“I’ve been in this school from Kindergarten until now. I have never in my life been so happy as I am now.” That is how I remember 16 year old Matt expressing what God had done in his life to his surprised classmates. The scene was the final night of The War of the Special Forces and a campfire testimony service was in progress I watched as Matt went back after his testimony and talked to his friend who used to play in a rock band with him. Matt’s friend had watched in shock as Matt threw many CDs into the fire. I am sure his shock was intensified when Matt talked to him about his soul. That night Matt wept as his friend responded to the invitation. What had happened to Matt? He had begun to experience the reality of God’s working in his life. The night before he surrendered to the Lord. God’s Spirit was using his life.
What are we after in the lives of our teenagers? Most of us can probably give an acceptable answer, but, do we really know what we are after? Perhaps, this is more of a problem than we realize. Many might say, “Well we need to have godly kids.” Others might say, “We need to produce spiritual kids.” All this is true, but what does that mean practically. What is godliness? What is spiritually? Can we articulate what this biblical goal is for the lives of our teenagers?
Very clearly the goal is true spirituality. In Gal. 2:20 this could be called the “not I, but Christ” life. Eph 5:18 calls it the “filled with the Spirit” life. I Cor. 2: 15 calls it the “spiritual” life. John 15: 5 it is the abiding in Christ life. It is the reality of Christ quickening and enabling us. The Spirit of God who lives in us becomes a reality as He enables, transforms and uses us. The goal is for teenagers to experience this life of God’s Word quickened by His Spirit. This is in stark contrast to the “walking after the flesh” life. There is a Christian life that is operating in the strength of the flesh. There is very little power, or life. Victory is the exception and defeat becomes all too prevalent. All of us saved for any length of time realize all too much the folly of “walking after the flesh.” But do we know anything any better?
Frankly, one of the reasons youth pastors do not have this goal for their teenagers is because this is not a goal of necessity in their own lives. A youth pastor who is still functioning according to the flesh is many times unaware of his great need of God’s Spirit to work in his life and the lives of those under him. O youth pastor have you ever cried out with the Apostle “To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.”
As an evangelist I am constantly looking at a road atlas to find our next destination. The obvious next step is to identify the best way to get there. Can you imagine an evangelist hopping into his vehicle and taking off hoping he will somehow get to his next destination? I’m sure not only would much time be wasted, but many times he might not even get there at all! As a youth pastor or pastor, you must now be asking the question, “How are we going to get a there?
Your teens will most likely not be concerned about spirituality until they realize how flesh dependant and failing they are.
God has ordained a schoolmaster to do the job. Gal. 3:24 teaches, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” The law is the schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. The first thing that a youth pastor must do is preach God’s law. Preach the standard of living that God’s Word outlines. If preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, God can use it to bring young people to the awareness of the lack in their lives.
Preach on lying. Tell teenagers that their shading the truth, their exaggerating to look good, their not giving the whole truth to their parents is wicked sin and breaks the law of God. Preach on stealing. Thunder out against the cheating in school. Cry out against laziness on the job. Preach against sin in the moral arena. Declare to teenagers that their deliberate looking at sensual movies and TV programs is breaking the Ten Commandments and incurs the wrath of God. Tell them that the lewd Internet sites they look at are vile and defile their mind. Expose the wickedness of dirty jokes and vulgar talk. Tell them the talk that way because their heart is abundantly dirty. Yes, it is abundantly dirty! Preach against the kindling of their passions on their dates. Point out that God is “the avenger of all such.” This kind of preaching in the power of the Spirit brings conviction of sin and a deep awareness and distress about the breaking of God’s law.
Think about it. Why is the law our schoolmaster in salvation? Because it shows us that we cannot be good enough to get to heaven. We are hopelessly law breakers in God’s sight. The law does the same thing in sanctification. A teenager who is living in rebellion to God sees his predicament as a law breaker. A teenager who is attempting to live for God in his own strength begins to see his own woeful inadequacy to live the Christian life by his own efforts apart from God. Although he may see some measure of outward conformity, every man knows his own heart. Jesus in Matthew 5 clarified that God not only condemned murder but hurtful, bitter words. He completed the law by showing that not only is adultery wicked, but the thought of it is sin as well. Although most folks reading this article have never committed adultery of murder, you, as all do, find yourselves wanting when compared to Christ’s clarification of His law.
Now what does the awareness of failure do?
Moments of failure in a teen’s life are wonderful moments to point out their absolute need of God’s Provision.
When God’s Spirit convicts a sinner of his transgression of the law, he has been prepared to hear the Good News. The same is true for the teenager who becomes distressed over his failure to obey God. He is in need of being pointed to Christ. Failure is God’s discipleship method of reminding us we cannot live the Christian life without Him. In Romans 7 Paul admits that “the good that I would I do not: and the evil which I would not, that I do.” He painfully admits, “I am carnal.” Verses later you can hear his agony of soul as he exclaims, “O wretched man that I am who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” What is the answer to this heart felt cry to which we all can relate. “I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord.” The answer is the Christ who lives in me. You see the law has done it again. It points men to Christ.
Christ is the fountain that can satisfy the soul’s longing. He is the bread of life that sustains and enables us as we serve Him. He is the Vine that sends for living giving power into Human branches to bear fruit. None of this is possible until HE is completely in control. It was not until Walter Wilson threw himself on the floor of study and completely surrendered his body “a living sacrifice” did he see souls saved. So it is with your teenagers. Articulate in God’s power the absolute need to completely surrender to the Indwelling Spirit. Christ cannot live through you until He has you. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice.”
What are you depending on to live the Christian life? Are you relying on your flesh or His Spirit? Paul learned something in Romans 7 and that is “I know that in me that is in my flesh dwelleth no good thing.” It was a part of bringing him to a new dependence upon the Christ who lives within. Gal 2:20 says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith (dependance) of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” The only way a teenager (or any of us for that matter) can live the “not I, but Christ” life is by faith in Christ. He is where our dependance must be.
It was not until Oswald Chambers depended upon God’s Word to claim the Spirit’s enabling that he saw a measure of usefulness he had never experienced before. It was when D. L. Moody cried out, O God, change me!” and expected God to do it, that he saw greater blessing than he had ever seen. It was when Hudson Taylor began resting in the Faithful One that the stream of heavenly joy flowed. It will not be until you total trust Him for the enabling, the power to do His Will that you will experience that greater measure of blessing.
Now, obedience is not only possible, but necessary. I believe that is what James 2 is saying when God teaches us that “faith without works is dead.” If one says he is depending upon Christ, but never obeys, can faith [dependence] deliver (James 2, “save”) him? No, a brother in Christ cannot be delivered from the powerlessness and deadness of carnality, if he does not depend upon Christ in obedience. A brother cannot be delivered from doublemindedness except he obey in dependence upon God’s Spirit for enabling. This is illustrated when Jesus commanded the man born lame, “Rise up and walk.” In order for that man to experience the miracle he did, he had to depend upon the One who commanded him to walk to enable him to walk. Ah! so it is with us. We must trust the One who commands, to also enable. To trust ourselves in obedience is to eventually fail. To trust and not obey is “dead” trust. I think the songwriter did have it right when he said,
“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey.”
Now this is the crisis of faith. Will that struggling guy throw the CDs in the fire depending on God to deliver him from that sensual music? Will that young lady break up with the boyfriend she knows is not right depending on God to meet her need? Will that good hearted young man respond to God’s call depending on God to equip him? Will that good hearted young lady start studying God’s Word each morning expecting God to speak through His Word. It is when God’s people obey God in dependence upon Him that Jordan Rivers are crossed, Jericho wall are destroyed and lame men are seen walking. Dear youth pastor ,this is when you teenager will never be the same. He or she has now “tasted” and seen “that the LORD is good.”
Two hundred people watched as Dylan paused by the fire. Eighty CDs hung from a leather throng. Finally with a quick flip of the wrist they were tossed into he fire. Jericho walls fell. It was one of those sacred moments in ministry. The presence of the Lord began to move and God became a reality in lives. The testimony service broke open and more than anyone that night, Dylan saw God use him, a carnal, backslidden, Christian school teen who decided to believe that God could deliver him from his music and use his life. Surrender, dependance and obedience was for this young man the beginning of getting a glimpse of true spiritually.