.