Wasted Youth

Among the young men and young women I get to help from time to time I find that a common problem is the wasted life. It is easy for youth to think they have an abundance of time and opportunity stretching before them and that they can well afford to waste it.

Several young men have discussed with me their addiction to computer games. They know it isn’t good for them, but they find it hard to pull themselves away. This is a clear sign of much wasting of life in the future.

How to Harvest Youth

In an ideal situation there would be several ways in which a young person could harvest their potential and make the most of their youthfulness. What I am about to suggest here are not the final definitive observations, but some thoughts that will direct people in the right direction.

A key to harvesting youth is Protection of many things which children are born with, but which, once destroyed, cannot be replaced.

Another key is to develop the Potential which lies in each life. Talents, intelligence and time that can be well spent provide great potential to each young life. If that potential is developed there will be a great harvest in years to come.

Yet another key is found in Principles being built into the young life, to guide and guard the future years. Where people do not have guiding principles to refer to they become vulnerable to destructive influences and foolish choices.

The harvest from a youthful life is also enhanced by Persistence. The ability to persevere, persistently pushing past obstacles and staying the course in the face of temptations is of great value. As one entrepreneur once pointed out, those who start and project and succeed differ from others in only one main respect – they persistently persevered with their project, while others gave up. Persistence proves character and that kind of character will stand every life in good stead for the future.

How to Throw Youth Away

Maybe some people will better grasp the challenges of their youth by seeing how easy it is to throw their youth away.

Take, for example, the student who does not do his work and who barely scrapes through during the years of his education. Once he has reached his young adult years he will have little opportunity to invest himself in study compared to the years of his youth. Others, who have done the extra work, learned the extra languages or covered the extra subjects, will have great advantage in work, business, social and personal life.

The youth who gets drawn into a destructive and undisciplined life, connecting with others who are wasting their lives, will be drawn away from things that provide a hope for the future, such as education, skill development, trade skills, productivity, discipline, etc.

Time spent in front of the television, or chatting aimlessly with friends, or scouring the web for trivial amusements, will be time thrown away.

Audit the Harvest You Can Expect

Another way to look at harvesting youth is to check out the harvest that you can expect. God warns us not to be so stupid as to believe we will harvest anything other than what we planted. If you sow thorns then that is what is going to grow in your life.

The young people who invest themselves in the latest computer game and spend thousands of hours becoming the top player can expect a harvest. Five years later they will be the master of an obsolete game which no-one cares for any more. They will only have meaning in a small subculture of gamers who have chosen not to move on to the new generation of amusements.

If that same young person had invested the same amount of time and interest in mastering a musical instrument, or a foreign language, they will have a vastly different harvest five years later. The skills learned will still be with them and will enable them to keep moving ahead in that field.

So, have a look at the things that consume your life right now. Everything that has no future is going to leave you with a barren paddock. Everything that has a future value, progressing to something else or being a platform from which other things can be built, will provide you a fruitful field for good harvests in the future.

External Discipline

Young people recognise that they are unlikely to demand high levels of commitment and discipline from themselves. That is where good parenting proves very valuable. External discipline, guiding and demanding certain levels of performance and productivity help youth to take advantage of their opportunities.

Some tasks are unpleasant simply because they are new and hard to master. But once they have been mastered to some degree they become enjoyable and can be very rewarding. External discipline drags people to those tasks and forces them to persist, until the benefits are discovered and the harvest is in preparation.

When a child is left to himself he will waste his potential. He will not learn perseverance, and he will be unprotected. He will not learn the principles which can and will guide and guard him. King Solomon pointed out that when a child is left to himself he will bring shame to his parents.

“The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame.” Proverbs 29:15

Endangered Youth

The increased collapse of family life endangers youth. It robs many of the protection they need and it allows them to waste their potential, without principle or perseverance. Many more children are being ‘left to themselves’ these days, due to the absentee parents, either by family break-up or by both parents being pulled into the workforce.

Once a youth has grown up without good parenting their potential has mostly been lost, their character has not been formed, precious things in their life are likely destroyed and they are mostly without principle to guide and guard them. Sadly we have a generation of endangered youth forming around us right now.

What’s the Solution?

The first step toward a solution is the saving grace of Christ. When a person is born again they become a new creature. That newness is an invaluable asset in rescuing anyone’s life. People who have been drunkards, fighters, murderers and the like have been totally transformed and rescued from degradation through faith in Jesus Christ. So that salvation has to be the first and foundational aspect of a solution for youth.

The next step is resolve. If external discipline is not being provided by godly parents, then each youth must determine to press ahead with godly disciplines in their life. Making themselves accountable to others is a very helpful tool in this process. Parents and guardians must resolve to assist the youth to gain personal disciplines and to have a productive routine that builds their potential and plants good seed for a good harvest in the future.

Add to that wisdom. Godly wisdom enables us to manage the ebb and flow of motivation, opportunity, responsibility, and so on. Crushing burdens normally crush people. Too little discipline weakens people’s muscle for the tasks. Keeping a balance requires wisdom and divinely inspired leadership.

Look for God’s grace. When we abandon ourselves on God we can call out to Him for gracious assistance, wisdom, opportunity and so on, which would otherwise be outside our experience.

Then There’s the Military

It has been noted that some young man who have become wayward and undisciplined find themselves drawn to the military. It is as if something inside them recognises their need for strong leadership and they find that in the challenges of a disciplined military life.

It was anecdotally acknowledged during the Vietnam war that many aimless and wasted young men were able to harness their life and their potential through being called up into the army and going through the rigours of military discipline.

While I don’t suggest that all undisciplined youth go into the military it is worth noting that the more extreme forms of discipline and personal demand embodied in boot camp and military training have proven effective for others.

A Prayer For Youth

Parents Can Pray: “Lord God, I give to you my undisciplined child. I repent before you of failing my child, by not providing them the godly discipline which You want in their life. Lord, forgive me. And now I ask You to take possession of my child and to deliver them from evil, rescuing them from their own wasted life and bringing into their life the richness of Your undeserved grace. Lord, deliver and heal my child and use him (or her) for Your glory and in Your service. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”

Youth Can Pray: “Lord God, I have already wasted much of my life and I repent before You of destroying the life which You gave me. I forgive all those who have let me down and I take responsibility for who I am and where I am going. Lord, rescue me from everything that traps me. Lift me up and put my feet on solid ground. Grab hold of me and teach me how to love and serve You with all my might. I give myself to You and I allow You to discipline me so I become the person You created me to be. I do this in the powerful name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

Baby in the Womb

A lovely young couple are currently expecting their first child. I recently felt to encourage the young dad to speak to his unborn baby. I asked if he spoke to the baby in the womb. He replied that his wife spoke to the baby at times, but he didn’t do it.

That prompted me to reflect on how we respond to the baby in the womb, especially the first one coming along.

New Relationship

Each new baby opens up for us a new relationship. With the first child we open up a whole new level of relationship. And like all new things we often face them with no real preparation. Often we don’t know that we have left things undone until many years later.

I have seven children and I have a unique relationship with each one of them. I can’t say that I have built the most exemplary relationships with them. In fact, at first, I assumed that relationship would just happen automatically. As a consequence the relationships are not as sweet or deep as they could have been.

Learning to Relate

I stumbled into relationship with my children. Because I didn’t have a concept of building relationship I ended up having to maintain relationship as a reaction to what went wrong, rather than as one building correctly from day one. My relationships grew out of the upsets, the good times and the bad times along the way. I thought that was the normal way to build relationships.

Many people do not have strong relationship skills. We usually have weaknesses in our ability, based on our own past failed relationships.

It is important to learn to relate to the child, as a conscious skill development. The new relationship is very important and needs to be pursued with intention. For those who are about to enter into relationship with a child about to be born it is important to promote the relationship rather than to just let it happen.

How to Build Relationship

Here are some suggestions for getting started on a good relationship, even whieh the baby is in the womb.

Value the relationship. Good relationships with children are incredibly valuable. Just ask anyone who lives with a broken or poor relationship with their child. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t be too casual about it. Be determined to build relationship and to so connect with your child that you are closely bonded for the rest of your lives.

Speak to your baby. There are lovely testimonies of people who have been strongly influenced by what they heard before they were born. One testimony speaks of a newborn baby in distress who settled immediately on hearing their father’s voice in the hospital ward. The baby had heard the father read the Bible to it each day as it formed in the womb. That baby knew its father’s voice from the womb and felt security from it once it was born.

Speak comfortably to your child. Over the years and from an early start, tell your child how valuable and special they are in your life. Speak of your love for them and your commitment to them. You are your child’s champion and hero, so speak into that role and encourage your child to walk in confidence because of your commitment and support.

Cast Godly vision for your child. Speak often to your child about your vision of their on-going place in your life and your on-going place in their life. Talk to them about how you are going to introduce them to God and often take them into God’s presence with you. Talk about how you are going to help them find God’s wisdom in the many challenges they will face through their childhood and youth. Speak about the times you will hug them and comfort them in the future and wipe away their tears.

If you have a daughter you can cast the vision of walking her down the aisle on her wedding day, to marry a young man who you have tested out to be suited for her. If you have a son you can cast the vision of them walking into their own areas of responsibility with the skills which you have taught them over the years and with your active support.

Love Your Child

The new relationship you will enjoy with the baby about to be born will be a relationship of love. You will have a new person to love for the rest of your life.

If you are casual about the relationship then it may never become a healthy and happy relationship. A love relationship requires that you love the child and encourage them to love you in return.

Don’t see this child as just a ‘baby’ or ‘another mouth to feed’. This child is potentially the most special person in your life. While the marriage union is always to be held above relationship with the child, yet the bond and delight that can come from the child can be incredibly enriching to your life.

Alternatively you can raise a child who despises you, cannot relate to you and who brings great pain and trouble into your life.

Get Started Now

Don’t wait until your child is old enough to help you in the kitchen or workshop. Don’t wait until they are adult. Don’t wait until they have gotten past their childish ways.

Get started now. Start building close and intimate bonds with your child from the moment they are conceived. Build it for life, not for a temporary moment.

If you are a new parent please take it from me as an older dad, that you need to take the relationship seriously, not for granted.

You have no guarantee of the child’s affection for you. If you send them to pre-school and school they will be sorely tempted to bond with their peers and not with you. When you let them down, or they feel like you have – even if you haven’t – they will pull back from you.

Make a priority of building special relationship, right from the start. Get connected with that baby in the womb.

I’m Older Now

That eager lad dashed about with inexhaustible energy. And he bore an idealism fitting for his youth. He didn’t know the tears and toil that time would add to his account.

He knelt in prayer and dedicated every waking breath. And then he stood and spent himself for everyone who called. Silly boy! How they used him up. Those hours and early starts. Those freezing nights and back-breaking loads. Those long, long days in unrelenting sun.

Yet he kept his word and stepped up again and again. They patted him on the head and said nice things about him. Without him much would never have occurred. His back carried the load. His car carried the people. His phone made the calls. His ear listened to the complaints and woes. It kept him on his toes.

The process finally found its end. A young woman won his heart and laid her own claim on his time. Something had to give and so, slowly, the zealous investment was tempered by other calls for his money, time and mind.

He moved on. New pressures called him to the mill. He earned his keep and hers. Together they built a life and did what they could in their spare time.

Marriage and family, renting and working gobbled up the years and put them in the suburbs. Hopes came and went. Projects were launched and spent.

Old sermons didn’t stir as they had before. Other people’s needs were dismissed as impossibilities now. Someone else would have to pay the price that once he’d paid. Others would have to bear the loads he bore. Someone else would have to be the bunny for all who needed a lackey.

His wife and his life, his children and his bills kept him in the real world where dreams were out of place. Yesterday’s ideals were boxed with other relics of his naive youth. How silly to be so simple and so sold out. How fruitless all those miles and hours and aches and pains.

But then…. the heart always retained a sense of that call felt long ago.

While stiffer limbs and double chin replaced the skinny zest,
the youthful zeal, now hardly real was never laid to rest.

Often o’er the years a flow of tears trickled to sermons preached.
The call still echoed there buried by life’s care yet still alive enough to now be reached.

And so it was that an older man stumbled to the altar and stood among a crowd of eager youth. As they committed themselves to serve the Lord with all they had to give he scanned the zealous ones with memories of his journey long ago.

“I’m older now”, he thought. “And do not come with the ignorance of youth. I know now what I did not know back then. I once launched off with wild, untamed enthusiasm. Ideals and imagination pulled me to the front to throw myself unmeasured to the cause.”

“But now I’m not a lad. I’m no longer wet behind the ears. I’m calloused by the passing years. I stand here with stiff knees and workman’s hands. I stand here with my debts and all my life’s demands.”

“I stand here to the call. It asks me for my all. And I have stumbled forward once again.
I know the price to pay. I know what my wife will say. But I’m not here to serve the Lord in vain.”

And there among those crying youth a man bent down to pray. His lowered chubby torso conspicuous among the rest. He’s older now. And he kneels like he’s never knelt before. This is no repeat of youthful zeal. This is something deeper, and more real.

Here is one who knows the price. Here is one who feels the weight. Here is one who drags himself back to where he has been.

A special trumpet voluntary was composed in heaven that day. The angels love to play it when they can. It speaks of those older, wiser ones who’ve chosen to go all the way. It celebrates the yielded-ness of man.

Honour Forgotten

Giving Honour, which I have looked at in some recent posts, is a matter of the heart. We are commanded to give honour, not as an outward form but as a heart choice. The problem in our society is that we have lost the notion of honour and only the form remains.

In bygone eras the giving of honour was a matter of character training. Children and youth learned to hold people in a place of honour. From that heart to give honour the child would happily do the things that expressed the honour in their heart.

When I was a child, and that wasn’t so long ago in historical terms, children still called adults by a title, such as Mr Jones or Mrs Smith. We were taught to respect our elders. Adults could not be spoken to the way we would speak to another child in the school yard. We had to say, “Excuse me”, when we wanted their attention. We had to wait for them to give us their attention before speaking. And so it went.

In a generation before mine it was customary for children to remain silent in the company of adults. At the dinner table, for example, children were to sit quietly and not speak unless spoken to. This behaviour pattern expressed honour to the adults and humility and self-control on the part of the children.

In the middle of last century it was still considered reasonable for a wife to serve her husband. She might prepare a hot drink for him and fetch his slippers to make him comfortable.

When travelling in a bus or train children were to give up their seat to an adult and everyone would give up their seat for an elderly person.

Honour was given to adults, the aged, those who were in positions of responsibility, those needing care, and so on. However, many people only learned the form, and not the heart attitude of honour that went with it.

In a previous post I pointed out that honour is a visible process. I’m going to almost contradict myself here, by noting that it is possible to go through the external motions, but not actually have the right heart attitude.

What happened historically was that children were taught to do the right thing, but not to feel the right heart attitude. Giving up their seat to an adult was seen as a duty, like a chore, but not as an expression of honour for that person.

Wives were told to please their husband, but as a matter of duty, not as an expression of the honour that was to come from their heart.

Children were told to be silent but did not understand why. So they demanded to be heard and no-one knew how to deal with that.

The actions have all but disappeared, because the people trying to teach them only held them as duties and appearances that had to be kept up. When the actions were challenged or disobeyed the teachers could not come up with a compelling reason to reinstate the lost practices. The problem? The practices had become a hollow and empty form of the process that was remembered. The action prevailed for a season, without the true heart basis upon which the actions were built.

We need to rediscover ‘honour’ and that will be reflected in actions that express honour to others. But it starts in the heart. If a child despises their parent then forced acts of honour are vain. If a child has no heart for the elderly then they will resent having to give up their seat for those people.

Honour has been forgotten and needs to be rediscovered. I pray that the Lord give us grace to make that discovery and to change the way people behave because we are able to transform their hearts first.

Youth Plants and Builds

Today’s pop culture acts as if youth is the time for indulgence, independence and unbridled pursuit of self-fulfilment. That idea is not only a deadly and useless one, it is a modern notion that defies the time-tested ideas of youth as a vital time to plant and build.

Let me take you back to some concepts of youth from yesteryear. Three thousand years ago King Solomon instructed youth to give special attention to God. The fear of God is something Solomon saw as vitally important for youth.

“Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth..” Ecclesiastes 12:1b

Solomon dedicated the book of Proverbs to his son, giving abundant sound advice about the pursuit of wisdom, avoiding fools, keeping away from immorality and so on. The best kind of youth is first established on the fear of God and a desire to go God’s ways and fulfil His plan for our life.

Another concept from yesteryear is that of ‘sowing and reaping’. What you sow is what you reap, according the both Biblical wisdom and human experience.

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows is what he will also reap. For he that sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh; but he that sows to the Spirit will reap life everlasting from the Spirit.” Galatians 6:7,8 (Apostle Paul)

“For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorn bushes, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush.” Luke 6:44 (Jesus Christ)

Trees take time to grow. What starts out as a small plant becomes, in time, a huge tree or a dense bush. When young people plant things in their life they may not see the consequences for a decade or two. Initially there is no evidence that they will have any bad outcome. But if they have planted thorn bushes and brambles, they cannot expect to harvest figs and grapes. What they sow is what they are going to reap.

So take note of this quote from this important eighteenth century American writer, Thomas Paine. Paine wrote many things that were central to bolstering the revolutionary cause and maintaining commitment during the long and wearing struggle for independence.

“Youth is the seed-time of good habits”, Thomas Paine, ‘Common Sense’ 1791.

Youth is a time to plant. In fact, youth is the time when planting happens, whether the youth realise it or not. They are planting character and sowing seeds for harvests to be enjoyed throughout their lives. Time well spent and choice seeds sown in youth will provide much to draw from in later years.

Another historic reference point for the importance of youth is the idea of building things for the future. A notion which was popularised in Christian homes in recent centuries is that of our life being a house which we build when young and have to live in for the rest of our lives.

Just as a young man growing in frontier territory must learn the needed skills to build his own family home from raw materials, so too, he must learn to build his moral character to be strong and independent of outside influences.

This concept is given attention in Ralph Moody’s stories, “Little Britches” and “Man in the Family”. Moody explains, “My goal in writing is to leave a record of the rural way of life in this century, and to point up the values of that era which I feel that we, as a people, are letting slip away from us.” (Quoted in New York Times Book Review Aug 6, 1967). Consider the following quote from “Little Britches”.

“…you have injured your own character. A man’s character is like his house. If he tears boards off his house and burns them to keep himself warm and comfortable, his house soon becomes a ruin. If he tells lies to be able to do the things he shouldn’t do but wants to, his character will soon become a ruin. A man with a ruined character is a shame on the face of the earth.”

In Moody’s short story, “I Meet the Sheriff” a lad must act responsibly, or face his father’s accusation that he is “running away from the law and tearing boards off my character house”.

Youth is a time to plant and build, in the fear of God. Wise youth follow God’s instructions, are attentive to what they allow to take root in their hearts and minds, and they discipline themselves to learn the skills required to build strong character, even when the raw materials are hard to come by.

I exhort each young person to consider your creator and live in the light of His searching gaze. Plant wisely and guard against wild seed being sown in the soil of your life. Build wisely and learn the disciplines that empower you to build and re-build again and again.

God bless you as you do.