Suffering. . . The Missing Element In Youth Ministry? . . .

When our kids graduate from our youth ministries and our homes, what will they have learned? And. . . will what they have learned reflect a balanced and truthful understanding of just what it means to follow Jesus?

Ask me that latter question in the speed of the moment and I will shoot back with a quick and emphatic, “Of course!” You also might get a bit of dirty look. How could you even think about asking such a thing? But these are the questions we need to be asking ourselves and each other on a regular basis. I realize that when I ponder the question for more than a moment, I must be honest and admit that I’ve done a less-than-adequate job of preparing kids for the realities of faithfully following Jesus in today’s world.

What got me thinking about this recently was all the research I was doing on the issue of teens and anxiety. In case you haven’t heard, its an epidemic. It’s off the charts. On the one hand, there’s the mounting pressure we’ve been heaping on our kids. There’s also the mounting pressure they’ve been heaping on themselves (think social media. . . among other things).

But while the causes of anxiety are growing, there’s also been some diminishing education. Specifically, we’ve somehow communicated that following Jesus releases us from the difficulties of life. And along with that, we haven’t instructed them on the glorious promise, presence, and difficult providence known as suffering. . . and the promised blessing of entering into the sufferings of Christ. I think that if we were teaching kids that difficulty is promised and that God promises His presence in the midst of that difficulty, they wouldn’t be as anxious.

I got thinking about this again this morning when I read a letter Samuel Rutherford wrote in 1640 to David Dickson, a professor of divinity at The University of Glasgow. Dickson was grieving the death of his son. Rutherford wrote to remind him of the sovereignty of God and the difficult providences that come through the discipline of affliction (yes. . . you read that right. . . the discipline of affliction).

Ponder Rutherford’s words to Dickson. . . “Your Lord may gather His roses, and shake His apples, at what season of the year He pleaseth. . . Read and spell right, for He knoweth what He doeth. He is only lopping and snedding (pruning) a fruitful tree, that it may be more fruitful.”

Yes, suffering is to be expected. . . and it is to be expected as a blessing that leads to spiritual growth and depth. If we aren’t teaching that truth, chances are good that our kids will opt out of the faith as it hasn’t turned out to be the easy road that they somewhere came to erroneously learn it would be.

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