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Audio Transcript

Pop the confetti — we have arrived at episode number 2000 on the Ask Pastor John podcast. Wow! What better way to celebrate than with a question about how to make our lives count? That’s a major theme of your ministry, Pastor John — not wasting our lives. Today’s question comes from a teenager named Payton. Parents and grandparents of teens, here’s a heads-up: this is one of those episodes you may want to pass along to the teens in your life.

Here’s the question: “Pastor John, hello. My name is Payton, and I’m fifteen years old. I have listened to your sermons and to this podcast over the past year, and it has been truly very helpful in my Christian walk. As a fifteen-year-old, how can I make a difference in the world as a Christian? How can I make my life count?”

Okay, here are my twelve rules for fifteen-year-olds. Actually, twelve rules for teenagers. Most of them are applicable to girls as well, if they just make a slight twist. But Payton is a boy, so I’m thinking this way for him.

1. Honor your parents.

“Honor your father and mother” (Ephesians 6:1–2). These are ways to make your life count. “Honor your father and mother.” Never treat them with contempt or belittle them behind their back or around your friends. That is a mark of honoring them. It is a mark of maturity, and it is pleasing to the Lord.

2. Savor the Bible.

“Ransack your Bible every day, and pray for its greatest impact in your life. Don’t just read it — devour it.”

Ransack your Bible every day, and pray for its greatest impact in your life. Don’t just read it — devour it. Dig into it the way a miser searches for gold and silver. Ask God every time you open your Bible, “Show me wonderful things here, great things, life-changing things” (see Psalm 119:18). Savor it the way you savor your favorite food. When you stop reading, meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2). Take it with you. You’ll be “like a tree planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:3). You won’t be like a leaf blown around by the wind.

3. Focus on character.

Don’t focus on making good grades in school. Focus on really learning all you can and using all of that learning to turn you into a man of character. The Bible clearly calls us to grow in grace, in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). It never calls us to make good grades. Grades will take care of themselves if you really squeeze the most learning out of every course in high school that you can.

4. Choose schools wisely.

If you get to choose your school, say high school or college, don’t choose a school because of its popularity or its library or its sports teams or its size or its parties. Choose it because of the wisdom of its faculty. Choose teachers, not courses; choose teachers, not schools. Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise.”

5. Date for marriage.

Save dating girls for the time when marriage is a real option. Put it off till then. The concept of dating as a kind of mere recreation in our Western culture is not wise. Our attraction to the opposite sex, built in by God — it’s a good thing. It’s designed by God to lead to the great and wonderful satisfaction of marriage. That’s what it’s for.

Do things with other boys and other girls in groups, and save the one-on-one dating till you’re ready to consider marriage seriously. I dated for the first time (with a pounding heart) when I was 20 years old, and I married her. We’re still married and happy 55 years later. It was a good choice.

6. Stay busy ‘doing.’

Number six comes from my father. He said, “Be so busy ‘doing’ that you don’t have time to ‘don’t.’” Now, that was his response to the fact that the Bible does indeed say there are a lot of “don’ts.” There are a lot of things we should not do as teenagers or adults, some because they’re outright wrong, but many just because they’re not helpful. They’re weights, not sins. It’s like wearing an overcoat when you run a marathon. That’s not against the rules; it’s just stupid.

These things, we know, don’t build our faith. They don’t keep our minds pure. So my dad’s solution was not to harp on all the things that wise Christians don’t do, but instead to fill your life with so many good and helpful things that you don’t have time for the questionable things: “Be so busy ‘doing’ that you don’t have time to ‘don’t.’” (See Galatians 6:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 15:58.)

7. Be passionate, not lazy.

What your hand finds to do, do it with all your might (see Ecclesiastes 9:10). If you want your life to count, you can’t be half-hearted. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing passionately. Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”

Or consider Romans 12:11: “Do not be slothful in zeal [our contemporary word for zeal is passion], be fervent in spirit [the literal translation is boiling — ‘be boiling in spirit’], serve the Lord.” So, don’t be lazy, but be zealous or passionate; not lukewarm, but fervent or boiling in the spirit. Be done with half-heartedness.

8. Offer up your gifts.

Don’t fret over gifts you don’t have, but take the few you do have and put them in the hands of Christ, like the boy with the five loaves and two fish in his hands. He put them in the hands of Jesus. Your hand shouldn’t say to your eye, “Because I’m not an eye, I’m of no use to the body.” That’s 1 Corinthians 12:21, adapted (see also 1 Corinthians 12:15–16). I regard this as one of the most important lessons I ever learned.

As I went through school, I saw more and more clearly what I was not good at. If I had focused on that, on what I’m not good at — oh my goodness. There’s a long list of things I’m not good at. I’ve never made any sports teams, for example, and I read so slowly, and my memory is so poor. On and on my weaknesses go.

If I had focused on them, I think I would have accomplished nothing. Instead, I saw two or three things I could do, and I could do them as well as others, maybe even better. And I said, “Lord, help me not to waste energy on bemoaning what I can’t do, and help me to do what I can do with all my might. Take it. Use it. Make it count.”

9. Don’t be a people-pleaser.

Don’t be a people-pleaser. Paul says in Galatians 1:10, “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Now, that’s not as simple as you might think because there are other texts that say we should try to please others, like Romans 15:2: “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” To please others, to help them be stronger in faith, is good. It’s not about you. It’s about trusting Christ, seeing Christ, knowing Christ.

But pleasing others to pump up our ego or to avoid criticism of us or to escape suffering or hardship — that’s not good. Be mature enough to know how not to offend others, and then be utterly indifferent to other people’s praise when your own ego or your own safety is at stake. Do what’s right, and let the chips fall where they will.

10. Fail well.

Don’t be defeated by failures. If you never fail at anything, you are not trying enough things. You haven’t taken enough risks if you never fail. We all begin as failures — all of us. That’s what sin is — it’s a failure. To honor God as we ought, we all begin as “F,” and the punishment is hell. Paul says in Romans 7:15–19 that, even after he is converted, he stumbles in many ways, doing what he does not want to do.

But here is the glory of the gospel of Christ (and our lives are built on the gospel): He covered our sins. He imputed righteousness to us that we don’t have natively. Our acceptance with God is not earned. So we say with Paul in Philippians 3:13, “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind . . .” He had lots of things he needed to forget.

We all have failures. I mean, every day we don’t measure up to the way we would like to talk to people or treat people. If we are crushed by those things, we’ll never count. So don’t look back like that. “Forgetting what lies behind,” Paul says, “and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14). Don’t be defeated by past failures.

11. Fight sin and temptation.

“You will not be used by God for anything great if you live in compromise with sin.”

“Make no provision for the flesh.” That’s Romans 13:14. Know the things and the times and the places that lure you to sin, and avoid them. You will not be used by God for anything great if you live in compromise with sin, and one crucial way to fight sin is to head it off at the pass. Don’t put yourself in any position where sin typically gets the upper hand. That may be sexual sin or the temptation to greed, pride, anger, or whatever your typical temptation is.

12. Live to magnify Christ.

Finally, don’t live to stay alive. Live to make much of Christ. I love Acts 20:24, where Paul says, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus.” The point of life is not to stay alive. It’s to magnify the greatness of Jesus. As Paul puts it in Philippians 1:20, “It is my eager expectation and hope that . . . Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”

Seek to do these twelve things, and I promise you: your life will count.