Daniel on Graduation Day

Our family was living in south Texas when my oldest two children ‘graduated’ from first grade. That’s right, I said ‘graduated’. Don’t get me wrong, I was proud of them for doing their best in school, getting good report cards, and being recognized for doing well. But there is just something about the way we reward every child in the same way, no matter how well or poorly they do that seems to totally devalue all of the hard work and praise given to them.

Do we honestly believe children are so shallow in their understanding that when we reward them all in the same manner year after year, no matter how much work they put in or what grade they receive, that they will strive to achieve even higher goals set before them? I think most kindergarteners would be happy with an ice cream cone from Dairy Queen and a great big hug from mom and dad on the last day of school, letting them know that they are proud of them. Graduation should be reserved for something really special.

The apostle Paul made similar arguments. He often described our lives on Earth to that of an athlete or a soldier. Even as children we recognize quickly that not everyone can be an Olympian and even if we could, only a few would ever win! Paul states, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” (I Cor 9.24)

Do not be fooled by popular preachers who teach that to call yourself a Christian is all that is needed to get to heaven. Just believing in God is not enough, we must run the Christian race with endurance and self-control or else we will be disqualified (I Cor 9.27). Can a disqualified Olympian still receive the gold medal? What about a disqualified Christian, can they still receive a crown of life?

Judgment day is not the same as first grade graduation. Not everyone will be rewarded with a eternal crown no matter how they lived. Only those who love God, follow His example, obey His will, endure, keep their eyes straight ahead on Jesus, and press on toward the finish line will be rewarded. Paul says, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ” (Php 3.14). He still keeps our eyes focused, even today, on that great prize no matter how difficult things may be. I too encourage us all to run the Christian race with patience and love for God, following in the footsteps of Jesus. In the end, the reward will be far greater than we ever imagined it would be.