- successfully complete an academic degree, or course of training
Graduations are in the air. Congrats to all those celebrating! You just finished __ of years of school, and now you have _______ degree to show for it.
Done with High school? It is time I move out, and “do my own thing”. Done with college? It is time I move back home, “take things slow”, and work. More schooling is always an option too. Done with grad-school? It is time to find a job. “The real world”.
Eventually, everyone graduates. Everyone finishes ‘school’ at some point.
But then what? Why am I doing, what I’m doing? This is my thought at 26 years old – what do I strive for? What’s next?
At my sister’s graduation this past weekend, I really struggled with this: where do I assess myself in my spiritual schooling? Do I deserve to graduate…pre-school? Or would I re-mediate? No way I’m even in 4th grade.
I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; (1 Corinthians 3:2 NKJV)
St Paul says here that I’m not just in pre-school, I’m an infant. Milk is for babies. Toothless, crying, diaper-using, children. I still cannot eat the solid food of the spiritual life (I know…you’re thinking, food? again?). This food is about the depths of spirituality. I want ‘graduate’ from being mediocre in my spiritual commitment – to be able to taste more than just milk. St Paul answers why I cannot yet in his next verse:
for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:3 NKJV)
Am I – in any way – as serious about my spiritual aspirations as my dream to become a doctor, lawyer, business owner, or engineer? Is my pursuit of happiness possibly a pursuit of something else? Like a pursuit of money, power, and respect – the ‘good’ life? Or worse, is it just fleeing from some pressure, past depression, abuse, or the fear of failure? I hope happiness happens to be present wherever I end up.
To answer all these questions (I hope you’re asking yourself with me, and not just surface reading – that just became a word) we need to define happiness. I think we can all agree, without exception, we want happiness at some level. Just like we all want graduation.
“Pleasure comes and goes, but joy has eternity in it.” -Heather King
I like to differentiate between happiness and joy. For this purpose, think of happiness as outside → in, and joy as inside → out. What does that mean? Well, happiness is simple – you wake up, the sun is out and you’re fully rested with plans to head to the beach for a relaxing day = happiness. You find $20 in your pocket = happiness. Someone compliments your hair (ladies) = happiness. Happiness is a reflective emotion, that comes from influences apart from yourself, that make your mood a bit brighter. Catch my drift? Did I mention, I love your hair? This has been told to you before. But why did you forget? It’s temporary, and (*even your hair) is changeable. It’s short-lived, and can be negated just as easily as it is established.
“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:9-11 NKJV)
Joy is just the flip-flop of happiness. Joy flows from the innermost part of our heart. Regardless of the outside, it keeps my spirits lifted. Weather, traffic, test grades, family problems, terrible relationship, abuse, addiction, struggle…nothing can touch my joy. Jesus here tells us 1thingisneeded; to have HIS JOY. OMGoodness. Can you imagine, having God’s joy in me!? Forget happiness. Give me some of that!
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.
Where? You know the song. Jesus is telling me that there are 3 steps to get to His 1thing:
1. keep His commandments
2. abide in His love
3. have His filling Joy
1 plus 1 = two. Basics? Great, I’m glad we agree.
What about three + three? = six. You passed. Well done. And this equation takes us to our next mnemonic. 3 + 3 = 6. If you remember this next time we meet, I owe u a fist bump.
This year alone I have two family members finishing doctorates, 1 finishing high school, and 1 finishing elementary school. That is a load of accomplishment. But as a person, a community, a church, as Christians, are our priorities set straight?
Jesus sets them straight here:
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:33 NKJV)
He doesn’t say second. He says 1st. Matthew records this in the ‘Sermon on the mount’ – Matthew 5, 6, and 7. So Jesus (while not subscribed to this blog) agrees that 1thingisneeded. I need to put His kingdom 1st. Above all other goals, concerns, worries, and fears. And there is our mnemonic. You already know the verse, so remember Jesus’ directions are as simple as basic arithmetic – like you did above – 3 + 3 = 6. Because in the verse it says ‘added’ so you add 3 + 3, the reference is Matthew 6:33. Got it? Splendid. Fist bump. (I know, I know…son of a math teacher)
Is it wrong then Karim, to have academics as my goal? They have reward at the end. Nobody wants to go to grad-school for nothing. Its like an investment, you do it thinking of the future. Why then am I short-sighted? I am blinded by vainglory beyond the 80 years I’ll possibly spend here. What about eternity?
This concept of seeking God as a priority is not rare in scripture:
Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, saying: ‘This people says, “The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.”’Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways! (Haggai 1:2-5 NKJV)
We say: its NOT important to build God’s house. That can wait. When I have more time for Him, I’ll read/serve/seek Him later. After this semester, after exams, after this week, after today. His Temple is the place of worship in my heart. I focus on building for myself fancy things. I want cars, success, money, clothes, material things. I want girls, party, recognition. I want MY glory, and I want that now. But reality check Karim: this cannot last. How could I build for Karim, while His house is in ruin, while my heart is destroyed by the world, not placing Him as King?
I must then listen to what Haggai relays and “consider my ways”. I need to evaluate my priorities.
1 more point. Haggai says in verse 14 of the same chapter:
So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God (Haggai 1:14 NKJV)
They were in exile. These people (read in the book of Ezra for a more detailed account) had no relationship with God while they were away from Jerusalem. They had no church to skip, bible-study to be too busy for, communion to disengage from, service to avoid. They were slaves in a foreign country. But God used Zerubbabel (probably the coolest name in all of Christ’s lineage) to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild. They got the king’s support to go home.
Jesus came so you and I can rebuild. Notice the verb in the verse is “work(ed)” – reestablishing my spiritual life needs commitment. It needs effort. They built the temple first, then they built the wall around their city to guard it. We too need to leave. Leave our foreign land, our concerns with the world, our obsession with ourselves, our enslavement to sin, our fixation on second-rate priority, and flee from our pursuit of temporary happiness. When I rebuild, first I will establish my worship, then I will draw out my boarders and place myself watch to keep the evil influences out. Confession: I need to put myself behind and put God and others before me.
Zerubbabel’s motion was contagious too. He brought others with him to work on the temple God – their communal tie to their Creator.
Don’t worry, we all need the pre-school version sometimes…but let’s not settle. Let’s strive to graduate to solid food.
So in closing, 1thingisneeded guys. I need to reassess my priorities in pursuit of Christ’s everlasting Joy (vs earthly happiness), by seeking first His Kingdom. In prioritizing His life above mine and coming back to rebuild my heart’s temple for worship, we will graduate together, and move towards fullness in Him. Simple arithmetic.
PS- I’ve wanted to make myself available for anyone with prayer requests, comments or questions, concerns, or even just to talk – firstname.lastname@example.org