A Word to High School Graduates
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A Word to High School Graduates

Proverbs 3:5–6  (ID: 3606)

Just as a golfer wants his ball on the fairway, so we should want to keep on the path to eternal life. In this special graduation message, Alistair Begg expounds on the oft-cited verses of Proverbs 3:5–6, reminding us all—young and old—of God’s greatness and cautioning that putting our confidence in Him is an all-or-nothing deal. When we trust Him with all of our ways and all of our hearts, we can be sure that He will make our paths straight according to His good and perfect will.

Sermon Transcript: Print

So, this is basically a word from me to you, while other people can listen in as they choose.

I’ve known that I would have this privilege for quite a while, because we have a calendar that comes out, and so I’ve known that I would have the opportunity of sharing with Danny in this night. And from the moment I thought about it, I only had two verses in my mind. And it’s to these two verses that I want to turn in a moment. But the verses are from Proverbs. And when I mentioned it to Danny at the beginning of last week—I said, “I’ve had thought to speak from Proverbs”—he said, “Well, it’s interesting, but Proverbs is the most recent study that we’ve done as a young people’s group.” And I said, “Well, then that’s good, because you will know all about it. And any blanks that I leave you will be able to fill in as a result of the way that you’ve been taught.”

Proverbs, as you know, is essentially a course provided by Solomon for his children—he mentions his son all the time, but children across the board—a course in wisdom. And he teaches in a way that makes it fairly easy to grasp what he’s saying. It’s witty. He uses pictures. It’s very clear. He employs paradoxes. And throughout it all, it’s really quite difficult to say, “I’m not sure what he’s saying.” And so the two verses that I want to give to you to take away with you will be no surprise to you. These verses Bridges, the writer in the nineteenth century, referred to as the polestar of the Christian life,[1] the polestar being a mechanism for navigation. And here they are:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
 and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
 and he will make straight your paths.

Straightforward: to “trust in the Lord.” Who is this Lord? Well, the Lord is Jehovah. The Lord is God. The Lord is the one who revealed himself, you remember, to Moses when he was dispatching him to go to Pharaoh. And when Moses said, “Well, who am I supposed to say is sending me?” he said, “Tell Pharaoh that I Am is sending you.”[2] And he is the God of eternity. He is the God of Isaiah 40, who, when we are limited in our strength, he sits, as it were, above the heavens, and he gives strength to us.[3]

I begin there because it is vitally important that we understand what it means to “trust in the Lord.” C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity says,

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison—you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.[4]

Wells in his first book—I think The God in the Whirlwind—says the same thing: he says, “A God with whom we[’re] on … easy terms and whose reality is little different from our own,” who “is [mainly] there to satisfy our needs,” such a God “has no real authority to compel and will soon begin to bore us.”[5]

One of the questions that is always posed for folks in your stage of life in moving on to the next adventure is “Well, will they continue with God?” Well, the question is: Do they know God? Why would they continue with someone that they do not know? Do they know God as God? Do you know God as he has made himself known? Do you realize what a mystery and what a wonder it is that the God who is so above us and beyond us is the God who comes down to us and talks with us and makes himself known to us? And it is that God, that Lord, that Solomon says we are to trust. We are to trust in he who is self-existent. We are to trust in the one who’s the Creator, who sustains our lives, who is the everlasting God.

And we’re to trust him. “Oh,” you say, “that’s fine. I understand trust.” I mean, if I wanted to be silly, I could have you come up here and do that thing where you fall backwards, and I would catch you. But you probably wouldn’t trust me to do that at all, and it would fall flat.

But, you know, here’s something you might want to think about: it is possible to believe in God and yet to be trusting in someone or something other than God—possible to believe in God, say, “I’m a believer in God”… And the exhortation is not “Believe in God.” The exhortation is “Trust in God”—trusting in something or someone who provides for us what we long for: perhaps security, significance, happiness. Well, what kind of things might that be? Trusting in our grade point average. Trusting in our popularity. Trusting in our sporting achievements. Trusting in the fact that we have a boyfriend or we have a girlfriend. And it will only be when things go south, when the wheels come off, when the shadows come, when the rain beats on the deck of your home, metaphorically, that it will then reveal to you whether you trust in the Lord or whether you’re trusting in something else.

That trust is to be “with all your heart.” “All your heart.” It is to be entire. It is to be exclusive. And to do so is to make sure, in the negative, that you then “do not lean on your own understanding,” or you don’t rely on your own insight. Now, that doesn’t mean that you don’t think or you don’t make good decisions. Of course you do. But what it’s saying is that if you’re going to navigate your life relying on your intellect or relying on your intuition, you’re relying on the wrong thing. Do not rely on your own insight.

Years ago, I had torn out of a Sports Illustrated magazine a quote that I found so profound. It was a famous athlete; I forget who it was. And on the front of Sports Illustrated was this fellow. And he was described as “a rare human with both the positioning and the resolve to live by his own rules and attack life without regard to the demands or plans or standards imposed by others.”[6] And he was held up as a model. He doesn’t really pay attention to anything except his own agenda and himself. The contemporary perspective of so much of the world in which you are emerging from is to suggest to us that we will believe what we choose to believe, that we will bring everything under the scrutiny of our own intellect, of our own minds, no matter what it is—including the Bible itself. And so we will be tempted, by instruction and perhaps by desire, to say, “Well, I’ll believe the parts that I like, and then I won’t believe the parts that I don’t like. Because, after all, it’s for me to choose.” Not if you “trust in the Lord with all your heart” it’s not! Augustine said that, remember? He said, “If I believe the parts of the Bible I want to believe, and I disbelieve the parts that I don’t want to believe, then it’s not the Bible I believe. It’s myself.”[7]

The Lord is the one in whom we trust: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” Don’t rely on your own insight. “In all your ways acknowledge him.” “All your heart,” “all your ways”: totality. It’s fantastic, isn’t it? I mean, you don’t want to be in a love relationship where it’s only half your heart. You don’t want to end up with a boy who says, like, has some kind of corny valentine card that says, “My heart is like a cabbage divided into two: the heart I give to others, and the leaves I’ll give to you.” You’re like, “No you won’t. We’re not working on that basis at all. No! It’s all or nothing here. It’s all my heart, or it’s not my heart.”

That’s what he’s saying: “In all your ways,” in “all your heart,” making decisions in light of the Word of God; doing so on a daily basis; determining to do so directly, and promptly, and regularly, and consistently. “In all your ways”: roommates, vacations, study halls, whatever it might be, recognizing that our heavenly Father has such an interest in us as we move forward in life that he just delights to pour out his blessing upon us.

Whatever God has is always God’s best, no matter what it means for us. We can trust him entirely.

And that’s why we have at the end of Matthew 6, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added [unto] you.”[8] In other words, God says, “You take care of my things. Seek first the kingdom of God. Seek first my kingdom and my righteousness. You take care of my things, and I’ll take care of your things.” It’s very difficult not to get that upside down—say, “Well, if I take care of my things properly, then perhaps…” No, no. We’ve got to do it the way God says to do it.

As Danny has said: Sure, you got a big, fat Bible. Big deal. What are you going to do with it? Use it to prop up a chair or something? Or use it as a doorstop? “No, I’m not going to do that.” But are you going to use it so that you can say, “Well, we’re supposed to in all our ways acknowledge him”? That means I’m going to have to look and see what ways he has for me in the Bible, studying the Word with prayer, seeking the illumination of the Holy Spirit as we do so, reading our Bibles with a sense of investigation: “Lord, what is there for me to learn about you, about your fatherhood, about Jesus as a Savior, about the Holy Spirit as a Comforter? Where is there a promise for me to accept? Where is there a sin to avoid? Where is there a warning to heed?” Getting yourself a journal and making a note, finding something every day, out of your Bible reading, that you can chew on, like a boiled sweet that you can take into the day, and you can take it out, and you can suck on it, and you can say, “Well, I learned that today.” And then compare all the unfolding providences of your life in light of what you’re finding in the Word.

You see, none of this actually happens in a vacuum. We’re all dealing on multiple levels.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” Don’t rely on your own insight. “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” “He will make straight your paths.” Well, does that mean everything goes great? No. It says he has a path, and he has a path, and he will make it straight according to his plan and his design.

One of the things that I’ve learned along the journey of life to say to young people is this: keep your story simple. Keep your story simple. Do not live your life in such a way that you layer upon layer upon layer of that which complicates, confuses, and diverts you. Or, if you like, in golfing terms, keep your life in the fairway. Keep in the short grass. The out-of-bounds is clear. You know where they are. It’s not impossible to end up there.

But when you get out of bounds, wisdom says, “Take your penalty, and get back into where you came from.” Don’t compound the situation by lying about the fact that you were not really there or by moving the ball or by changing the circumstances. No, we have to say, “Lord Jesus, I got myself out of bounds here. But since you’re the God who keeps and corrects and provides, I can acknowledge that to you and ask you to keep me in the fairway.” What is the goal that he has for us? To make us like Jesus. It’s Philippians 3:14: “I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”[9]

That was Jim Elliot’s thing at Wheaton College all these years ago: he said that he was studying not for a bachelor’s degree but for his AUG, from 2 Timothy 2:15: “Study to shew thyself,” in the King James Version, “approved unto God.” He said, “That’s what I want to get out of this. I want to be approved unto God.” And he believed that he could trust in God with all of his heart. He believed that it was important—and you get it in his journals—to live in the fairway. And he dies as a martyr. So we know that whatever God has is always God’s best, no matter what it means for us. We can trust him entirely.

It would be amiss for me not to say something about interpersonal boy-girl relationships. After all, I’m a grandfather, and you must respect me. Let me just say a couple of things. Because the chances are, you go into college, you come back with some—you girls come back with some clown that your father’s going to say, “Get him out of here right now,” you know. And you have that big discussion and the whole deal. And so here’s a couple of tips. (Don’t come home with a clown. That’s number one.) No, here we go.

Boy-girl relationships are fraught. Never assume that a friendship is more than a friendship when it begins. Just never assume that the fact that you feel an attraction to someone of the opposite sex that is along the lines of fun in their company and whatever else goes along with that—never assume that a friendship is more than a friendship when it begins.

Establish boundaries for yourselves—the boundaries that are clearly present in God’s Word. If you’ve already violated these boundaries and find yourself in the out-of-bounds, then come to God, repent, acknowledge it, take a five iron, and hit the ball right up the fairway, and get back in the game. Okay? Do not allow the Evil One to drag you into garbage cans of sins that are regretted and forgiven. Do not allow him to do that. But the best way to handle it is don’t get yourself there. And one of the ways to make sure you don’t get yourself there is by establishing boundaries. Establish moral boundaries, like, on a Tuesday morning, when it’s freezing cold and pouring rain. You’ll do much better there than trying to establish those kind of boundaries on a hot Friday evening behind the pavilion in the local sports field.

One of the ways, you see, in which your Christian testimony is going to be revealed is the fact that you are delightfully, joyfully, purely different from the context in which you live. There’s a weirdness about that. I know this because I was once, a long time ago, where you are. And you know that I quote songs all the time. And you know that one of my favorites is, you know, “When all thy mercies, O my God, my rising soul surveys.” You know: “Unnumbered comforts to my soul your tender care bestowed.” But the one that I like the best, because it’s a testimony:

When in the slippery paths of youth
With heedless steps I ran,
Your hand unseen conveyed me safe
And brought me up to man.[10]

I’m not telling you stuff that is theoretical. This is the very Word of God. And God’s way is absolutely perfect. God is nobody’s debtor. You will never go wrong if you go right along the pathway that is straight to the goal.

Does it sound like a bunch of moralism? I hope not, because it isn’t. Because it is essentially to do what Paul says to the Philippians when he says to them, “I want you to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who’s at work in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure”[11]—so, in other words, that we’re working out that which God works in by the Holy Spirit.

And we ought not to think that this will be an easy task. Again, C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity: You remember the picture he has? He says,

Imagine yourself as a living house. And God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he’s doing: basic repairs. But then he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and doesn’t make sense. And the explanation is you thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage, but he is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it by himself.[12]

He is with us every step of the way. He is present at every movie I watch. He is present in my car as I drive alone. He searches us and he knows us because he loves us, because he wants the best for us. And all that we have been able to share with you within the framework of parental life and family life here at the church is, as Danny says, an immense privilege.

Christian young people have got the greatest adventure of all. They’ve got a Lord and a King. They’ve got a story to tell.

Let me finish just with an illustration that I thought about this evening when I was thinking, “How do I end this?” I don’t know where this came from. Somebody invented it, I think. But if you have ever gone trekking or hiking or mountain climbing, you will be able to identify with this to some degree.

But the story is told of a guide who was taking people on an ascent of Mont Blanc. And he assembled all of them for their kind of pre-trek training, and he explained that the approach to the summit would be demanding, and therefore, they needed to be prepared, and that it was absolutely imperative that they made the ascent only with the basic essentials. They would need their boots. They would need ropes. They would need basic essentials. “But beyond that,” he said, “I want you to bring nothing else.”

Well, when it came the morning for the departure, some bright fellow had shown up leaning to his own understanding. And he pointed out to the guide that he had always wanted to be able to take this particular blanket with him, that his mother had given him these gigantic bars of chocolate, and he had a very nice camera that had been given to him, and it had a telephoto lens. And he had the whole shooting match. And the guy said to him, he said, “Well, you cannot make the ascent with me bringing all that clobber.” “Well,” said the man, “fine. I will make the ascent on my own.” And as the guide and the group made their way up the mountain, they started to come on the stuff: the blanket, the chocolate, the camera lenses. And eventually, they found him there, only with the absolute essentials.

The person then said, “So it is in the journey of the Christian life. When people discover that they cannot make the top with all the other stuff they want to hold on to, they let the top go, and they settle down in the plain. And the plain is very full of tents.”[13]

Listen: “Trust in the Lord”—the Lord—“with all your heart.” Don’t try and figure it out on your own basis. “In all your ways acknowledge him.” He will make your paths straight.

Father, seal your Word to us, Lord, we pray—something here said, thought, pondered. Each of these young people represents so many more. And we thank you that the crazy world in which we live is a world of challenge, but it is also a world of opportunity. Christian young people have got the greatest adventure of all. They’ve got a Lord and a King. They’ve got a story to tell that penetrates the empty meaninglessness of life that is lived purely for our own agendas. And so I pray that you will strengthen and equip them with everything good. And for all of us—because whether we’re seventeen or seventy, the challenges remain the same: keep the ball in the fairway; keep the story simple; cut it out, by the empowerment of God and by the guidance of his Word. All my heart, all my ways, may they be under your sovereign care. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[1] Charles Bridges, An Exposition of the Book of Proverbs (New York: Robert Carter, 1847), 21.

[2] Exodus 3:13–14 (paraphrased).

[3] See Isaiah 40:22, 29, 31.

[4] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952), bk. 3, chap. 8.

[5] David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 93.

[6] Michael Silver, “Rodman Unchained,” Sports Illustrated, May 29, 1995, 22.

[7] Augustine, Contra Faustum 17.3. Paraphrased.

[8] Matthew 6:33 (ESV).

[9] Philippians 3:14 (paraphrased).

[10] Joseph Addison, “Why All Thy Mercies, O My God” (1712). Lyrics lightly altered.

[11] Philippians 2:12–13 (paraphrased).

[12] Lewis, Mere Christianity, bk. 4, chap. 9. Paraphrased.

[13] S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks with World Winners (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1908), 55. Paraphrased.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.