A Message for the Class of 2021—and You
Graduations are happening everywhere this time of year. I had the honor of participating in one of them, as I’d like to show you. But first, let’s talk about the Class of 2021 in general: the Class of covid.
In America, education was already suffering. We spend an estimated $16,000 per year on every single student in this country, 60 percent more than the average nation. Yet we lag well behind in academic performance. One study found that American students ranked 38 out of 71 in math and 24th in science. Why? Partly because schools are devoting more and more time to weaker, irrelevant and downright wrong studies like gender issues and critical race theory. Part of it is that our schools are filled with distractions, disrespect for teachers, cheating, emotion, romance, pregnancy, drugs, and an overall lack of fire for learning—so much besides actual education in language, history, math, science, art, sports and morality.
But then came covid-19. It forced more than 50 million children to stay home from school in favor of remote learning. Whatever spark for learning a student might have had now had to survive confusing governmental guidelines, canceled classes and extracurricular activities, little to no face-to-face interactions, endless fiddling with computer connections, and spending day after day after day in their kitchen or bedroom trying to learn from a screen—if they showed up at all. Imagine being an 18-year-old or maybe a 12-year-old spending an entire academic year like this. And for seniors, this all occurred just as they were preparing to launch into adulthood.
What will be the effects? Researchers from the Brookings Institute estimated that America’s already lagging educational system lagged a further 30 percent this year due to covid school closures. Axios reported yesterday that America’s loss of gross domestic product from a lost year of education will be in the multiple trillions of dollars. Last August it said that academics are basically falling off a cliff—a result that “is expected to have deep social and economic repercussions for years—if not decades—to come.” Students are feared to be “missing key academic milestones, falling behind grade level and in some cases dropping out of the educational system altogether.” Studies have revealed mental health problems related to loneliness and isolation. Last year the World Bank estimated that some 7 million students worldwide could drop out of school due to the pandemic. Globally, a school shutdown of five months could cause learning losses amounting to $10 trillion.
On at least one school, though, all these closures had the effect of swelling the student body.
Imperial Academy is a kindergarten-through-12th-grade school sponsored by the organization that produces the Trumpet. In addition to a brick-and-mortar school on the campus of our offices, we offer an online school for children elsewhere—and enrollment in that option notably increased this past year.
Imperial Academy hosted its graduation ceremony two weeks ago. In the commencement address, I spoke to the students about the importance of their education—and building a fire for learning and for truth.
Irish poet William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” That’s a terrific description not only of the glow, the radiance, the excitement of true education, but also of the challenge.
Filling a pail is fairly straightforward. Lighting a fire can be quite difficult.
If you are a regular Trumpet reader and someone who believes in the Bible, you are coming into contact with truth: rare, precious, hopeful, practical, inexorable truth. Yet even with the truth in their hands, many people lack the passion to pursue it, to use it in their lives. They don’t have the fire.
What about you? Do you have that spark that fires your engine, that urges you forward, that motivates you to seek and study and understand the truth, that drives you to put the truth into action, that impels you to seek great things, that propels you toward God’s destiny for you?
That kind of fire is not easy to build.
At our youth camp in England a few summers ago, I taught teens in Outdoorsmanship class how to build a fire. We covered the fact that a fire needs three elements: fuel, oxygen and heat. But it needs the right kind of fuel. You have to gather tinder, kindling and fuel wood. You have to use these in the right amount at the right time, or you’ll smother it. It needs the right amount of oxygen. You have to structure your fire to allow in enough air, but you also have to protect it from too much wind that would blow it out. We also had to protect against summer rain from those English skies. Even with all the right elements, it was still difficult to get those fires lit!
Early on, a fire is vulnerable, easy to extinguish. But the stronger it gets, the more resistant to the elements it becomes, and the more you can feed it with bigger, more substantial fuel.
For our Imperial Academy youths, for our Trumpet readers, for any and all who are interested in hearing God’s message from the Bible, we are trying to supply good fuel and good oxygen. (Generally it is the student—or you the reader—who must bring the heat.) This isn’t easy. Sometimes we give you a log when you are at the kindling stage. Sometimes we blow too hard on that spark you might have—or not hard enough. But we have the truth, we have a fire for it, and our goal and purpose is to share that with you.
You live in a world that, more than ever, is filled with factors that smother and extinguish that fire. In fact, it would be impossible if God was not sheltering you to some degree from those elements.
But it’s still up to you to build that fire. And it takes a lot of work, even in good conditions like those our students are blessed with.
As I told the students, hard work is crucial especially when that fire is new in your life, especially when it is small. It takes a lifetime of work to light and tend and build this “fire in my bones” as the Prophet Jeremiah described it.
A young person—or an old person—with a blazing fire for God is on the path to greatness, no matter what gusts, rains and unexpected storms life brings.
Think about a teenager named David. He had a lowly job of tending sheep. It was humdrum work, away from the excitement, away from the “important” stuff, even away from other people. Many of his nights probably passed by the campfire.
But he poured his whole heart into that job! He was so protective of those sheep, that when a bear attacked and again when a lion attacked, he threw his strength and sinew into battling them with his bare hands! And on those many, many, many, much less dramatic days in the fields, he worked. He prodded himself to master the slingshot. He taught himself to learn the harp to a royal level. He wrote poetry. He contemplated the stars. He pondered the deep questions of life. He built a roaring zeal for the God of the universe!
God loved the fire in that that boy’s heart. And look at what God did in his life! He raised him up to become king of His nation, and He established his dynasty as a throne over all of mankind that will last for eternity—when we will go out to those stars!
God will take any young person who thinks like that and works like that on a thrilling adventure. That is what He wants to do with you. He will test you—with a tempest, with a bear, with a lion, with the mundane—to see how much fire you have. And he will add more and more sticks and logs, building your life and your fire into something bigger, bolder and stronger.
Over the past 24 hours, people have been looking at the heavens to see the “blood moon” in eclipse. Tonight, look up and you will see it 238,000 miles away. But take just a minute to look at the rest of the sky. You’ll see more than 3,000 stars. Fires.
God created the world, the solar system and the universe itself for you to have that view. Without several factors being just so, we would never be able to see it. Even advanced telescopes would be unable to discern what is out there. But we see the same starry sky David saw. We see immense, nuclear blazes across the light years, across time and space. We see the ancient past, because most of those twinkles are so far away that the light you see tonight left them eons ago.
In those stars, we also see the future. The Creator who gives you that view every night is telling you that your future stretches to eternity, to the stars! His master plan is a Family plan for revolutionizing this planet and millions beyond.
Does that come across to you as a nice sentiment or an inspirational quote? Or is it fire in your bones?
The God who made those stars and you wants you to dream big! He wants you to burn bright! Stop distracting yourself with the world around you. Stop focusing on yourself. Look up at your future! And look down at your fire.
You can’t fake it, and you can’t just work yourself into it under your own power. God has to give you that spark. But chances are very good that if you are reading this He has given it to you. He is giving it to you now. And you do have to work at it.
And keep drawing closer to the God who created all that—the same awesome God who is also taking care of even the small details in your life. Put your life in His hands. When you do that, you never know exactly which path He will take you on. But you know that He is taking you somewhere beautiful and filled with light.
Think about a teenager named Joseph. He had dreams. He dreamed that the lights of the heavens—the sun, moon and stars—bowed down to him. He had a vision of being great, a ruler of men. But he was one child in a large family, growing up in the desert. Yet through those dreams, God actually gave him glimpses of his future!
And Joseph didn’t ignore them. He didn’t walk away from them. He didn’t get distracted by other things. He didn’t get tired of waiting. He didn’t let other people discourage him.
He was driven. This made others hate him for it and for his dreams. But he didn’t mind that. And he never let that stamp out his fire. He believed in those dreams.
And when his life took unexpected, frustrating, seemingly disastrous turns, he cherished those dreams. He was enslaved, meaning his days were filled with the lowliest, most degrading jobs you can imagine. What did he do? He worked hard! He made himself indispensable, in fact. A fire in him prodded him to not only endure his grueling work but to excel in it. His dreams from his God made him too impassioned, too intense, too red-hot for uncertainty, injustice or even temptation to quench him. They made him determined, patient and close to God.
God was able to use his zeal to exalt him to the second-highest office in a mighty world empire. All those impossible dreams became reality!
You have an even greater future than that young man had. For each of us, the pathway to that future is different. Sometimes God will allow you to get thrown into a pit, only to bring you out and then plunge you into an even worse trial! Sometimes God will allow things to seem like they are moving in the opposite direction of where you want your life to go. Sometimes they will seem like they aren’t moving at all.
But all of that becomes secondary when you are on fire for God! Keep that fire burning. Never stop believing in those dreams. Never lose the vision God gives you of your future every time twilight comes.
“The path of the just is as the shining light,” Solomon wrote, “that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18). That is the path God has for you. Stay with Him, and you can guarantee your future is as bright as a cloudless sunrise—and as luminous as a night sky brimming with stars!
Dream big. Whether you’re a new grad, a stay-at-home mom, a 50-something shop foreman, an 80-something great-grandfather, throw yourself into the life God leads you into with all your might.
Stoke that fire God has lit in you. Never ignore it. Never neglect it. Never let this tired, noxious world snuff it out. Let it urge you forward. Let it drive you to seek great things.
Don’t take a single day for granted, because the next day may bring an unexpected turn. Treat every day as the gift it is, with gratitude and humility. Smile, and make the most of the moment. Keep your eyes on the horizon. Put your life in God’s hands.
If you can learn to do that, your life will shine more and more as you make your way into the future. It will burn brighter and brighter with miracles of the dramatic and miracles of the everyday, wrought in your life by your Creator.
Feed that fire. Stay close to God. Work hard. Keep your eyes on the stars, and trust the Father of lights as He leads you down whatever path He chooses. It leads to you becoming brighter than the stars themselves.