God's Path: A Sermon to Graduates
I preached this sermon last Sunday night for our 11 grads going off to college. I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me preach it.
Congratulations, graduates. In just a few short days, you’ll step onto a stage and receive your diploma, and while doing that two big things will be happening for you - 1) You’ll be making a significant accomplishment on 13 years of work and dedication, and 2) you’ll be closing one chapter of your life and opening a whole new one.
On a personal note, this Class of 2014 is a very special one to me. This is the first group that I saw as Freshmen. I remember walking into class that Sunday morning in January 3 ½ years ago, terrified at how such a large group of freshmen were going to react to my teaching. Since then, we’ve had a lot of great times to share at activities, sporting events, and here in worship.
Safe to say that I, personally, have some pretty good memories from you all.
So the main question I have for you tonight is:
What memories will you make from here on out? And what path will they take you on?
Tonight we’ll be talking about God’s path: how to stay on it, where it might lead you, all those things.
If we’re moving forward on this path, we can’t dwell on the past. We can’t relive memories from high school. After you walk across that stage in a few weeks and get your diploma, high school is over. High school, and all the tests, grades, drama, and sometimes, the relationships are over. So where does your path go from here?
If you’re not a Christian, there’s a lot of uncertainty with that question. You can’t move forward on God’s path if you’re not first a Christian! If you are, then your path is actually very clear. This evening, very quickly, we’re going to talk about your path that you should walk with God and how to seek out God’s direction.
1. Steps are ordered.
You’ve always heard “A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step,” but what does that actually mean? It means that in life there are lots of steps.
High School is a big step that you’ve just completed. But that’s all it is, is a step in your life. The next step may be college. It may be going out to work. It may be both. But the next step for you, whatever that may be, comes after the last. Like we said before, dwelling on the past doesn’t do you a lot of good when going to your next step.
Our steps have to be ordered, just like we order our food. One of the best parts about graduation is all the eating out. I must have ate out with parents and grandparents for like 4 days straight when I graduated high school. It was great. But when you go out to eat and your order food, you expect the food that you ordered to be what they bring out. If you ordered something small and they bring out a 7-course meal for you, that’s going to be too much. We usually only order what we can eat, and when we don’t, when we eat too much, our stomachs let us know fairly quickly.
In the same way, God orders our steps and steps that we are able to take. Psalm 37.23 says The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way.
If our steps are ordered, then we must assume that there is some planning involved as well. Think about it - you don’t ever do anything without a plan. Whether it’s deciding and going to eat Mexican or Chinese after Sunday morning worship this morning or making plans for where to go to college, your steps in life are ordered and your plans don’t just happen, they are put in place and planned carefully. Proverbs 16.9 says, A man's heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps. Notice the word ‘step’ again. Our God directs our steps.
2. Paths are directed.
Proverbs 3.5 says Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths. The key to unlocking God's direction is by acknowledging Him in all our ways.
Going to college, you probably feel like (or will feel like) you’re on top of the world. You’re finally out of your parents house. You’re at a place where no one is going to badger you with rules. You have a lot more freedom than you might have had at home. And most of us will look at our lives and say “I’ve got this.”
Like me. Even with the rules and structure of the Marines Corps, I thought to myself, “This is great. I’m finally off on my own. I can do whatever I want. I’ve got this.”
One of the worst mistakes I ever made in my entire life was not seeking God when I probably needed him the most. After two combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, I was completely depressed and burnt out. I didn’t go to church. I didn’t seek out Godly things. I didn’t seek out God’s people to help me on my path.
If we are Christians, God directs our paths. Not activities, or degrees, or careers, or others, or boyfriends and girlfriends - GOD DOES. And if we let God direct our feet to walk His path, we will be taken care of.
Those two years without the church in my life were probably the darkest my life had ever been. Don’t forget about God when you’re off on your own. Don’t forget how He has taken care of you so far. If you trust in him, He will take care of you. Just as the verse Kyle mentioned last Sunday night - Romans 8.28 - For we know that all things work together for good.
Ah, wait a second, that’s wrong. If we look at the verse carefully, and we see the parts we sometimes glaze over:
And we know that for those that love the Lord all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.
Speaking from personal experience - it was the times that I did not let God direct my steps and was not active in his church that I had the hardest and darkest times of my life. Let your path be directed by God, and nothing else.
So as we close this evening, I want to offer you four ways that you can find (and stay on) God’s path.
1. Follow the instructions. We follow instructions in everything else in life, yet sometimes we put God on the back burner. Know God’s Word. Read it, study it, just as you would civil engineering or nursing. Because there will be a test later, and you need to be prepared.
2. Seek the narrow path. You are not the first person to struggle with sex, drugs, alcohol, or any of the other various temptations and things that would seek to take you away from God’s path. Stick with those who are struggling the same way you are. Seek out fellow Christians. Seek out churches nearby. No one has promised that the Christian life will be easy, and that’s especially true in your years to come, when you really find out who you are and what you will do with your life. So ask yourself the question that stems from Matthew chapter 7: will your path be wide and easy and lead you away from God, or will it be narrow and difficult and lead you to God?
3. Don’t seek wide ways or strange Gods. Idols can come in many forms. Maybe your idol is yourself - you’ve finally gotten away from parents and you now choose to do what you maybe couldn’t at home. Or maybe that idol is schoolwork. Or money. Or a boyfriend or girlfriend. Whatever form that idol takes, if it prevents you from following God in any way, it should not be a part of your path in life.
4. Always plan with God in mind. As I told you earlier, my life did not go as I’d planned. I had hoped to be married by age 23. That didn’t happen for me until age 27. When I joined the military in 2000, it was a totally different world come September 11, 2001. I didn’t plan on that. My life did not turn out as I thought it would, but it turned out exactly as God thought it would.
Jeremiah 29.11 says I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. I know the plans I have for you, Austin. I know the plans I have for you, Grayson, He says.
In the scripture that was read earlier, Psalm 16.11, David says You have made know to me the path of life. We know what God’s plans are - it’s in His Word.
I love the phrase that Kyle has said in some past sermons recently, and that is to ask the question, “What is God up to?”
What is God up to and how is He working in my life when I arrive at UT Knoxville in August? Or at MTSU? Or Cumberland University? What is God up to when He gave me THIS roommate? What is He up to when my Christian morals are challenged in my classes? What is God doing right now in my life?”
We should always plan with God in mind. God should not fit in our plans, He should be the most integral part of the plan. And we should always be asking what God is up to in our lives, because He always is.
Tonight, this lesson has mainly been for our graduates, but the message applies to us all. Have you been true to God’s path? Do you need to get back on God’s path? Maybe you need to start your journey on God’s path by becoming a Christian and being baptized tonight. If you have any spiritual needs this evening, come while we stand and sing.