As teenagers, life feels so big, doesn’t it? Like a canvas that stretches into outer space, it bubbles over with potential. We have so much to do and so many places to see. I’m 18, and I often wonder how God will use me in his vast story.
As Jesus-followers, the last thing we want to do is waste this life. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always resonated so deeply with the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), a man committed to pursuing holiness for his whole life, a conviction that began as a teenager.
Of the seventy resolutions that Edwards wrote between the ages of 19 and 20, my favorite is number six: “Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.” Short. Simple. Profoundly urgent. This was his teenage version of carpe diem for the glory of God, a call to his young soul to seize life with purpose and passion. I love that.
But some days I wonder how to do that. What exactly does it look like to live with all my might as a teenager for the glory of God? As I’ve studied Scripture and learned from Jonathan Edwards, I’ve found four answers that have been especially helpful.
1. Live for something bigger than yourself.
Every human being is looking for meaning. Inside all of us, teenager and senior alike, is an inescapable restlessness for purpose. And consciously or unconsciously, we all find a purpose to which we attach our lives — or we try to create one for ourselves. For many, that purpose is themselves. They sacrifice, serve, and live at the altar of Me.
The author of Ecclesiastes testifies to having lived for that purpose once and, in the end, found it depressingly empty — like trying to build a foundation on smoke. He saw it as shallow and eternally worthless, unable to satisfy humanity’s great need for meaning. And this was a man whose search had no limits. He’d looked everywhere — accumulated wealth, the pleasures of sex, the promise of a high-profile career, premium education, and the comfort and security of other people. But after all his experiments with satisfaction, he found only one thing that really, truly satisfied: God.
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
Such a man can give solid counsel to teenagers: “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). If you want your life to count, if you want to have real purpose and meaning, live for something bigger than yourself. Live for God alone. Live for his glory and greatness, for his unstoppable kingdom. Die to yourself, and live to Christ. We cannot learn this lesson soon (or often) enough.
2. Live for others more than yourself.
The God-centered life is not meant to be the isolated life. People need people. That’s a basic tenet of God’s world. Adam’s need for Eve was not a deficiency in his character; it was a God-given incompletion. He created Adam (and the rest of us) with a longing for community. We need the joy of gospel relationships. We need friends, family, and churches. We need their love, kindness, humor, and happiness.
But we also need to live for people, humbly and sacrificially giving ourselves for the needs and interests of others. The last half of Edwards’s first resolution is this: “Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great so ever.”
Edwards was deeply aware of the fact that we’re not just here for ourselves. We’re here for a bigger and better reason — to glorify God by serving and loving people selflessly, no matter how hard that can be. The priority of self-giving was intended by God to become a priority in the teen years.
3. Live and learn.
All of life is about growth, but that’s especially true for teenagers. We’re young, and every day is a learning experience. Each new day is a fresh opportunity for personal growth and sanctification.
The most obvious way Jesus-followers learn about living is by studying God’s word. That starts with actively disciplining ourselves to read Scripture and developing a habit of learning more about the God we love and serve. Pursuing that discipline can be difficult. It can feel tiring. Complicated. Boring even (I admit that).
But that’s how we learn about life, and so, you and I have to train ourselves to read God’s word often. And then we have to learn to love it. Yes, discipline even our affections. Discipline your brain to read it first, but then discipline your heart to delight in it. And if you are wondering how our reading should fuel our affections, watch how it works in Psalm 119.
And take it from Edwards in his twenty-ninth resolution: “Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.” Our responsibility is to bring a humble willingness to learn, and pray for an unquenchable desire for truth, and that the truth would rise up in a heart affected by God.
4. Live with unperturbable happiness.
The Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck wrote that people pursue in religion what they cannot find anywhere else — “unperturbable happiness.” Unperturbable — what a great word — it means not agitated. Not a rollercoaster of ups and downs. In that phrase, I think he brilliantly captures what it means to live with all our might. The Christian life is one of abundant joy, because it’s all about delighting in God. It’s about relishing every last drop of happy hope in him. That’s ultimately what it means to live for God — obey him and learn to find in him an unwavering happiness that will carry and satisfy us for the rest of our lives. Lasting, unbreakable, and unshakeable happiness cannot be found in our bodies or our bank accounts or our studies or our iPhones or our Twitter followers. God is the only satisfactory source.
In his book Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards wrote, “God is the highest good of the reasonable creature. The enjoyment of him is our proper; and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied.”
Truly Live While You Live
Teenager, do you want to live? I mean, really live. Not the kind of passive living that is not living. But do you want your life to matter? Do you want to live now as a way to invest in your future self? Then live for something bigger than yourself. Live for others more than yourself. Live and keep learning. Live with unperturbable happiness. Listen to Jonathan Edwards, a fellow teenager from the past who wanted to follow Jesus just like you, and live with resolve.
Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.