On Monday, I graduated high school!!! The good old days? Maybe. The best days of my life? Shoot, I hope not. Looking back on the past four years, each was different and some much more fun than others, but overall an accurate word for getting through the maze of high school is perseverance. Whether you’re in 9th grade or college, there are endless distractions fighting for your attention. I want to share a verse with you that simply explains the way I have attempted and hoped to live my life in high school– eyes on Jesus.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
This is one of the first verses I ever memorized, and only because I was in a running club in like 4th grade. Our coach helped us memorize the first part as we ran, and it has stuck with me ever since. Running a race doesn’t exactly sound relevant to high school, but do you ever feel that way? Like you’re out of breath, too busy to slow down, stuck between “good” and “bad,” trying to figure out who you want to be? I know I was. I spent most of high school striving… struggling… achieving… but my eyes were on the wrong race most of the time. Instead of living joyfully with passion, I usually just tiptoed around the obvious “bad” things and put my hope in a good reputation, crippled by the fear that I would never be good enough for God to be happy with me.
It is so easy for our gaze to shift downward. When we start focusing horizontally instead of vertically, the glorious fixation on heaven is lost and our hearts shrivel up in hostile selfishness. Suddenly, our gaze is on others and our own desires and we are competing desperately for love and attention and worth. We may find a false sense of hope that lasts for a moment, in a compliment or relationship or well-liked Instagram picture, but it all leaves us empty in the end. Jesus is the only thing worthy of our attention. Gazing at things created instead of the Creator always leaves us grasping for the real thing, something that can actually hold our attention and satisfy. On May 15th, the day after graduation, this passage was in my New Morning Mercies* devotional.
“One of the things we forget is that the major, big deal war in our lives is not a war with the things outside; us it’s the war that still rages inside us. In every situation, location, and relationship there is a war for control of our hearts. This is the war of wars because we were made by God to live out of our hearts. This means that what rules are hearts shapes our words and actions. So the big war is not any of the smaller wars we have with other people, debt, material possessions, sex, and so on. No, the war is more foundational than all of these. It is captured by 2 Corinthians 5:15: “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him for their sake died and was raised.” Will we live for ourselves, reducing life down to the small confines of our wants, feelings, needs, demands, expectations, and so on, or will live for God? It all sounds so theological, but it is very practical. Every day you attach the hopes and dreams of your heart, your satisfaction, and your joy to something. Every day you look to something to give you life. Every day you give yourself to something in the hope that it will give you peace and joy. Every day you attach your identity to something, and there are only two places to look. You are either looking for life in the creation and are on your way to crushing disappointment, or you are looking to the Creator and are on your way to lasting peace of heart.” (Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies)
Living for myself infinitely shrinks the potential of my life. Like Tripp said, “our wants, feelings, needs, demands, expectations…” are CONFINING. They keep us from experiencing the freedom that comes with surrender in the war between flesh and spirit.
What are you attaching your identity to? It can be something illegal or “innocent,” that is beside the point. Don’t you want to be free? You can’t run very effectively while tied to the ground. The sin and distractions have to be thrown off. Seriously, like pretend you have spiders all over you or something.
There is a war for your heart because you are important and loved. You do have a unique purpose, and you can start now in high school. The world (and the enemy) says: “Waste these years and there will be no consequence. Everyone does it. You can take your faith seriously later, after college. Just have fun right now, that’s what high school is all about. Go ahead, do whatever makes you feel good.” But God, the one who loved you enough to die, extends his offer as well. His offer is purpose, joy, life– today. Not later, not when you’re older, but today. This is my testimony: the times when I was in the will of God, full of purpose, and following Him wholeheartedly brought so much more joy than all of the temporarily fun activities of high school combined. And you can absolutely have your eyes on Jesus and still have so much fun. “Run with perseverance,” He says, be free from “the sin that so easily entangles,” and that’s where the real living begins.
I exit high school with no guilt, enemies, or shame, and I thank my gracious Father for holding my face up to fix my eyes on Him. It saved me so much heartache. It was a race of striving to be faithful to Him, and I failed A LOT. Living for myself didn’t work and never will. Look at 2 Corinthians 5:15 again: “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him for their sake died and was raised.” Our freedom from living as slaves to sin/flesh/self is the purpose of the cross. He sees our confinement, our mysterious misery that makes us turn to alcohol, drugs, and sex for numbness even when we look happy on the outside, and he said “I will die so that they can live for me and be free from this trap of sin.”
“Just look at me, keep your eyes fixed on mine. I will guide you while you run. I will protect you while you run. I have already endured this and more. Endless joy is set before you and the fullness of Me, the only thing that can satisfy, is yours!!”
So that race you feel like you’re in, its real. You’ve got voices and opinions coming at you from every angle and everyone is watching. But please, lift your eyes from the horizontal to the vertical– from out at the rat race to up towards eternity. Purpose is waiting there, because high school can be so much more than a series of mistakes and heartache. It’s not about avoiding sin or willing yourself to be a good Christian. No! Look at Jesus, get to know Him, let him love you. “And the things of earth become strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.*”
*Hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” by Helen Howarth Lemmel