The Jesus I Met in High School Cuts to the Root of “Self-Help”
This summer, the student authors of the Rooted Student Series give us a taste of the themes we explore in our upcoming book, The Jesus I Wish I Knew in High School. As students either currently in high school, college, or just recently graduated, our writers offer us fresh and unique perspectives of the Jesus they got to know in high school or wish they had known when they were younger. Their stories and their wisdom will help youth leaders and parents guide their students through high school and point them to Jesus. -Rooted Student Series Editor, Lauren Center
We don’t become Christians to become strong but to recognize our weakness. Focusing on God will not remove every problem we face in life, but we will live knowing that we are justified already and don’t have to prove anything because Christ has done everything for us already. God planned our actions, even our struggles, before the foundation of the world so that he would be glorified at the end and in our lives day by day.
I have always and continue to struggle with relationships. I have had a few good friends throughout my life but these relationships were not very close. I never put forth any effort to make these relationships edifying or satisfying; I typically just passed the time with these people and then reacted when conflicts arose. In high school I always felt a paradox within me: arrogance because I thought people saw me as hot stuff, and then loneliness from thinking no one liked me and I wasn’t enough as a person.
The biggest problem was simply that I wasn’t a Christian and didn’t love people like Christ. The summer before my junior year I trekked up to Rome, New York with my family to a retreat I seldom attended. I found myself in at least two church services a day.
Before camp ended I heard a message perfectly fitted to my heart’s deepest yearnings. “God is the potter; we are clay. Our bumps and imperfections are smoothed out by God’s power and design. And then, cleaned, God puts us into the fire and purifies us, making us hard as tree trunks.” This message affected me deeply for a moment. However, I was quickly distracted by a beautiful girl I had met at the camp.
And I ended up dating that beautiful girl. The relationship was long distance, but we really liked each other. Things were going great until they weren’t, and I slammed head-first into the reality that I was already facing with my friends and family back home: that my complacency only destroyed relationships. Here was someone who I really cared about and who was really counting on me, and I felt hopeless in my ability to please her. But instead of turning to Jesus Christ for help, I turned to YouTube.
I first heard of David Goggins on a podcast and his story was very powerful to me. He was going through the motions as he wasted away after a troubled childhood and failed dreams. Then one day he answered the problem of weakness and failure in his own life by pulling himself up out of the mire.
His story fed me a false works-based and man-made gospel.
Here I was: depressed and turning to the people on YouTube, not just Goggins, who were telling me that I should and could change myself, but I was even failing to do what they were teaching. I ended up breaking up with my girlfriend because I knew that I couldn’t give her what she needed. I needed a Helper stronger than me, and I didn’t realize that I already knew him.
Senior year was starting and youth group was too, so I started attending. As I became acquainted with the Bible again, the story of the potter in Jeremiah 18 jumped out at me: “I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, oh house of Israel.’”
God’s power, glory, and grace were what I needed in my broken life. He has the power to change us, just as the potter has the power to change and mold the clay. Note that the clay is “spoiled”, but thankfully “spoiled in the potter’s hand.” We are broken but God restores us. The potter molds the clay “as it seem(s) good to (him) to do.”
God’s will for us is his glory, just like someone who admires a beautiful piece of pottery naturally marvels at the potter’s skill. Furthermore, God shows his glorious grace through his acceptance and love towards us because of the finished work of Christ that frees us from judgment. God loves us just the way we are through Jesus Christ who died for us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8).
I realized that Jesus wasn’t calling me to pull myself up (because the clay is hopelessly stuck wherever it lays before the potter gathers it up). Jesus was calling me to put my complete trust in him for my strength and to focus on his amazing love instead of my weak, selfish love.
I came to realize that while laying in the swamp I couldn’t do anything that I wanted to do in my relationships because my Potter had not gathered me up yet. I additionally realized that Jesus already justified me before the Father regardless of anything I could do.
Now I strive to be content that even if I am never able to get my girl back or be the best friend anyone has ever had, I know that God loves me and he will be glorified through me. I say strive because it is still a process, and we will never be perfected before heaven. Yet, we can be confident in the Lord’s provision. We let our justification in Christ motivate us to serve him with all of the might that he will give us for his glory, not our own improvement. The answer to life’s struggles–in high school and beyond–is not Self-Help, the answer is Gospel-Help.