“How Will You Spend Your Day?”
Matthew 6:33

It's time. The final final was taken. The last sentence of your last paper is written. Your bags are packed. Plans are made. The car has gas in the tank. It’s time. Almost. All that is left for you is to hear your name, walk across the stage, and receive what you have been after these four years. All that is left is to commence.

By Rev. Dr. Trygve D. Johnson, the Hinga-Boersma Dean of the Chapel
Sunday, May 16, 2021
Pine Grove
Holland, Michigan

Its Time

It's time. The final final was taken. The last sentence of your last paper is written. Your bags are packed. Plans are made.  The car has gas in the tank.  It’s time.  Almost.  All that is left for you is to hear your name, walk across the stage, and receive what you have been after these four years. All that is left is to commence. 

Can you believe it’s been four years? Four short years ago, you arrived at Hope, wide-eyed, nervous, wondering if you would find your way, find your people and place, discern a major, whose narrow path would lead you to the day of commencement. Now here you are. Caps. Gowns. Adults.  With proud parents ready to take your picture. As they should. They have every reason to be proud of you. As are we – all of us at Hope College – proud of you!

You – the class of 2021 will go down in history.  You are the Covid Class.  You did something special – because you are special.  You led our students through the most disruptive moment in the history of higher education.  It was hard.  Unprecedented. Nothing was normal about this year.  Nothing was easy or could be taken for granted.  It took something to do what you did.  Grit.  You choose to dig in.  You didn't complain, you embodied the determination of hope.  You practiced perseverance.  This morning I see the future, and I have confidence, because no matter what you do in life, this moment will serve you well.  We could not be more proud of you - of what you endured - and how you endured it.  You made us all very proud.  Thank you! 

Now, open before you is the future.  It’s an expansive and undefined country, whose mountains and valleys, will be filled with new adventure and stories.  As you head into the future I am thinking of the wisdom of Annie Dillard, who in The Writing Life, offers us a simple word of advice: "How you spend your days is, of course, how you spend your life."

This is it. Your future is simply a collection of your days. And how you spend your day is how you are going to spend your life. I’m curious, how will you spend your days? It’s important to answer. You can spend a life chasing a day, and discover that you missed your life. But if you can discern what is a good day - a best day - and pursue it – every day - over and over again - well then you will have discovered the wisdom of a life worthy of living.  

So, how will you spend your day? 

To help answer the question, I'd like to give you a word from Jesus, that may help as you commence into the wide-open country of your future.  It's a simple verse. But if you groove its wisdom into your soul, and play it over and over again in your imagination, it may serve as a compass to help you navigate wherever your future leads you. 

 A Compass for the Future

It’s from Matthew 6:33, in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, “But strive first for the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

It’s a small verse, but its consequence is immense.  Jesus invites us to spend your days on the narrow foot-path that leads us, farther up, and further into the high-country of the Kingdom of God, where the air is thin, and the glory is thick.  God’s Kingdom, and God’s righteousness, is where I hope you spend your day. For how you spend your day is, of course, how you will spend your life. 

I'm guessing that some of you may be nervous or even anxious about what's the future.  To be perfectly honest with you, I was as scared as I was excited to commence into the future. I had always had school – a system built in that gave me a context.  When I graduated from college, I didn't have a job. I didn't have my "next" thing lined up, my fiancé broke up with me - I was sad, with no money, no job, and going home to live with my parents. Yes.  I felt a little drift as the currents were moving me forward, and I was unsure, even scared, of what was around the bend of my life. But I read this verse from Jesus - and what preceded it - and it gave me a hope - or reframed my anxiety and worry. Listen again to Jesus - “But strive first for the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

I didn’t know what was next – exactly – but I knew there was something more to strive towards.  

Matthew 6:33 was a verse that was like a flashlight to shine into my murky future.  I didn’t know what was next exactly, but I knew I needed to be intentional, and prioritize my life towards a larger purpose.   Maybe you need to hear this.  Maybe, you’re someone today who feels a little lost, adrift, as the currents of life pull you into an undefined future?  What do you do if you feel a little lost? Listen to Jesus.  Strive.  First.  For The Kingdom of God.  That is how you can spend your day, which is of course, how you will spend your life.   


Strive, seek, which means to be intentional.  Let your days be guided by an intentionality that reflects your deepest and best desire. Don’t worry what others think.  Life is too short.  Don’t apologize for striving, seeking, something specific.  The good things in life are not vague.  The best things are particular.  But you have to seek them out.  The trick – of course – is you have to find what the best things are – what is most valuable – to strive after!  To know what to strive after is the key to a flourishing day, which leads to a flourishing life.  But you have to seek it.  You have to take ownership of your life, by taking responsibility for what it is you are going to strive after.  

What I often hear from recent graduates is that the transition after college can at times be hard.  The reason is that for most of your life you have always had a school to give you a kind of built-in community, with teachers, or coaches, mentors.  There were grades and methods of measurement to help you know how you are doing.  But once you commence - it may feel a little different.  For many of you, your community, friends, mentors may not be built into your life.  Now you have to seek it out now.  You have to be intentional. You have been in a school for your whole life.  Community has always been built into your life.  It was provided for you.  Now you have to seek it out.  

How do you seek it out? Be Practical. Find a good church, and attend it!  Don’t be shy about approaching someone older, who you respect, and ask if you can spend some time with them and glean some life wisdom.  Don’t waste your love on a screen, ask someone out in person.  Be intentional about putting yourself in situations where you can make and be a quality friend.  Strive, seek, a place and a people where you can be known.  It may take time.  Give yourself time.  Have patience.  But if you are intentional about striving after good things, then good things will find you.  


Second, if you are heading into the future and feeling a little lost, then prioritize your life.  Jesus says, “Strive first!”  This implies that there is a first thing to prioritize – that not everything should be weighed the same.  “Strive first” means prioritize your days.  You have to know the difference between what is first or second – or even last.  As you commence into life you will be required to make decisions that will prioritize your time, energy, talents, loves – and what you prioritize will shape your days, and your days will be the collection that shapes your life.  What will you prioritize first?

It’s not always easy.  Sometimes we can just float along – thinking if we just don’t make a decision – we can keep all our options open.  Don’t do that.  Don’t lose your nerve about making decisions that move your life forward.  Not making a decision is a decision.  The Christian life is lived between the decision of yes and a no.  Make a decision to say no to all that is false; decide early in life to reject and renounce all that is hateful and angry; decide each day to say no to sitting in the seat of the scoffer, the cynic, and the path that leads towards sin.  Saying no then gives you the space and the freedom to say yes.  

Prioritize each day this freedom to say yes to what is best in life.  What is best?  The Psalmist says that what is best is “law of the Lord, and on this law to meditate day and night.” (Psalm 1:2) What is the law of the Lord?  It is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all of your soul, and all of your strength, and all of your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.  To prioritize your yes to love the law of God is to become like a tree planted by streams of water, which will yield your fruit in its season, where your leaf will never whither, and in all you do you will prosper.  That is what I pray you prioritize each day. But you have to make it your priority!

Jesus calls you to spend your days on the hunt for that which is more consequential than material goods and services.  Jesus says plainly don’t make money your priority.  Don’t prioritize what you will eat, or drink, or what you will wear, or make your body your priority.  Jesus is not saying these things don’t matter, nor that you won’t get these things.  In fact, he promises you will.  He is merely saying there is something better – something – more worthy of your life’s primary ambition. 

The Kingdom of God

But what is the first order ambition?  Our “first-priority” is the quiet, steady seeking of God’s “Kingdom and righteousness”. Jesus’ invitation to prioritize the Kingdom of God is a summons to participate in a reality larger than yourself.  Or think of it this way, to strive for the Kingdom of God is to see the world with an alternative imagination.  To occupy a residence in the Kingdom of God is to be distinguished by a counter-cultural passport, as you seek to live-out the way of Jesus.  It’s he who gives us a different script, where forgiveness is prioritized or retribution, where responsibility is privileged over blame, and where despair is canceled by hope.  To strive first for the Kingdom of God means to live with God’s heart for the world.  

We see God’s heart for the world in Jesus.  He is the eternal Word made flesh, whose whisper of grace awakens you to participate in a world charged with transcendent wonder, as God’s Spirit invades and restores the soul from within, giving each day the meaning worthy of your life, as you locate yourself in the expansive geography of the Kingdom of God.

To strive first for the Kingdom is not a call to triumphalism. The Kingdom of God is not a place we conquer, nor a strategy to achieve, it is not an award we earn, nor is it found by will power, or a moralistic effort.  This is the good-news.  The Kingdom of God is a gift.  It is always a gift.  It is “his” Kingdom and “his” righteousness, which means that it is “his” to share and give away.  But if you seek it, you will find it.  That’s the promise. The Kingdom of God will be given to you, because Jesus has already gone ahead and prepared the way for you. 

For the Kingdom is entered by following the narrow path Jesus pioneered for all, when as God he took on flesh, and on the cross, suffered for all our sins, to reconcile us to himself, and each other, and then out of the darkness, like the risen sun, was raised as the light of a fresh new dawn, as the first born from the dead, to give us hope, and in order to set us free to run wild in the wide-open country of salvation.  Even now he is seated at the right hand of the Father, interceding for you – and for your future! So don’t worry about tomorrow.  Today is enough.  So today, strive first for his Kingdom and his righteousness, by looking for and following this risen Son of the new day.

Groundhog Day 

To strive first for the Kingdom of God implies that the Kingdom of God is not only a gift to be found, but that it is a grace that can be lived! Jesus is not inviting us out of the world, to embody a safe religious enclave, but rather he is calling us into the adventure of God’s life, in Christ, in order to send us out as his ambassadors of hope for the world.  We are called to do this every day.  Annie Dillard reminds us, “there are no shortage of good days, it’s good lives that are hard to come by.” What does that look like? 

One of my favorite movies I re-watched during the Covid shutdown was 1993 movie Groundhog Day.  Somehow it felt fitting!  Do you know the movie?  It’s the story of a cynical TV weatherman, Phil Connors, starring Bill Murray, who is forced to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  In the movie, Phil becomes trapped in a never ending "Groundhog Day", forcing him to relive February 2nd over and over and over again.  Each day waking up to an alarm clock playing “I Got You Babe” (by Sonny and Cher).  At first Phil panics. It’s the same day over and over again.  But then Phil realizes that he can do whatever he wants with no consequences to his actions. He doesn’t have to live by anyone else’s rules.  He begins spending indulgently, binge eating, one-night stands, robbery, and other dangerous activities, using his increasing knowledge of the day's events and the town residents to manipulate circumstances to his advantage.   But soon a day of relentless self-indulgence loses its enjoyment.  As Phil lives the same day over and over again, he discovers that his days are meaningless. Spending your days doing only what you want - for your own pleasure - leads to a life without any meaningful or enduring purpose.  So he learns.  He tries something new.  He begins to spend each day, in the pursuit of how to live well – how to improve – how to live a perfect day.  In the movie we don't know how many days Phil is living over and over again in Punxsutawney.  But in the end, we do know Phil learns how to spend the day.  We watch Phil discover that this small provincial town, wasn’t actually a town at all, as it was a school for the soul, that taught him that the best things in life are not the temporary things, but the permanent things.  We see Phil, the cynic, become trusting, where his focus on himself transforms into service to others.  By the end of the movie, we see Phil look around, seeing as if the first time the beauty of the world, and the people around him, and treating each day as an opportunity to live a good life.  By the end Phil learns that the perfect day is to live a life of love - over and over and over again.  

That is how I hope you spend your day. That is my prayer for you.  That you may live a life of love each day as you strive first for God’s Kingdom.   

It's time. It's time to hear your name – and to walk across the stage. It's time for your life to commence. Go with the knowledge of not only who you are, but whose you are! You are now and forever a people of Hope! Go forth and commence now and each day seeking first the Kingdom of God. For how you spend your day is, of course, how you will spend your life. Amen.