Spiritual Growth for Teens
Christian teens can learn about the nature of God and how to grow in their faith, including how to pray, getting involved in church, tips for reading the Bible and handling times of doubt.
The music was loud. The place was jumping. Neither Drew nor Kelli was into the church thing, but they were having a blast at the concert they were attending with their friend Grace. So when the band's lead singer got up to talk about Jesus, they were both more interested in listening than they'd ever been before. He talked about this "God with skin" who came to earth to make the ultimate sacrifice for the people He loves. Even in the crowded auditorium, both Drew and Kelli felt as though the guy was talking straight to them. At the end of the concert, they both stood up and prayed a prayer like this:
Dear God, I understand and believe that I have failed to love You by going my own way in life. I've missed the mark. I have done and thought wrong things. I want to change. My sin has earned death for me. But You sent your Son, Jesus, to die in my place. I receive this gift by believing that Jesus' death is sufficient to cancel out my sin. I want to receive Your gift of eternal life and begin a relationship with You. Amen.
One year later, Drew was still attending church with Grace. He noticed that he no longer had the desire to do some of the things he used to because they seemed unfulfilling. Sure, he still messed up at times, but he loved knowing that he could always turn to Jesus and ask for forgiveness. He was sure he'd found a new lifestyle that would last until the end of his days.
On the other hand, Kelli's faith had pretty much fizzled out. She looked back on the concert experience as an emotional high that really didn't mean anything. Yeah, God might exist, she thought, but He really doesn't have anything to do with my everyday life.
What About You?
Since you're reading this, chances are you have prayed a prayer similar to the one Drew and Kelli prayed. You made a decision to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. That may have been years or just a few minutes ago. Now you may be wondering what comes next, what you should be doing and what your decision really means. And, most important, you want to know how you can end up like Drew instead of Kelli.
If these questions are on your mind, there are a few things you gotta know. Life as a Christian is a cool paradox. On one hand, it's so complex that it will take the rest of your life to unravel. On the other hand, God gives us simple ways to start living the kind of full life He wants us to live. That's where we're going to start — with the basics:
Know who you are "in Christ."
Learn from God's Word, the Bible.
Keep the communication lines open — pray!
Get hooked up with other believers.
Don't let doubt get you down.
First things first. Let's talk about the new relationship you have — with the Creator of the universe! The Bible has a lot to say about where you stand now in relation to God.
God is the Potter. We are the clay (Isaiah 64:8). Like a skilled artist, God has a perfect plan for what He wants us to be. Right now, we may be lifeless lumps of clay, but He can envision the beautiful, useful vessels we will become. Of course, it will take a lot of pinching and shaping, pressing, pulling and even breaking to get us there.
God is the Master. We are His servants (Luke 12:14-21; James 1:1). No matter who or what was running our lives before we accepted Christ, we have a new master now. God calls the shots. And while the idea of having a master is definitely not a popular one, it's a huge and exciting mystery of the Christian life. Why? Because having Jesus as a master actually sets us free (John 8:32-36; Romans 6:17-23).
God is a friend (Exodus 33:11; John 15:13-16). It used to be pretty rare for God to talk to people as a friend. Because He is perfect, very few men could look stand looking at His holiness. But once Jesus came to earth as both God and man, things changed. Jesus told His followers that He considered them His friends, and the same thing applies to us once we decide to follow Him.
God is the Father. We are His children (Matthew 6:32; Luke 11:13; Romans 8:14-16; Hebrews 12: 5-11). This is a pretty tough concept for a lot of people today, because so many of us have been hurt or neglected by our earthly fathers. But God is a perfect Father. He provides for us, protects us and cares for us. He also disciplines us, but He always does it out of love.
Jesus is the Bridegroom. Together we are His Bride (John 3:29; Ephesians 5:25-32; Revelation 21:9). This is one of the most amazing pictures of intimacy ever. He knows every part of us — even our deepest secrets — and He loves us anyway. One day He will take us to be with Him. The Bible compares that day to a great wedding celebration. Hopefully, you can see what an unbelievable relationship you've embarked on. And there's so much more than that. The Bible often describes our new life as being "in Christ." Here are just a few more things you'll want to know about that life:
You have been specially chosen by God (John 15:16; Ephesians 1:11).
You were once spiritually dead, but now you're alive (Ephesians 2:5).
You are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Your sins are forgiven (Acts 10:43).
You don't have to be trapped by sin ever again (Romans 6:6-7).
You appear blemish-free in God's sight (Colossians 1:22).
You are meant to have the fullest kind of life (John 10:10).
You are an overcomer who can never again be separated from God's love (Romans 8:35-39).
You have God's Holy Spirit living inside you to give you wisdom, guidance, comfort and help (John 14:16-17; 16:13; 1 Corinthians 6:19).
You can count on living forever with God in a new earth (John 14:2-3; Revelation 21:1).
The Book That Has It All
Now that you know a little more about your new life, you may be wondering, "Okay, but what am I supposed to do now?" A good place to start is with the Bible: our map, compass and handbook for living life God's way. You probably noticed all those odd names and numbers in the last section. They're called Scripture references — a way to help you find stuff in the Bible. If you're not already familiar with how to use them, ask someone to explain. It's an important skill to learn for navigating a Book you'll want to become very familiar with.
If you didn't grow up being involved in a church and reading the Bible (or even if you did), you might have some questions about how reliable the Bible is, and what it's good for. Some people think it's a book of myths or moral sayings that are no different, say, from the Quran. Here are some Bible basics:
— The Bible is the only written Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If this sounds like an exclusive statement, that's because it is. And it's pretty hard to swallow in a world that detests exclusivity. But it's true, and it's important for many reasons. After all, how can you have a relationship with God if you don't know Him? The Bible is the best place to discover the mind and heart of our loving God.
— Everything the Bible says is true. The Bible is not just good for information about spiritual things. Everything it tells us about the history of our world and the life of Jesus is really true. You can count on it!
— Getting to know the Bible is one of the best things we can do to help our faith grow (Psalm 119:9-16; Romans 15:4). The Bible is more than a list of rules. It's the story of how God created us, loves us and communicates with us. It reveals God's plan for our lives, His laws and His promises. So reading the Bible is the best possible way to find out what that plan is and jump on board with it.
What does this all mean? Simply that it's a good idea to read at least a little bit of the Bible every day. Worried that you'll get bored and fizzle out? That's a legitimate concern. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid this. The first help is already inside you. Take a glance back at the list of things you have in Christ. That one about the Holy Spirit living in you puts a whole new spin on Bible reading. See, one of the Holy Spirit's jobs is to help us to understand the Scriptures. He makes them come alive in a whole new way.
Besides that, there are lots of resources — books, DVDs, etc. — to walk you through the Bible. Most will give you a passage to read from the Bible, then offer a short story or a few paragraphs on how the Scripture applies to your life. Ask a youth leader or a Christian friend to suggest a good guide for you. And once you get started, the most important thing is to stick with it. Don't worry about keeping a rigid schedule. Instead, try to let God's words penetrate your heart and mind. Learn all the truth you can, then ask God how you can incorporate it into your life.
Which brings us to the next point. You can't ask God anything if you don't talk to Him. Another essential step in your new life is prayer, or communication with God.
Talking to God
Here are some truths about prayer:
Praying to God is not like talking to the air. He is near, and He hears us.
God is real and answers prayer to glorify himself.
Prayer goes hand in hand with turning away from wrong and doing right. We can't just say the right things; we've got to follow them with action.
It's okay to tell God when we don't hear, feel or understand Him.
We can pray in the most impossible situations.
Prayer shouldn't be a show-offy thing but is just talking to God.
Jesus gave us a couple of examples on how to pray.
If we pray for stuff that lines up with God's will, He will do it.
We should pray even when we don't know what to say, and the Holy Spirit will help.
We must keep praying even when we don't feel like it.
Prayer is a great alternative to worrying.
It's important to tell God when you've sinned, and to stop. He will always forgive you.
If you're still wondering how to pray, the answer is simple: Just start talking. Prayer is having a conversation with God. You can tell Him anything. Seriously. Your doubts, your worries, your fears, your hopes. Tell Him how good He is. Thank Him for what He's done in your life. Ask him for things you need. Confess when you've done wrong. You don't have to use special words. Just talk to Him!
Like any conversation, prayer is a two-way street. Take time to be silent and listen. At first it might seem strange, but God can (and does) speak to you in the stillness of your mind and heart. He also answers through His Word, through circumstances and through other people. Just remember that God will never tell you — through your heart or your friends — anything that contradicts what's in the Bible.
The Body of Christ
By now, you're probably overwhelmed with all this new information. Wondering how to keep your head above water? Try this: Tell someone about your decision to follow Christ. What difference could that make? Actually, lots. First, there's something about announcing big news to friends and family that can make it seem more solid in your own mind. Second, it's the doorway into a network of relationships called the "church."
Now, wait a minute, you may be thinking. Been there. Done that. No way I'll ever go near a church again. Fair enough. Lots of people have been burned — or bored — by previous church experiences. But talking about a particular building on a particular corner misses the point. Let's start by thinking about "church" in a general sense.
The church is all people everywhere who have been saved from sin by Jesus Christ. You probably happen to live close to a certain group of those people, so they're the ones you're most likely to see and relate to on a regular basis. Through its stories and letters, the Bible gives us an idea of what relationships among those people should look like. Check out these basics:
We should share with each other and provide for one another (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32).
We should be most concerned about teaching the Bible, building deep relationships, remembering Jesus' sacrifice and praying (Acts 2:42).
Sure, we will mess up and hurt each other, but God has provided a specific way to handle those conflicts (Matthew 18:15-17).
When we settle fights, we should look different from the world. We should love each other and give up our rights for each other (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).
When we're unified, we show the world a better picture of God (John 17:23).
We should strive to do good to each other (Galatians 6:10).
Loving one another is the ultimate goal (1 John 4:7-12).
Now, you're thinking, Yeah right. No church I've been part of has looked like that. It's true — the Bible gives us lots of great examples of what the church is supposed to look like, but because we're human, we rarely follow His directions perfectly. But that's no reason to give up on the church. Look hard enough and you'll find pockets of people who are doing a pretty good job in some of these areas. Once you find them, join them. Get involved in a church where the Bible is taught, God is worshiped and people treat each other right. Besides growing stronger in prayer and in your knowledge of the Bible, here are a few faith-builders that spring from being part of a good church:
Support — You'll find people who love you and who have dealt with some of the same issues you're dealing with. The race of life is a lot easier to run when you've got others running with you to encourage you.
Accountability — This means that when you've got stuff to work on, someone will (lovingly) kick you in the pants until you get it right. If you've got sin habits still hanging on from your pre-Christ days, search your church for a trustworthy friend who can help you ditch them.
A place that fits you — Another name for the church is "the body of Christ." In other words, each of us is a body part — we all have a different job and we all work together. Check out 1 Corinthians 12 for some encouragement about finding your place and using your gifts.
That's not to say that being a part of the body is always easy. No local church will be perfect. But as one word picture explains it, if a boat has a hole, you'll do more good if you jump in and help bail water than if you stand on the dock and criticize the sailors. If you don't like what you see in the church, get involved — start following Jesus' instructions yourself and see what a difference it can make.
Doubt: The Faith Muncher
If it hasn't happened already, it will. You'll be walking home from school. Or sitting at the dinner table. Or hangin' at the mall. And it will hit you . . . What if this God thing isn't for real? What if religion is something we humans made up just to make ourselves feel better? What if I blow it and do something to make God stop loving me?
Doubts are nagging thoughts that threaten to ambush your faith. Every Christian has them from time to time, but when doubt happens to you, it can make you feel as though you're the only person on earth who's ever experienced it. For some people, the doubts are too much, and they turn away from Jesus. But it doesn't have to be that way.
One of the most helpful things to remember when you start to doubt is, as one wise man put it, "Nothing is going to jump out from under a rock and eat God." What in the world does that mean? Just this: God always has answers big enough for every question we come up with. No matter how big and dark and scary your question is, and no matter what out-of-the-way rock you have to turn over to find the answer, you're not going to find anything that disproves God's existence. Or His power. Or His goodness. Ever. That fact is what gives Christians their deep peace. God will always be bigger than any of our doubts.
This may come as a surprise, but doubt can actually be a big help in our Christian life. Why? Because it forces us to dig for answers. And every time we can replace a difficult question with a solid answer, it makes our faith stronger. Here are a few things you can do when you feel doubt creeping up on you.
First, don't let it scare you. Remember you're not alone. Everyone has doubts. And more than that, when you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you entered into a relationship with the Source of all love. The Bible says that "perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18). You can hold on to that promise.
Second, engage your brain. A popular misconception is that Christianity is for the brainless and that if Christians were ever to take a hard look at the facts, our faith would crumble. Not so! God gave us our minds and wants us to use them. And here's the cool thing — no real facts will ever contradict our faith. Sometimes, all it takes is a little digging to uncover the answer to a mystery that had threatened to crash your faith.
Of course, at other times our rational minds can't grasp what God says or what life throws at us. In those cases, we have to be satisfied to wait and trust in God. Eventually, everything will come clear, and everything will line up with His Word. You can count on it.
Seeing Life Through New Glasses
Hopefully, you're starting to see that Christianity is more than just trying to do the right things and waiting to go to heaven someday. Sure, those things are a part of our faith, but there's so much more to it than that.
Becoming a Christian is like putting on a new pair of glasses. Suddenly, you're seeing things in a way you didn't before. Things that never made sense start to come clear. Other things — the ones you thought you had figured out — well, maybe you have to rethink them entirely. That's because becoming a Christian means living life under new management — God's. It means giving up some things, and that may be painful. But it also means gaining a new depth of joy and meaning in life. It means having a sense of purpose that stretches beyond time into eternity.
Whether you realize it or not, you've embarked on a journey that is big enough to consume the rest of your life! God is good, and His plan for you is so big that there's no chance you'll ever reach its limits. In fact, you won't even be able to see the end of it until He makes you complete at the resurrection of believers.
Keep Puttin' One Foot in Front of the Other
Looking at a journey that immense can be dumbfounding. Where should you begin? Glad you asked. Just pick up your right foot. Or your left one — it doesn't matter. Now stick it out in front of you. And put it down again. It's that simple. One step at a time, the Christian walk will take you from here to eternity. From brokenness to wholeness. From weakness to perfection. Your job is to keep your eyes on Jesus, obey Him completely and follow His path.
Your journey will take you around corners and down alleys you never expected. You may look back in five years and wonder if you're even the same person. Sometimes the way will be dark and scary, and you may feel like quitting. No matter what, keep taking one step at a time.
One day, you'll reach the finish line, and your journey will end on a height you never imagined. And finally, you'll look into the face of the loving Savior who died for you and hear Him say, "Welcome home."
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this publication are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 1997, 2000 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Originally titled "Now What? The Next Step With God."