What Matters Most? Diplomas or Dependence?
What matters most? Diplomas or dependence on God? I remember my seminary graduation so vividly. Although rain had been in the forecast throughout the week, the sun cast warm rays over the assembled crowd the morning of May 18 as Southern prepared to celebrate its newest graduating class.
As I sat among the 284 other graduates awaiting my diploma, my mind reflected over the last four years and the training I had just completed. So many thoughts and emotions flooded my mind. I realized that my seminary years contained some of my most joy-filled moments as well as some of the most trying challenges in my life. While at Southern I wrestled through my calling to vocational ministry, grew in gifting, waged war against sin, and dug deeply into God’s Word. Four years flew by. Never would I have imagined that I would make the lifelong ministry friends I have made here. Never would I have thought that professors would care for me and love me as their own daughter. Never could I have anticipated that during my time in seminary I would go through tailor-made trials that God used in my life to conform me more closely into the image of His Son. Truly, as I sat there on the seminary lawn, all I could do was marvel at God’s goodness in my life and realize how underserving of all these blessings I truly am.
When one thinks of graduation, most people think of strength because you’ve accomplished so much. You’ve finished the hard work. You’ve done your due diligence. You’ve crossed the finish line. However, if I am being transparent, I wasn’t feeling very strong in the moments before I received my diploma. When Dr. Adam Greenway called out my name: “Oksana Petrovna Viyuk,” I actually felt weak. As I walked across the stage, shook Dr. Mohler’s hand, and received my diploma, I was acutely aware of my own failings, feeling tired, and somewhat weary as I reflected on the pain and trials of the last four years. All I could do was look up and thank God for His faithfulness and strength. It was all Him.
During the ceremony, Dr. Mohler spoke a message that struck my heart. The words that continue to reverberate in my heart are what he said at the beginning of the ceremony: “I want to tell you graduates, as I look at you, you look very strong. You look good. You look healthy. You look ready. But you are not strong, and you are not ready. You are not up to the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ — not one of the ministers of the gospel of Christ is sufficient. Every single one of us at every single moment is dependent on another’s strength. We are never weaker than when we think we are stronger, and we are perhaps never stronger than when we sense that we are weaker.”
In that moment, truer words could not have been spoken to my anxious heart. The tasks ahead can seem dauting. The challenges of vocational ministry can seem overwhelming. For four years my professors have reminded me that PEOPLE are the ministry; helping them know and follow Jesus. This is a high calling and I know that as I embark on the next part of God’s plan for my life, ministry won’t get easy. In fact, it will probably get harder. However, I take comfort in knowing that ultimately God doesn’t need any of us to accomplish His plans. God is sovereign, and His plans are unstoppable. But He graciously allows us to take part in His redemptive work. Only God can change hearts. Only God can resurrect the dead to life. Whose power is sufficient to care for and save souls? Jesus Christ. These precious truths washed over my soul as Dr. Mohler charged me and the other graduates to rely on the sustaining strength of Jesus.
In short, the emotions and thoughts that I wrestled with during graduation encapsulate truths that I’ve learned throughout my time at Southern. One of these is that I can’t lead from my own strength. None of us can lead without Christ. We cannot lead people in ministry if we aren’t centered in the Word of God (Col. 3:17). We cannot lead when the Bible isn’t captivating our hearts and changing us from within (Eph. 4:12-13). We cannot lead when our pride is in the way or when we are seeking the approval of others (Prov. 29:25). We cannot lead when we view ourselves higher than others (Phil. 2:3-4). And finally, we cannot lead others without loving them like Christ loves His church (1 John 4:19). However, we can lead with the strength and grace that God provides. We can lead when our hearts are desperate for Jesus and longing for the Holy Spirit to move. One truth that my worship professors drilled into my heart is that the greatest need of our congregations is our personal holiness. We can only minister out of the overflow of our own hearts.
Jesus says in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” I’ve been a nurse in the Pediatric ICU for the last six years and I often think of children and families who get rushed to the ICU because they are critically sick. No one wants to be there, but they know they need help in time of dire physical sickness. A 13-year-old boy that I took care of, affectionately known as “little Phil,” got diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. He knew he had to be at the hospital to get help from the doctor because he was really sick. He was weak and dependent on the doctor’s treatment. He couldn’t control his circumstances; all he could do is respond to the state of his sickness. He knew he needed a physician. This image resonates with me as I realize likewise that I can’t lead others until I truly know how weak and frail I am, and how dependent I am on Christ.
All our leadership should flow from the reality that we are poor and frail and in need of a Savior every moment of our lives. With a heart of humility, our hearts will treasure the Word of God and rely on the Spirit to do the work He has called us to. Let us rest in the completed and finished work of Christ.
So how do we lead and point others to Christ in God’s strength? The answer is that we must depend on God through prayer, trusting His promises as we seek to point others to Christ. Why do I rely on my strength which is vain, when I can rely on the strength that God provides so that He gets all the glory (Psalm 115:1)? What matters most in ministry? Diplomas or Dependence on God? Thankfully, since my seminary graduation, I’m grateful that God has shown me that while degrees and diplomas are wonderful gifts, depending on Him, His Word, and the completed work of Christ on behalf will be what sustains me through the ministry challenges ahead.
1 Peter 4:11 says, “If anyone speaks, they should do as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”