On Saturday, May 18, 2013, we celebrated the graduation of 77 students from Calvin Seminary. Ten countries were represented on that day: Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Liberia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, South Korea, and the United States. Today I want to share with you a portion of my commencement address.
“In your seminary education, you have been challenged as to your formation for ministry. You were challenged to do ministry out of your being. In keeping with that challenge, let me share with you four “Be’s” to keep before you that Paul teaches us in Philippians 4.
- Be a Pleader. Paul has just written about the wonder of being children of the light, but now he gets into the reality of church life. There will be conflict. There will be tension. And instead of living with it or ignoring it, Paul wants to confront it and he wants others to join in this battle for the heart. He pleads. He is passionate. He desires for Euodia and Synthche to not sit in the same church pew and smolder against each other. He desires for them to come together (Philippians 4:2).
Maybe on the edge of this moment, you wonder how God may use you in the years ahead. You may wonder where you will be called to serve. Maybe you also wonder – how you will be sustained in ministry. I have made it a practice to ask church leaders who have sustained and thrived what they have learned. Whether it is Nigeria or North Dakota, I have heard this answer again and again – Love the People. Love. I invite you to remember to continue to love the Lord with all your being, love your family – but also love those whom God will bring into your life. Whatever your ministry setting – a prison, a school, a campus, a nursing home, a hospital or the church – Love Deeply and be a Pleader for that Love.
- Be Joyful. Ministry can be hard, but ministry is also an opportunity to serve God and to serve others in wondrous ways. May you feel the joy of the Lord in your service and may you find that such a joy is your strength. Rejoice in the Lord – always. Not some times. Not just when you feel it, but with the conviction that God is at work through you and in the situation at hand. Be Joyful and you will find that God does show up. God’s grace should cause all of us to be in wonder – to smile, to laugh and be in awe of this gift. Be Joyful.
- Be Prayerful. The source of that joy and the attitude of the heart needed when anxiety arrives is prayer. I still remember an unscripted moment when preaching a number of years ago. I was dealing with the topic of prayer and I knew that there were people before me who thought that prayer was for people who wear robes or at least special people who have special training and special words. In that moment, God prompted my heart to ask those gathered – if they every worried – if they ever were anxious. It was easy to read their faces and hear them silently comment – you have got to be kidding. Of course. And then I said, “well if you put Dear God in front of listing your worries, you just turned your worries into a prayer.” As Anne Lamont says you can categorize prayer into these three categories – these three words – Help. Thanks. Wow. I share this moment with you to say that in this age of uncertainty and anxiety that we need to be people of prayer and people who help others to pray. I do not know what lessons you will teach or preach, but may your life, including your prayer life, be a lesson before others. Be Prayerful.
- Be Focused. There are distractions in this world and in ministry. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. In this moment, I invite you to focus on the road ahead and when dark clouds and dark moments and dark seasons come to continue to seek to see the outline of the hand of God in your life and in this world. We trust that God is at work and that trust allows us to experience a peace that stands out in an age of uncertainty and anxiety.
Be a Pleader, Be Joyful, Be Prayerful and Be Focused. In the midst of this passage, you will find this centered key phrase – the Lord is near. If you continually cultivate an understanding that the Lord is Near – you will be a person who helps people be centered rather than scattered – people who are steadfast rather than anxious – people who are faithful rather than uncertain. They will be rooted in the one you teach and preach about – the one who is near – our Lord Jesus Christ.”