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Do you ever feel like you don’t have a clue how to help the teens in your life? Maybe, like me, you think you need a crash course in counseling and culture and technology and teen speak and, well, a little of everything in order to help them!
Let’s Get Over Excuses
Maybe you’ve never gotten too close to them ’cause you’ve been afraid you wouldn’t know how to answer their questions. Or maybe you have given them answers, but then you’ve woken up the next morning wondering, Did I really help them? Was my answer even relevant? Or did I just put a heavy burden on their back?
In one sense it’s not a bad place to be, realizing you have nothing to offer unless God comes through . . . again. Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” You and I will always be needy this side of heaven.
But today I hope to give you a glimpse of the direction I think you need to head in order to be able to help your teen(s) with . . . everything. I’m not saying there’s not room for a varied education—I love to learn!—but if I could advise you, I’d tell you to learn one subject inside and out. I’d encourage you to learn how to apply it from every angle to any person’s life situation.
Are you ready? It’s the gospel your teen needs. He or she needs you to help them see how Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection has everything to do with their Friday nights and Monday mornings . . . and everything in-between.
Let’s Connect the Dots
“But Paula,” you say, “If everything my teen needs (and everything I need) is found in the gospel, then why is it so tough to make that connection and to apply it to everyday situations?”
I think it’s ’cause it’s easier to deal on the moral, what-I-can-see-with-my-eyes-level. Connecting the dots to how your teen needs the gospel means you should want more than just outward conformity.
Do you? What do you want more in your teen? Genuine heart change or outward conformity to the rules? If you want the former (and oh, how I hope you do!), you have to get to the heart behind why they’re doing what they’re doing. The bad news is this will take longer. It’s not as easy as just saying “Stop it!” or “Fix it!” You have to dig deeper to root motives.
But the good news is when you apply the gospel to core heart issues, it has the potential to bring about real, lasting heart-change from the inside out.
Here are three tips for you as you interact with teens (or anyone, for that matter). If an acronym would help, remember “play” (PLA minus the “y”):
- Pray. Pray that they’ll “get” gospel truths and implications. Pray that you will. Pray silently as you’re talking to them. Even just throwing up a “Help, God” or a “What next, God?” Second Corinthians 4:4 says,
The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
If this is Satan’s scheme for unbelievers, you’d better believe he’s up to something similar in believer’s lives.
- Listen. Listen not just to what your teen is saying, but what may be behind what they’re saying. Ask questions to clarify. Lots of questions. Make sure you’ve really heard them.
- Apply. Apply the gospel to their life situation. When you’re finished, if your teen still has a glazed-over look, it’s possible you didn’t explain it well, or it’s possible their heart is hardened and their eyes are blinded to the good news. But know that the fault never lies with the gospel itself. It is, and continues to be, as Romans 1:16 says, “the power of God.”
With that said, let’s practice applying the gospel to a real-life situation right now.
In a moment of raw confession, the pastor’s daughter, who serves in leadership and who you’ve been friends with for years, admits to you she often watches porn. You’re shocked. How do you respond in a gospel-centered way?
First, recognize that it took enormous courage to tell you. Here’s a recent comment from a teen on LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com. It’s on a different topic, but you’ll still get the picture:
For a fleeting month I thought I was homosexual or bi. . . . To answer your question, do we feel safe talking about it with other believers: Heck no! I think the church is still hostile toward it. I am against homosexuality (at least acting on it) and so is my church. I think if I told anyone what I felt like that they would freak out. Just like I don’t feel safe telling anyone I struggle with self-sex. I have told people I cut and was bulimic but the weird sexual sins, no way would I ever tell someone at my church.
This girl isn’t the only one who feels like that. You may even feel like you can’t share your sin struggles with others in the church. That’s a problem we want to avoid in our churches, as we’re told to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other, that we might be healed (James 5:16).
You and I need to be a part of making the church a safe environment to confess our sin struggles to each other so we can all get the prayer and help we desperately need. And what safer place than the church, where we know we’re accepted in Christ and where we can fight against our sin and do the hard work of repentance together? How much easier that makes it to admit how flawed we actually are!
So a good place to start is in affirming your teen friend. Tell her you admire her transparency and want to model it, too.
Then, you might want to explain something like this to her in your own words. (I’m borrowing from Pastor Tim Keller.)
We are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope at the very same time. This [truth] creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you.
The more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.
After that, you might offer to meet with this teen regularly to study gospel truths and pray together. Here’s a place to start: Five Ways to Avoid Getting “Beyond” the Gospel. As you share gospel truths, don’t shy away from giving her helpful tips like moving her computer to a public place and getting an accountability partner. These aren’t enough to deal a blow to the sin root in and of themselves, but they’re super helpful when the teen also understands the practical outworkings of God’s holiness, their sinfulness, and the “Great Exchange” Christ made so they might be seen as totally flawless in God’s eyes.
Yep, I’m convinced that everything your teen needs is found in the gospel. Everything your teen needs, everything you need, and everything every single person on this planet needs. Don’t worry if you don’t have a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling or if you you’re not up on the latest fashions. You have everything you need to help that teen . . . in the gospel.
If you enjoyed this post, you may want to read “Five Ways to Avoid Getting ‘Beyond’ the Gospel.”