On April 18th, 2015 I was honored to receive the Alumnus of the Year award and to give the commencement speech at Columbia Bible College. My speech was about what I’ve learned these past 14 years since I graduated. Basically, if I could go back in time, I gave the commencement speech I would have given my graduating class. Here’s a snapshot of what I talked about…
I grew up in a poor and broken family. My parents separated when I was four years old, leaving my mother to raise four children on her own. She got a job at a bank, working hard to care for us all. In many ways, my mom sacrificed her dreams and desires for the sake of her children. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never forgotten the way she would pull me aside while I was growing up, and say, “Andy. I know you will do great things with your life.”
I knew my mom meant those words to encourage me, but instead they became a burden! When you’re a kid, doing great things is fairly easy, like graduating from diapers or learning to ride a bike. However, the older I got, the more complicated it became. The truth is: I didn’t want to disappoint my mom, but at the same time, I had no idea how to accomplish “great things.”
I mean, what exactly qualifies?
Have you ever noticed how Western culture defines people by their accomplishments? After all, what are the first two questions we ask people when we meet them for the first time? “What’s your name?” and “What do you do for a living?” The answers to those questions tell us everything that we need to know in order to judge their success, and ultimately their worth, by Western standards. We may call it “climbing the corporate ladder,” but it’s really a career caste system; some careers are at the top and some are at the bottom, and nobody is confused about which is which. I mean, where does a Supreme Court judge rank? How about a surgeon? Or a gas station attendant? You get my point. Dress your profession up with a technical name, but at the end of the day, who are we really fooling? If we’re honest with ourselves, we are all guilty of placing others and ourselves in the career caste system.
So, what’s the alternative?
If your name and profession don’t define you, what should?
Saint Augustine famously began his masterpiece, Confessions, by saying, “The heart of man is restless until it rests in God.” Augustine realized that success, wealth, and greatness can never truly satisfy us. After all, there will always be more to succeed at, more wealth to acquire, and someone will always be greater than you! Instead, Augustine reminds us of what Jesus taught: that we were made in the image of God and that our success, wealth, and greatness is not found in us but in him. Doing great things is accomplished when I reflect God’s image, not my own. And what is the image of God? It’s Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together – a relational image – love.
Jesus was asked, what’s the most important thing to get right in this life? He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbour as yourself.”
Consider this: it’s often said that we come into the world with nothing and leave it with nothing. However, that isn’t what the Bible teaches. Instead, the Bible makes it clear that we come into this world bearing the image of our creator and, if we so choose, we can reflect that image in this life. On the day we’re called home, we bring with us the love in which we lived this life.
The Apostle Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 13, “Now we have these three things, faith, hope and love but the greatest is love.”
Why is love the greatest?
Simply because when we die we will no longer need our faith and our hope will finally be fulfilled. The only thing remaining will be the love, we have for God and people, in which we have lived our life.
Want to do great things with your life? Jesus’ answer is simple:
Want more? Check out Andy Steiger’s new book Thinking? Answering Life’s Five Biggest Questions.