Denzel Washington Tells New Grads: Put God First in Everything You Do!

Denzel Washington

You may have seen on the news or Facebook this past week that Denzel Washington gave a commencement speech at Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana. He opened his talk to the graduates with the quote in the picture above and told several humbling stories about himself, including only having a 1.7 GPA in college and his mother scolding him when he tried to take credit for his fame. She corrected him saying the prayers she and others had prayed for him led to his success:

“She said, ‘Boy, stop it right there, stop it right there, stop it right there!” he continued.  “She said, ‘If you only knew how many people been praying for you.’ How many prayer groups she put together, how many prayer talks she gave, how many times she splashed me with holy water to save my sorry behind.”

Then Denzel made four points to the graduates:

First: Put God first! Put God first in everything you do!

Second: Fail biga dream without goals, is just a dream …

Third: You will never see a U-Haul behind a hearse

Four: Say thank-you in advance for what is already yours.”

He concluded with, “Don’t aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference.”

Let’s look a moment at Denzel’s four points, which he said should be the basis for these young people’s lives as they go out into the world after college. They are the same four principles that should guide our lives too!

#1 Put God First in Everything You Do!

This commencement speech was given by an academy-award-winning actor who has always been open and vocal about his faith, and yet he has achieved stardom and recognition in a profession where God is often mocked, scorned, or discounted. Denzel Washington says that his being an actor was a gift from God. And he has used his gift for the most part wisely. I have questioned a few movies he made, but I’ve never questioned his professed faith.

I also noticed that I saw no cheap shots or ridicule of him by the media for the content of his speech. He obviously has gained respect from his colleagues and the press. It seems that Denzel has achieved this respect by never backing down about his faith, but letting his talent and God-given acting abilities speak for themselves.

That’s what it looks like to put God first in your life. You never think about denying Christ or being embarrassed or hesitant to share your faith because it’s the most important thing in your life. When God is truly first in our life, thoughts, actions, and interactions all flow from Him. Then everything else falls into place—our family, jobs, ministry, service—all center around our relationship with God.

What does putting God first look like in your life?

#2 A Dream without Goals, is Just a Dream

Denzel emphasized that God puts a passion or dream in your heart. That burning desire you have is God’s proof that it’s yours for the taking, but you have to claim it and act on it. Action requires setting goals to achieve your dream and discipline to act on those goals.

As an author, I often have people come up to me and tell me they’re sure they’re supposed to write a book. When I suggest some actions that would help achieve that goal, I can visibly see them pushing back. They want to write but not put in the effort it takes to achieve that dream. People also often ask if I always wanted to be an author and the truth is no I never set out to be an author. But when I felt God giving me the desire in my heart and I started taking the necessary steps, He opened one door after another. But I had to do my part and put in the time, effort, and work to set and achieve goals that would result in becoming a published author.

Denzel pointed out that with all the techie devices we have today: “Just because you’re doing a lot more, doesn’t mean you’re getting a lot more done!” Can I hear an “Amen!”

What dreams has God given you that are waiting for you to set goals to achieve?

#3 You Will Never See a U-Haul Behind a Hearse

This is a point often made by Pastor Rick Warren. No one is taking anything with us when we die. Pastor Rick also says, “Do your given, while your livin’ so you’re knowin’ where it’s goin’. Denzel emphasized that it’s almost selfish to serve, because you the servant get such a blessing and great feeling. He was saying you’re blessed to be a blessing.

Washington also implored the graduates to try to “make a difference” during their careers, not just “make a living.”

How has God been using you to make a difference in this world?

#4 Say Thank-You in Advance for What is Already Yours

Denzel told the graduates: “I pray that you put your slippers way under your bed tonight, so that when you wake up in the morning you have to get on your knees to reach them. And while you’re down there, say thank you.”

What Makes You the Most Proud?

In a January 2008 interview with Oprah Winfrey, she asked Washington, “What makes you the most proud?”  He said,  “I’m careful about the word ‘proud.’ I’m happy to have read the Bible from cover to cover. I’m on my second go-round—I read one chapter a day. Right now I’m digging John. He just had dinner with Mary, and things are about to take a turn for the worse.”

Hmmm that sound like Denzel is doing just what I wrote about in last week’s blog post, “The Bread of Life–Everybody Needs It.” No matter where your life leads, you cannot thrive without the Word of God in your life daily helping you. Thank you Denzel Washington for sending these grads out into the world with the only message that ever leads to a meaningful life: Put God first in everything!

I would encourage you to watch the entire speech to the graduates. It’s only about ten minutes and you’ll be clapping and cheering right along with the graduates!

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