Dear Nephew,

“… do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgement and discretion; they will be life for you” (Proverbs 3:21-22a NIV).

Today you’ve met a milestone.

All those steps, from preschool until the present, have brought you to this occasion. Never can you go back, though the many miles include the gift of memories too numerous to count. Cherish those–even the ones that bring a bit of heartache, for from them you will learn and will better appreciate beauty and joy.

I remember when I first learned of you, and not long after you were born, I came to visit. I offered to take the night watch, and many minutes that night were spent holding you, walking with you, and speaking tenderly to you.

I told you about your momma, that sweet younger sister of mine who I love so much. Though I didn’t know your daddy as well, had only met him a handful of times, I knew he was a good and kind man, and I told you as much. And, most importantly, I told you about Jesus–how He’s your best friend, your Good Shepherd, your Guide.

As we walked those quiet hours, I sang to you the song your nana sang to me and to your momma–the lyrics time-tested and treasured by many.

Jesus Tender Shepherd hear me,

Bless this Little Lamb tonight.

Through the darkness be Thou near him;

Keep him safe ’til morning’s light.

(Mary Duncan, 1939)

I think you liked those words, believed them to be true, because you grew quiet as I sang–took a respite from the “fussies” as I call them. I’m convinced the strongest characters are often forged from those who fight the fiercest in the early days. It’s a sign of tenacity and perseverance, of finding one’s voice, even from the cradle, and you seemed to know this at the start.

Our Good Shepherd answered my midnight melody, because, since that night, nearly 7000 days have passed. That’s 168,000 hours, 10,080,000 minutes, and 604,800,000 seconds. And that’s a whole lot of safety sandwiched between those many sunsets and sunrises, storms and pleasant surprises. Oh, how I hope you smile when you imagine how much, in both happy times and sad, your Good Shepherd loves you. He will never leave you or forsake you. That’s His promise!

So on this day, as you step onto the stone marked “High School Graduation”–prepare to take that first step into a future filled with possibility–I pray, above all, you heed these words from Proverbs 3 because I believe they hold the keys to life, as verse 22 says.

And what, according to the wisest man ever, will specifically lead to life? This passage, written by King Solomon, says that it’s by keeping your sights upon, then determining to gain as well as maintain–

  • Wisdom
  • Understanding
  • Sound judgement 
  • Discretion

Indeed, Elijah Joseph, that is your goal, and the promised prize is life!

But how might one accomplish this, that he might truly live? That he might find contentment in the ordinary while seeing God’s extraordinary character in the faces of those around him and in the created world? That he might discover joy in his accomplishments while believing there’s value in unearthing those nuggets of truth found only in one’s losses, trials, and tribulations?

First, set your sights on growing in wisdom.

We’re told in Psalm 111:10 that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

One attains and maintains a holy respect for the Lord, which is what “fearing” truly means, when he spends time with Him, asking to be kept humble in His sight, all the while being used to bring God glory through his unique gifts and abilities.

And you have many, Eli. We pray you will always thank Him for the blessing of being used–whether in your amazing culinary talents, your athletic abilities, your gift of making and keeping friends, or your strong leadership skills.

Second, fix your attention upon understanding.

To understand is to discern truth, often times seeing that which isn’t obvious. It may lead to sympathy–empathy even–for others, with compassion. Or it may direct one to exhort, speaking truth in love to another that he or she might be guided in the right direction, kept from possible harm. It may even mean you make some enemies, because not everyone will understand.

Job 12:13 says, To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his. Thus, to grow in godly understanding is to become more like Jesus, and that again, Elijah, comes from spending time with Him–reading His Word and praying, as well as spending time with others who, like you, love Him and desire to be more like Him.

Third, strive to have sound judgement.

The definition of this is the capacity to assess situations or circumstances shrewdly and to draw sound conclusions (from Wordnet 3.0).

There are many who will tell you that there’s no real standard for assessing what is right and wrong because we live in a humanistic world. Therefore, most don’t measure morality by holding it up to God’s Word–determining actions’ rightness or wrongness based on what the Bible says.

This, dear Elijah, is dangerous and does not lead to the life that Proverbs 3 promises. On the contrary, it too often leads to death–death of relationships, death of careers, death of peace and joy, and more. Many who don’t adhere to this, however, may look successful–happy and at peace even. But as one who’s walked with Jesus for many years, I testify that there’s no lasting contentment in walking with the world, and I challenge you to discover this for yourself.

As Psalm 37 says, The spacious, free life is from Godit’s also protected and safe. God-strengthened, we’re delivered from evil—when we run to him, he saves us (vv. 39-40 The Message).

Having sound judgement, which comes from developing and living out a Christian worldview in our postmodern world, will lead to this kind of freedom, and freedom in Christ always results in abundant peace and joy!

Finally, have discretion.

Although this may seem contrary to the aforementioned since some define discretion as “not ruffling feathers” and “avoiding causing offense,” godly discretion, like sound judgement, entails looking to God’s Word, not the world, that one might be guided in his decisions. And sometimes this means stirring up the waters, so to speak.

A biblically discrete person, however, is able to hold a confidence, a sign of a trusted, faithful friend. Such a man, Eli, always takes matters before the Lord in prayer, believing God can handle any situation and nothing is too big or too small for Him.

In a world filled with boisterous backstabbers, the often quiet character of discretion is beautiful indeed. It is said–

Discretion is knowing how to hide that which we cannot remedy (Modern Proverb).

But I would say that, for the man of discretion, it’s actually hiding that which one can’t fix in the fully capable hands of Jesus in prayer. Yes, be a prayer warrior, dear nephew!

And so, Elijah Joseph, this is the path that leads to life. As Psalm 23:6 promises about our Good Shepherd, the One of whom I sang all those many years ago, the One who’s guided you to this very day–

 “Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

We are so very proud of you! What a joy it’s been to watch you grow and become the man you are today. Now, step forward into the wonderful plans and purposes God has for you, believing He will guide you along the right paths–for His glory and your good…

Forever and ever.