The teens and twenties—these are years that can be put to very good use or that can be squandered. These are years that can form the firm foundation of a life well-lived or the unsteady foundation of a life tragically wasted. In this brief article, I’d like to speak to teens and young adults to offer a word of counsel about making the most of this stage of life.
You have lots of life left to live and one of the responsibilities that falls to you in this stage is to build a foundation for the many years that remain. To that end, here is a principle I’d like you to consider: Give the Lord a lot to work with. As you grow into adulthood, God will make use of talents you’ve developed, experiences you’ve had, challenges you’ve accepted, skills you’ve gained, passions you’ve pursued, and opportunities you’ve taken. This is what he does, this is how he works, this is what gives him delight. Yet not all talents, experiences, challenges, skills, passions and opportunities are created equal, which means some should take pride of place over others.
The Lord is unlikely to make great use of the gaming skills you’ve gained through many thousands of hours spent on your computer, console, or mobile phone. There’s nothing at all wrong with gaming, but it’s not the kind of activity that’s likely to contribute much to future success. Enjoy it if it’s of interest to you, but enjoy it in moderation and with a greater emphasis on more important skills.
The Lord is unlikely to make great use of the knowledge you’ve gained or entertainment you’ve enjoyed by watching movies on Netflix or shows on YouTube. Both can be perfectly good ways to unwind, but neither is likely to chart a path to success in future life or ministry. The same is true of a commitment to obsessively browsing or even mastering social media.
The Lord is unlikely to make great use of whatever it is you think you’ve gained through hundreds or thousands of visits to porn sites or to all those hours spent reading erotica. To the contrary, these simply add knowledge and desires that must later be repented of and put to death for the sake of spiritual and relational health.
It is very unlikely that you will ever look back on life, recall these activities, and lament that you did not give them more time or pursue them with greater earnestness. It is very unlikely you will ever conclude that God used these things in great ways to shape you into a man or woman who is living for his glory by doing great good for others. Not when compared to some of the things that could have consumed your time. So what could you have been doing instead?
The Lord is likely to make great use of the knowledge you gain and the godliness you observe as you spend time with older believers. Young Christians should be relentless in finding ways into the lives, homes, and prayers of older saints so they can see how the Christian life is lived, so they can ask honest questions, so they can learn by observation. God uses this kind of mentorship in powerful ways.
The Lord is likely to make great use of a dedication to the local church—committing to a single church as much as possible and as long as possible and with the determination to be there as often as possible. Go there to enjoy worshiping with other believers and to learn from studies and classes. But don’t go as a mere consumer. Instead, go looking for opportunities to serve and opportunities to develop Christian friends and mentors.
The Lord is likely to make great use of your commitment to the spiritual disciplines of reading Scripture, prayer, and worshipping with God’s people. It is often very difficult to see the day-by-day benefit of these practices, but through time, repetition, and commitment they add up to something that forms and directs an entire life.
The Lord is likely to make great use of the education you gain through diligence in studying, writing, and testing. He is likely to make great use of the jobs you do as you work your way from minimum wage to a career. He is likely to make great use of the good books you read and the real-world skills you diligently acquire. He is likely to make great use of the time you spend serving children or serving the elderly, or serving people with special needs. He is likely to make great use of those first faltering attempts at evangelism or that view of the developing world that comes through a missions trip. He is likely to make great use of the second or third languages you learn.
Now here’s the thing: Unless you are careful and deliberate, you will find that the things God is unlikely to use so quickly and easily displace the things God is far more likely to use. Those easy and attractive things that are fun, that demand no effort, that keep you squarely in your comfort zone, and that trigger all the brain’s pleasure centers—these can keep you from doing what ultimately counts for so much more. It’s not that there is no room for games and pleasure and fun in the Christian life, but that the Christian life is not meant to be all games, pleasure, and fun. We’ve got too much to accomplish for that, too serious a mission, and too short a time.
Building a firm foundation instead of a shaky one will take earnest desire and the willingness to deliberately make that desire a reality. It will require thoughtfulness and planning and effort and self-denial. But it will be worth it as it reaps a great bounty of doing good to others and bringing glory to God.