A podcast listener named Lawson writes in with a great question: “Pastor John, this Fall I entered high school as a freshman. I want to know, how can I be a Christlike example in my school and among my classmates? I feel that God has called me to minister to them in some way, but I don’t know exactly how to do this. Over the next four years, what are some practical steps I can take to redeem these years for the gospel?”
Lawson, as I look back over my high school days, it was a long time ago. I am 70. And as I ponder what I see in the Bible and think about God’s calling on your life, expressed in your words, which I am so thankful for, seven things come flooding to my mind to suggest for you to pray about and consider.
1) First, gather a few friends with a similar desire, maybe from your church, neighborhood, where you have got your Christian friends. I hope it is your church. And set aside with them some regular time, maybe thirty minutes a week. That is what I do with my friends. Or ten or fifteen minutes a day at the beginning of school where you read a short passage of Scripture. Like maybe take one minute to read a passage of Scripture and then pray for ten minutes or fifteen minutes or thirty minutes — whatever you have planned — that God would help you, fill you with the Holy Spirit, fill you with boldness, give you guidance. And then go on into your day together as a band of brothers. And maybe you will call that group the Four-Twenty-Nine Group. And the reason I say that is because of Acts 4:29–31,
“Gather a few Christian friends with a similar desire to minister to others.”
And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
Oh, I wish I had done that as a teenager: had myself a small group, a band of brothers pray down God’s power and been more bold.
2) Brainstorm together with your group of friends about proactive, visible good deeds that you could do for others at school or in the neighborhoods. And I say this because of 1 Peter 2:12, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable” — Gentiles means unbelievers — “so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Good deeds, Lawson, of course, never can replace words that explain the gospel and why you love Christ. In fact, just three verses earlier in 1 Peter 2:9 he said, “Proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” But practical good deeds have an important role to play, and they can put to silence the criticism that Christianity just means not doing certain things.
My dad used to love to quote one of his teachers. He would say: Do so fast you don’t have time to don’t. Because we were pretty serious Christians growing up and there were a lot of things we didn’t do because we were Christians. And he said: No, be so fast in doing, you don’t have time to don’t. That is what I am suggesting in number two.
3) Be on the lookout for lowly people, lonely people, hurting people, and step into their lives with interest and care and time that other people don’t care about giving. Romans 12:16, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” What an unusual teenager you will be if you do that.
“Be on the lookout for lonely and hurting people, and give them the care and time that others don’t.”
4) Meet with the Lord alone early every morning, and get a good word from Scripture that you will keep in your mind as something precious and valuable and encouraging all day long. In other words, don’t just have devotions and come away with nothing stuck in your mind, but look for some single phrase or statement or promise or command that helps you and keep it in your mind. You might jot it on a little piece of paper and stick it in your shirt pocket. That is what I used to do.
This will serve you all day long for encouragement and it will be there if somebody gets into a conversation with you and asks you: What does it mean for you to be a Christian? And you can smile and say: You know, just this morning I was talking to God and he was talking to me. Now, he doesn’t talk with a voice. He talks in the Bible. He was talking to me and this is what he said. And then you quote your verse or you get out your little piece of paper. And you read them and you say: That is encouraging me all day long. That is what it means for me to walk with God. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). So, take a word, take a phrase and go with it all day long for encouragement and readiness.
5) Plan activities with your friends that you can invite unbelievers to be a part of. In other words, don’t wait for the crisis where they invite you to go to something that you are not sure you can go to. And then you have to say no and you might simply look like somebody who doesn’t like people or doesn’t have any friends. Beat them to the happy punch. Show them that you love to have them join you by doing proactive thinking ahead of time that plans something that you and your friends can do, and then you are asking them constantly to join you rather than the other way around.
“Plan activities with your friends that you can invite unbelievers to be a part of.”
6) If you have parents — now, I don’t know your family situation — but if you have parents who love what you are doing, try to make your home a hub of relationships with your friends: unbelievers and believers. So many young people out there that you relate to don’t have any homes like that. They wouldn’t ever bring you over to their homes. Their parents are divorced or they are not there or they are always angry at each other or nobody is ever at home or they are watching television or they never pay any attention or they never do any proactive hospitality. They have never seen a beautiful family. And if you have one, show it off by making your home a hub of activity. Show young people that it is not uncool to hang out with or near adults.
7) And the last thing I would say is, like it says in 1 Peter 3:15, “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Now, that doesn’t mean you need an advanced college degree in apologetics to defend your faith and have answers to every hard question that someone might ask. It doesn’t mean that. He is not saying that.
What he is saying is that you should be ready simply to tell someone why you have hope in Jesus. And the answers are in 1 Peter 1. He died for you. God is merciful towards you. He raised Jesus from the dead. He promises the forgiveness of sins. In other words, you recite the gospel as the foundation of your hope. Peter is not telling us to prove anything. He is telling you to explain to them why you have hope, why you believe.
So, Lawson, praise God for what he has put in your heart for this year, and I pray that this will be the best year yet for you and that God will fill you with wisdom and grace like he did Stephen in Acts 7 whose words were so mighty, so gracious, so full of the Spirit that his adversaries could not resist him (Acts 6:10, 15–7:55).
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