There are three words that I want you to remember as you graduate: worth, work, and the world.
Your worth is based on the fact that you are a son or daughter of the one true God. You bear his image. He was crucified on a cross and experienced hell to reclaim his bride, his church—you. Best of all, you did nothing to deserve this love.
Your worth is not based on your productivity or your personal achievement. Perhaps you already know this, but it’s easy to forget. How do I know this? Because our world places expectations on your life, and when you let yourself, your parents, your spouse, your organization, or your friends down, you will hear a voice whispering that you are a failure—that you are worthless.
Your university tells you that your worth is based on your legacy, on changing the world, on your achievements. While not necessarily bad things, they can be heavy, crushing expectations to bear. The lie that your worth is based on personal achievement will oppress you. It is a harsh master to serve. It will kill your joy. It will kill you. Jesus came to set you free and the truth of where your worth lies will set you free. We see this emphasis on God’s gift of grace to us in Ephesians 2:8: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Continuing in Ephesians, we see in the very next verse that we were created to work. Not as something that we owe God, but as our gift from God. Work is the result of his gift of grace to us. Ephesians 2:9 reads: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
So work doesn’t determine our value, but it does enable us to meaningfully participate in the work of God in the world. The work of God is not only done by “ordained” clergy, but is done by every single citizen of the kingdom of heaven as a holy act of worship, set apart for him.
There are two rules of thumb that help describe the kind of work that worships God. First, it contributes to human flourishing. As Christians we join in the work of Jesus, who came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). As Jesus’ followers, we are called to nurture abundant life within ourselves, in our communities, and in the world.
Can you articulate a life-giving perspective for your work? Can you articulate how your work will help people flourish? How it will help you flourish? If you don’t ask these questions of your career choice, you will likely experience frustration with unfulfilling work. Making good money or achieving success in the eyes of the world is insufficient. Work that is holy contributes to human flourishing. And this includes your flourishing.
Second, work that is holy is done in accordance with his commands and character. A fellow staff member is fond of saying, “To be faithful to God we have to either work a non-traditional job or work a traditional job in a non-traditional way.” Both of these paths involve risks. What would it look like to wisely challenge the assumptions within your place of work? What would it look like to set boundaries that were life-giving to you, your family, your colleagues, but could threaten your job or rate of promotion unless God intervened?
God wants you to worship him through his gift of work. Your work is holy. All of the work you will be doing after college has the capacity to be set apart for God: (1) to contribute to human flourishing, and (2) to be done in accordance with the commands and character of God.
Francis Xavier, the Jesuit director of missions in India, China, and Japan, once said that he longed to be back in Paris “to go shouting up and down the streets to tell the students to give up their small ambitions and come eastward to preach the gospel of Christ” (Michael Griffith, Give Up Your Small Ambitions).
Perhaps this is the most outrageous thing I could say to a group of graduate students leaving the world’s premier educational institutions, but I will say it anyway: give up your small ambitions.
God’s plans for your life are more risky, more challenging, and more difficult than anything you could ever dream for yourself. In fact, they are impossible apart from him. I love the quote from John Haggai, “Attempt something so impossible that unless God is in it, it’s doomed to failure.” Give up your small ambitions.
So as you leave the university, remember that your WORTH is found not in your work, but in your status as a dearly loved child of God. Your WORK in this world is holy—it is meant to worship God and it is God’s work in this world. And finally, regarding your engagement in the WORLD: give up your small ambitions and risk following Jesus wherever and whenever he calls because the One who calls you is faithful.