While on the road this summer, I have been consistently meeting teens who desire to share their faith with others, yet aren’t sure how to begin. I’ve been sharing this summer the ultimate charge that Jesus left for all Christ followers in Matthew 28:19: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
This is the call on your teen’s life. (It’s a God-anointed call on your life and my life too!)
When teens desire to share truth with a world desperate for change, it often gives them a hope they have never felt before. Christ’s commission fuels their lives and provides a greater purpose to the choices they make and the paths they walk down. The call is to be like Jesus to the world—to undertake the ministry of Jesus Christ and lead others closer to God.
Teens who accept this challenge are often excited and confident to follow Christ’s command. But I also meet a lot of teens who feel unconfident and ill equipped to put feet to this desire of sharing Jesus with others. And this is where you, as a parent, come in. You can be your teen’s coach, adviser, and encourager as he or she seeks to go public with faith.
The first part of this task may not be what you think. The first part of helping your teen be a bold Christian in the world is encouraging your teen to develop his or her own relationship with God.
Your teen does not have to be a biblical expert or attend seminary. What’s important is that he or she takes the necessary steps to know God better. When this happens, your teen will step out fearlessly as he or she chooses to go public for Him.
The problem is that in this ATM, digital download, high-speed, DSL, drive-thru, texting way of life, teens are looking for the quick and easy, even when it comes to their walk with God. A committed relationship with Jesus, though, is something that takes time. So you must help your teen to spend time reading Scripture, talking to God, and listening to His direction.
1. Time in the Word
To begin strongly in going public with God, your teen needs a biblical foundation upon which he or she can build. The Bible is spiritual sustenance. But the sad reality is that many teens spend little time, if any, reading the Bible. Teens see the Bible as archaic, irrelevant, or hard to understand.
So, what’s a parent to do to help a teen see God’s Word in a fresh way and as making a difference in real life?
Committing to a translation that your teen connects with is important. If your teen has spent little to no time reading the Bible, getting a new version could be a first step in the right direction. Take your teen to a Christian bookstore and browse through different versions of the Bible. One that I especially enjoy reading from is entitled The Message. The translator of this version of the Bible has taken a unique approach that I find many teens can relate to. The New International Version and Holman Christian Standard Bible are two other translations I recommend.
One teen told me, “I have the Bible on my laptop. I often use it when talking with friends.” Another teen told me she has it on her cell phone. How cool! The idea here is to do what it takes to help your teen connect with God’s Word.
Buying your teen a new Bible, whether it’s made of paper or pixels, will not guarantee that he or she will commit to consistently plugging into the Word or applying it to life. But creatively encouraging your teen to apply Scripture to life, while also spending consistent time in the Word yourself, will send a strong message to your teen about what’s important.
Committing to the 1:1:1 Plan is a must! If your teen hasn’t spent much time in the Word, here is a simple application that could be the jump start he or she needs to spend consistent time with God. The 1:1:1 Plan means taking one chapter and reading it once a day for one week. Then, when the next week comes around, go to another chapter.
I don’t know about you, but there are times when I read the Bible and then I forget what I’ve read almost as quickly as I walk away. Going back and reading the same chapter each day for one week will help your teen absorb the truth of Scripture.
Of course, there will be days when your teen chooses not to read the Bible. Be careful not to push your teen too hard or criticize him or her for not reading the Bible every day, as this may prompt your teen to ignore Scripture altogether. The key word is consistency. Continue to encourage your teen about spending time in the Word more consistently, but don’t force the issue. Help your teen find a way that works for him or her.
Committing key verses to life helps connect scripture to the real world. Psalm 119:9-11—a great passage for teens—says,
How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
Psalm 119 makes it clear that by spending time in the Word, a person will gain knowledge, develop a greater understanding of who God is, and be able to stand for what is right, no matter the circumstance.
I often encourage teens to turn to specific Scriptures that deal with everyday issues they struggle with, such as temptations, guilt, and choices. Why don’t you try that approach? Encourage your teen to find and write down such verses and to keep them in a wallet or purse or hanging on a locker door or mirror. A reference work like a concordance or a topical Bible can be a big help in finding verses that relate to the issues your teen is facing. Or urge your teen to use an online resource like Biblegateway.com.
2. Time in Prayer
As your teen commits time to reading the Bible, prayer will hopefully become a greater part of his or her life as well. First Thessalonians 5:17 (msg) says, “Pray all the time.” Explain to your teen the reality of this verse. Your teen really can pray anytime!
It is also important to help your teen realize the many different ways he or she can pray. Doing the same thing over and over might get old, especially to a teen. And anyway, prayer is not about having a once-a-day ritual during devotionals, nor is it merely about thanking God before eating a meal. It is about an all-consuming lifestyle of communication with God, not only anytime, but also anywhere and about anything.
A father of three gave me this great idea on creative prayer:
During our family devo times, we recently started encouraging our teens to text their prayers to God. We came up with a bogus e-mail address and each teen would take five minutes at the end of their prayers to text God. This approach really allowed them to think through every word they were saying to God. I think they began to put a lot more thought into their words and it made prayer more real and intimate for them, like they were actually communicating with a friend. The neat thing is that five minutes eventually became six, and then eight, and then ten.
God desires for your teen to be honest, sincere, and real with Him. Prayer offers your teen the opportunity to do just that.
3. Time Spent Listening
Getting to know God requires not only talking with Him but also listening to Him. This is one area where Satan puts in overtime in his fight to get us to buy lies. One such lie? “You can’t hear God. It’s ridiculous to even imagine that God would actually talk to you!”
One teen wrote me to say, “Last week at camp you talked about hearing the voice of God. Jeffrey, I’ve been a Christian for almost ten years, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard God’s voice.”
My response was “Neither have I—audibly, anyway. But I know He communicates with me.”
The question is not, does God speak? The question is, do we choose to listen? As parents, we have to teach our children how to train their ears to listen to the voice of God.
What does God’s voice sound like? For one thing, it can be a pang of conscience. Your teen has probably been faced with a temptation to take a drink of alcohol, smoke pot, gossip, or cheat on a test. In that tempting moment, the teen probably stopped to consider the choice. And even if only for a moment, your teen felt something that reminded him or her of the right thing to do. That feeling wasn’t just a feeling. That was God speaking to your teen! His words may not be audible, but His truths are always loud and clear.
Another important factor in helping your teen listen to the voice of God is found in Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
What we learn here is that an integral part of your teen’s hearing the voice of God is trusting Him with every area of life. Many teens miss this point. They want God only when they need Him. They want God when their world is falling apart. They want God when friends have hurt them, when they have a major test, or when that huge pimple appears on the morning of prom. Yet they often fail to trust God and “acknowledge him” in all of their ways during the good days of life.
Your role here is to help your teen see you as an example of one who trusts God with all your heart, so that your teen will learn to do the same. Take some time to think creatively about your role in getting your teen in the Word. I am convinced that these critical steps will play a huge role in helping you teen develop confidence to go public with God!