Guiding Teenagers Toward Life with God, Part I

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Over the years in youth ministry, I have heard from students some combination of the following refrain:

“I want to grow and know Jesus more intimately, but I don’t know where to start.”

“The Bible is confusing and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with my life.”

I don’t know how to pray.”

“When I pray, I feel awkward.  God never says anything back.”

“I feel stuck spiritually.”

On the one hand, these are great, conversation-starting comments. On the other hand, it is a little distressing to hear our churched kids say this! But, are these comments really that surprising? We live in a season of Western church life where biblical (and general) literacy is in decline; meanwhile the parents of teenagers are less likely to have been discipled themselves. We can’t offer what we don’t have.

I think many of our students, as well as some of us at times, feel like Louise Banks (Amy Adams) in the 2016 movie Arrival as the linguist attempts to communicate with a newly discovered alien lifeform, the Heptapods. We anxiously approach this unknown being, saying with Banks, “Human. I am human. What are you?” We too hear echoes and rumblings back. Then, as we turn to Scripture, we see this grand, mysterious Being communicate in strange shapes and forms. We see and yet we often don’t perceive, much less know how to talk back.

When our students articulate confusion about relating to God, we have an opportunity to engage with them personally and to walk with them in discipleship. There are two key doctrines that are essential for the youth minister in guiding our teenagers.

A Relational God

The first thing that is so crucial for us to remember and to teach is that God is relational by definition. God is a community within Himself from eternity past—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ever loving, ever loved. He is in an eternal, loving relationship with Himself—three-in-one, or Triune.[1] This is why we can boldly say that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). He doesn’t have to create to love because he already is and has always been love. However, it is out of this love that God creates. It’s not because he has to, but because he wants to, out of the overflow of love in the Triune community (read: co-unity). This is also why we see all three persons of the Godhead at work in creation generally (Gen. 1:1-3a; John 1:1-3) and in the creation of humanity: “Let us make…in our image” (Gen. 1:26).

A Self-Revealing God

It is because God is relational that he instinctively reveals himself as he creates. Like all artists, God as the Great Artist shows who he is in what he makes. He tells a story about himself in his creation. And how does he create?  God speaks. “In the beginning… God said…” It is through his Word that he has made all things.

So, God first speaks to us—and relates to us—through creation (what theologians call General Revelation). And this is a perpetual, global speech. David clarifies this when he proclaims,

The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours out speech,

and night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words,

whose voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out through all the earth,

and their words to the end of the world. (Ps. 19:1-4a)

Daily and repetitively, God declares his glory through the things he has made in powerful and beautiful ways. He chiefly displays this glory in us as humanity bears his own image (Gen. 1:26-27). The apostle Paul clarifies what God is saying when he writes that God has shown his invisible attributes in creation, and therefore that human beings are without excuse in knowing he exists (Rom. 1:19-20).

In creation, God reveals that he is God and that he is eternally powerful; we all owe him worship and complete devotion. According to Paul, we can’t help but hear this speech. We have no excuse. And yet, as Paul makes clear in the rest of the chapter, we suppress this truth and rebel against God in our sin.

Therefore, God’s speech to us in creation is significant, but it’s not sufficient. There is more we need to know about God to be in right relationship with him because of our rebellion against him. And so, God has mercifully spoken to us in more detail and intimacy. In the Old Testament period, God spoke to mankind through direct utterance, angels, miracles, prophets, and more. These self-revelation of God is recorded for us in the Old Testament Scriptures. Starting with Adam and Eve and progressing to the nation of Israel, God made the details of his character and inner life known (e.g. Ex. 34:6b-7).

Still God’s revelation of himself in human history was not complete. The fullness of God could not be contained in written words, but would be embodied in the God-man, Jesus Christ. This is how God has spoken to us in “these last days,” not by prophets or some other lesser mode, but “by his Son” who is “the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:1-3a).

In the New Testament period, the fullness of the Godhead was revealed and displayed.  And these things were recorded and “more fully confirmed” (1 Pet. 1:19) for us who would follow in the New Testament Scriptures. In this Word, the Bible (what theologians call Special Revelation[2]), God has shown himself to us that we might know him, love him, and experience the fullness of eternal life.

Jesus talked about this desire with his Father in the Upper Room when he prayed that their love might be in us as he continues to reveal himself (John 17:26).

Through his creation and his Word, God has revealed himself to us. He has shown us Jesus that we might know him truly and have a vibrant, daily relationship with him.

Conversation With God

When we talk to students who feel stuck in their relationship with God, we need to point them to these two sources of God’s speech about himself. We need to remind that God is essentially relational and desires to know them. Out of his desirous love and eternal joy, he can’t help but reveal himself. The love he has in himself as the Triune God he wants to share with us—so much so that He makes it plain to us. He makes it plain by writing it everywhere in all that he has made —including us who are made his image, even in our skin and bones. And he makes it plain by giving us writing in our human language—accommodating to us as a parent kneels and speaks simply to their beloved child.

Because of God’s gracious self-revelation, we don’t have to wonder in mystery as mere humans asking, “Who or what are you?” Instead, we can look at Jesus as he is revealed in Scripture and know the living God truly. We hear him speak. By reminding students of these truths, we invite them to join the conversation that God has already started with them.

 

[1] See The Westminster Confession of Faith 2.3

[2] Though God’s non-recorded self-revelation in the Old and New Testament periods can also rightly be called Special Revelation along with Scripture.

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