A Speech Given to Graduates By Jeff Keaton, Renewanation Founder & CEO
Perhaps the greatest thing I underestimated on the days I graduated from high school and college was the value of experience as the preeminent teacher in life. Maybe you’re different than I am, but I pretty much have to live through something before I can really grasp the meaning of it.
May I share with you a few of the lessons life and time have taught me? I say a few because time would not permit me to share even a fraction of the things I have learned since I graduated. These are certainly not all of the great lessons life has taught me, but I want to highlight some that may help you on your journey through life.
Hopes and dreams are beautiful and necessary parts of life.
A heart filled with hopes and dreams is the fuel for attempting something great in this life. People who have lost their hopes and dreams refuse to take risks or aim for greatness. As young people, you haven’t been beaten and battered like some of us who are a little older, and so you’re not afraid to try to do the impossible.
The kingdom of Jesus here on earth needs your hopes and dreams. We need you to be willing to risk greatly for the cause of Christ. The hard part is keeping your hopes and dreams alive once you have experienced grave disappointment and failure.
I burst out of college ready to take over the world for Christ. As I worked in the trenches of ministry, I discovered it wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. Satan did his best to stop me at every turn. Yet the hopes and dreams that burned in my heart drove me to attempt to do things that others thought couldn’t be done.
Over the last 23 years of ministry, we haven’t taken over the world for Christ, but we have seen countless lives transformed by the power of Christ. I had no idea how hard the work would be. I didn’t realize that often people who called themselves Christian would be our greatest obstacles. I didn’t know that many would start the journey with Christ and then abandon Him and us.
Even though I am wiser and perhaps a bit more cautious than I was 23 years ago, somehow I have not lost my hopes and dreams. At 48 years of age, I am attempting to do something that is far greater than anything I have ever done before.
Know this: when God fills your heart with hopes and dreams, Satan will do everything in his power to crush them. He will use people like Joseph’s brothers to work against you. But like Joseph, you must never surrender what God places in your heart. Not many still have their hopes and dreams intact at 50 years old. Stay close to Jesus and follow his plan so you can still hope and dream when you get to my age.
Life is not a fairytale but it can be filled with peace and joy.
If you enter your adult life believing that you will be happy as long as everything goes well, you are getting ready to be miserable! Without a doubt, everything will not go well. In fact, much will go wrong.
You will not marry a prince or a princess, nor will your spouse meet all of your expectations. You will have to wash the dirty socks that men often forget to throw in the laundry basket. She will not wake up every day looking like the moment she walked down the aisle. You will not get a job that is easy or get a pay raise once a month.
Life is life, and it is often a great challenge. However, for the person who does not have false expectations and lives with Christ at the center and eternity in view, life can be filled with wonderful moments of peace and joy.
You will fail, but you must not let failure define you!
All of you have studied the life of Abraham Lincoln. You know about his many failed efforts at getting elected to public office. If he had been like most people, he would have stopped trying, and our nation may have been destroyed as we know it. We are only failures when we give up and stop trying.
We learn far more from failure than we do success. I once heard about a man who made a mistake that cost his company $50,000. Someone said to his boss, “Aren’t you going to fire him?” The boss said, “Are you kidding me? I just spent $50,000 teaching him a lesson he will never forget.”
If we are going to use failure as a great teacher, we must learn to take full responsibility for our failures and mistakes. We must always get up and try again. My dad use to tell me, “Son, always be up or getting up!” You will fail, but you must not allow yourself to become a failure.
Your greatest growth in life will take place in your most difficult days.
I have rarely learned anything when life was easy, but I have learned a lot when life was hard. I’m just like anyone else when it comes to fussing and whining about difficult circumstances in life. I fully admit that I cry out to God for deliverance in the midst of every tough time, and I rarely understand what I am learning until the challenging time is over. However, I have learned that if I stay true to God—even when I can’t understand why He is allowing something difficult to take place in my life—I come out of those times wiser, stronger, and more prepared to be successful in life.
Do not try to take shortcuts around life’s difficulties. Do the right thing, and you will develop into a strong, trustworthy, and successful person. Those who choose to take shortcuts, whether in their marriage, ministry, jobs, etc. never reach their full potential. You cannot become a significant person without walking faithfully through the fire of life’s difficult circumstances!
Bad people and good people will let you down.
I wish I could tell you that everyone you admire will meet all your expectations. Unfortunately, I can’t. If I had not had my eyes fixed on Jesus, my faith would have been greatly damaged years ago.
At some point in adulthood, you will lose your innocence. You will discover things about people that will hurt you and shock you. Some you thought were saints; you will discover are far from it. Some saints you admire will stumble.
I’ve had many un-churched people tell me the reason they don’t go to church is because of all the hypocrites at church. They seem surprised when I agree with them. I’ve seen enough hypocrites to make me an atheist, but I’ve also seen enough genuine Christians to make me want to know their Jesus.
Jesus is the only person who will never let you down. Set your heart and eyes on Him. Keep a close relationship with Jesus so that you can know Him intimately. Only then will you be able to withstand the disappointment people bring into your life.
You will never know so much that you don’t need others to coach, lead, and mentor you.
Every person needs people who are above and beyond them to offer advice, constructive criticism, and honest evaluation. When we fail to surround ourselves with people who will challenge and grow us, we are setting ourselves up for failure.
One of the greatest yet most difficult lessons to learn is that we need the objective input of others in our life. We also need to learn from those who might be under us or not as far down the road of life as we are. Often those who live in our home or work under us see our weaknesses in a far greater light than we do. When we are willing to r