Let me begin by saying how thankful I am for the opportunity to be your speaker this afternoon. Just like what you are now, I was once an ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) student. In fact, I was the first ACE student to graduate from high school in Negros Occidental. I am thankful for the privilege of having been an ACE student. In his providence the Lord allowed me to be such in order to teach me a lesson which has remained with me all throughout my life: that faith and learning are not autonomous spheres without relation to each other; rather, both are under the Lordship of Christ and therefore both should be integrated. To be sure, the passage of time has made it difficult for me to recall the precise contents of the PACES which I studied when I was still an ACE student, but what I can’t forget is the fact that we prayed before we did our school work, and we memorised verses from the Bible in relation to the subjects that we were studying. I do not claim that an ACE school is the best school there is, but I do claim that in principle it subscribes to the right approach: the integration of faith and learning as a consequence of one’s submission to Jesus Christ who is Lord of all spheres, including the sphere of education.
That then is the lesson ACE deeply impressed on me for which I am thankful. But it is not the only thing I’m thankful for. I am thankful too for the people who molded me when I was still an ACE student: my pastor, my supervisor, my monitors, my parents, etc. But this talk is not about me. It’s about you, the graduates. I am just mentioning these things in order to make you aware that you are recipients of blessings the full significance of which will not dawn on you until much later in life, when you finally become who you are meant to be. And then you will look back and say, “I need to say thank you to these people, because I would never have become what I am now if not for them.”
Let me now proceed to the theme of this talk: “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” That’s actually a verse from the Bible, specifically Philippians 3:13. And I think it is a most appropriate theme for a graduation ceremony such as this one. Because it teaches us two things about life which a person, regardless of his or her age, has to keep on doing, i.e., he must always be forgetting the past and instead he must always be reaching towards the future.
The greatest mistake a person can make in life is to stand still and refuse to move forward. That’s what happens when one becomes a prisoner of his past. I understand you’re still too young to have much of a past. But sooner or later, if you haven’t already, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes, some of them quite serious. I do hope that doesn’t happen. But the fact is failures and mistakes happen. If we can prevent them from happening, well and good. But if they happen, then you can either unproductively blame yourself or someone else for the rest of your life, or you can start asking yourself, “Am I going to stay this way for the rest of my life or am I going to rise up and try again or at least move forward.” I’m old enough now to know that in many ways failure is more valuable than unblemished success. In fact, if you’re not careful, success has a way of making you careless and arrogant. You’ve succeeded so much that it just seems inconceivable that you’ll ever fail. That is, until you finally take a fall. Which, actually, might be a blessing in disguise. Because, you see, failure, on the one hand, can destroy you, but on the other hand, if you know how to deal with it, it can make you stronger and better than you ever were before. If you think failure is the end of the world, then according to your faith, be it unto you. But if failure makes you humbler, if failure teaches you what you ought to do right next time around, and if failure leads you to God because you realize you can’t make it on your own – then there’s much to be said in its favor. Provided you rise up every time you fall.
And that’s where forgetting the past comes in. Your failures or mistakes do not have to permanently define you. You are still in the process of becoming who God wants you to be. The process will involve a lot of falling and stumbling, and sometimes falling and stumbling hurt a lot. But at the end of the day what matters is you grow and and you keep on keeping on until you reach the finish line. Forget the past because if you don’t it becomes a self-imposed prison. The Lord is there to lift you up every time you fall. Micah 7:8 says, “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy, when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.” Rise up from where you’ve fallen; no longer sit in the darkness of the past; embrace the light of the Lord.
And what light is that? The light of the future God has prepared for you. So you don’t simply forget the past. You reach out with all your might for the future ahead of you. And what future is that? The future that he promised in Jeremiah 29:11 – “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Now some of you might say, “That seems pretty vague.” Maybe. But I think that’s how it should be. We human beings are not meant to see the full details and precise contents of the future God has in store for us. We are meant to simply do our best in the present and live one day at a time, fully trusting that he who takes care of us in the present will not fail to take care of us up to the very end of our lives – and beyond.
Which leads me to the next point. if reaching out towards the future means we trust God take care of us from the rising of our life’s sun to the setting of the same, then that means our future is not simply a time beyond the present. For us the future is not some abstract component or phase of that mysterious thing known as time. For us, the future is a Person who can be trusted at all times. As the saying goes, “I may not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” The future filled with hope for us is not, “20 years from now I will be a billionaire.” The future hope which awaits us is Hebrews 13:5 – “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” The future is about trusting the One who has promised to never leave us or forsake us. The only future that matters is my future with Jesus Christ. For without him there is no future. He himself said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” And of course to lose him, or to never find him in the first place, is to lose one’s soul.
Forget the past and embrace the future. A future of hope and prosperity that extends way beyond this life, a future that makes everything this world can offer dung by comparison. And the “cool” thing about this future is that it can be yours right now. The future is now, because as we’ve said the future is a Person. And this Person is Lord of all time. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He was and is and still to come. And if you have him as your Lord and Savior then your future is safe in his hands.
Graduates, the future beckons. A future beyond worldly success. A future where you can have what truly matters: A Person who means more and is worth more than anything this world can offer. The Pearl of Great Price, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. And that future is yours now if you have him. Forget the past, embrace the future. How? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding and he will direct your paths.”
Congratulations and God bless.