As May draws near to an end, we find ourselves in the thick of commencement season. The academic year has ended and a whole new crop of graduates is being launched out into fields of discovery. If one of these intrepid adventurers is close to you, you most likely have attended a graduation ceremony to cheer them on. This past Saturday, my wife and I were at my niece’s graduation, and as I sat through the proceedings, I began to wonder what I would say to these young adults on this auspicious day. Not that anyone asked, but here it is anyway.
“Be zealous! Pursue God and his goodness with abandon. Lean into life and be unabashed about your faith. Don’t let your light be hidden, don’t get disenchanted with the work God has given you. Don’t grow passive. In all things, at all times, be aggressive in your service to Christ and his gospel. Be zealous!”
Honestly, this isn’t a tough sell for most young believers—they are already zealous. Perhaps my niece’s class was an exception, but passion was plentiful amongst those in caps and gowns. Chomping at the bit, they looked restless, eager to make a dent in the world. And their vigorous idealism isn’t atypical. With few exceptions, young graduates step into the world with a confidence that towers over their experience.
And we, who have lived and learned, can chuckle at this wide-eyed optimism and dismiss it as fleeting. Zeal is intoxicating, but it’s awfully frail. It seems unable to fight off the erosive effects of reality, and eventually winning is set aside in favor of just living. So we smile at our eager youth and recite Cat Stevens’ words in our heads, “you’re young, that’s your fault.”
But this cynicism is our fault. Zeal is more than a seasonal condition; it is a command of God. “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (Rom. 12:11). Yes, zeal is frail but with the right care it can endure. Paul’s instruction about fervor is sandwiched in between the encouragement to stay “devoted to one another and brotherly love” and the command to stay “faithful in prayer”. When we stay in relationship, with God and others, our righteous passion is fed. Yes, life’s circumstances may test our zeal, but it’s isolation that kills it. When we remain in meaningful community with others and in prayerful unity with God, our passion will persist.
Come to think of it, this is not merely a fitting commencement address; it’s an appropriate appeal to us all. Regardless of your age or circumstance—be zealous. Pursue God and his goodness with abandon. Lean into life and be unabashed about your faith. Just don’t attempt it alone.