taking the words of Jesus seriously

When young people graduate, they’re often told to follow their dreams. Change the world. After all, the sky’s the limit.

But what if you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up or lack the required social positioning to achieve it?

There are always limits to following self-centered dreams. But if we posture ourselves as “living sacrifices” seeking God’s dreams and God’s will, the possibilities really are endless.

David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, recently described how graduating students are often told to discover their passion, then pursue their dreams. Yet, Brooks says, “most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life.”

It’s true: As we apply our God-given spiritual gifts to the needs of the world, we begin to discover our vocation.

Graduating from college in the 21st century can be jarring. Living in the college bubble, students learn of limitless possibilities. But the current labor market can feel more limiting than limitless.

An outward­-focused posture of humble servant leadership is more commendable than a life of egotistic achievement.

In fact, Malcolm Gladwell says in his book Outliers, that even the world’s most remarkable people don’t achieve success alone. “It makes a difference where and when we grew up, “ he says. “The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine.”

Serving God and others, rather than seeking money and social status, should shape the pattern of our achievement. This requires humility, a scarce commodity in a culture of self-importance. If we are humble, the Holy Spirit can direct our own desires toward God’s purposes.

The Apostle Paul describes an orientation toward God’s will. ”Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

Indeed, God promises to be our guide and has supplied us with ample tools for knowing God’s will. We can pray for wisdom and strength, study Scripture, seek counsel from mentors and take note of others’ experiences.

So, what if Jesus were a commencement speaker today? What life advice might he give? Perhaps it would go something like this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus taught us to live with an outward-focused spirit. A humble posture of service to God and each other runs counter to individualistic egotism and American exceptionalism. Living into our calling is a journey that bends toward bringing God’s reign on Earth as it is in heaven.

Sheldon C. Good is a former Sojourners media assistant. He is assistant editor for Mennonite Weekly Review and blogs at The World Together.

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