Most people today enjoy our modern culture of convenience. But have you ever stretched yourself outside your "comfort zone" to learn what you are really capable of achieving? Scripture promises great reward for those who resist apathy!
In an age of comfort and convenience, do you have what it takes to stretch yourself and do your very best?
"Stroke, feather… Stroke, feather… Stroke, feather!" I shouted, as our two green canoes raced for the far shore. Dark clouds rumbled in from the west as the sky turned a murky blue. We plowed our paddles into the darkening water, the wind whipping our faces with spray, the canoes bucking with each wave.
Our destination was a protected cove in northern Minnesota's Namakan Lake. After struggling across the body of water, eight bedraggled canoeists finally made it to the cove. As our crafts slid into the smooth water of the landing area, I was struck by the reaction of my fellow paddlers. They were tired and spent—but not discouraged. In fact, they were ecstatic! Braving the waves had energized them, leaving them thrilled that they had met a challenge and conquered it!
It was day four of a six-day, 50-mile canoe trip through Voyageur National Park, and the trip was living up to its billing as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Forty-three teens from all around the world had come to this park straddling the U.S.-Canadian border to experience the stunning wild beauty of the boundary waters.
The teens, joined by 27 adults serving as guides and chaperones, had wedged themselves and their gear into 17 canoes on a bright and pleasant day to start the trip. But the clear weather passed quickly, and each day after brought new wind, rain and thunderstorms—with only occasional respite. Sleeping bags were soggy, tents were soaked, mosquitoes were unrelenting and muscles were sore.
In short, it was great!
Why did we embark on a trip through remote country with no hot-water heaters and no indoor plumbing? To make the teens miserable? No! We wanted to take them on a trip like few had ever experienced. We hoped to teach them new skills they could put to the test in real-life situations. We sought to help them see that they could muster the determination to endure, even when pushed out of their comfort zone. We did it to help them learn to face adversity together, to bond as a team and to rise to challenges together. We wanted to teach them to do hard things.
Sadly, in today's affluent Western culture, not only are teens rarely encouraged to take on difficult challenges—they are often given all sorts of excuses to fail! Reacting to this trend, teenagers Alex and Brett Harris in 2008 wrote a book, Do Hard Things, encouraging teens to face life boldly and use their teen years as a launching pad into adult life. The teen years, they remind us, are not a time to just "drift along." Though there is ample time for fun as a teen, the teen years are a unique time of preparation for a future successful life—by pursuing education, training the mind, developing the personality, and learning to do hard things.
Treating the teenage years as a "vacation from responsibility" is a fairly recent phenomenon. In America in So Many Words, authors David K. Barnhardt and Allen A. Metcalf point out that the term "teenager" was not even used before the first part of the 20th century. "Thus the years ending in –teen became something new and distinctive… The teenager remade our world. The concept is… subversive: why should any teenager enjoying freedom submit to the authority of adults? With the discovery of this new age, ours has been the century of the teenager ever since" (p. 234).
Certainly, not all teens shirk responsibility and waste time. Many are diligent, plan for the future, and work hard. Many are exemplary, selfless people who dedicate themselves to serving others. Yet they are bucking a cultural current that mainly encourages youthful apathy and inaction.
The Bible, not surprisingly, disagrees with our 21st century cultural norm. King Solomon, nearly 3,000 years ago, wrote that we should enjoy our younger years—within the overall context of developing a relationship with God: "Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes; but know that for all these God will bring you into judgment" (Ecclesiastes 11:9).
Yes, God wants teens to enjoy youth and to have fun. He wants them to explore the world and develop their minds. He wants them to build relationships and develop their personalities. But doing so does not mean a decade-long vacation from responsibility. The teen years are a time to learn to work hard, build toughness of mind and strength of character, and to learn how to apply God's law in making the good—yet sometimes difficult—choices that help lay the foundation for a successful life!
Parents can unwittingly discourage teens from being their best by not expecting high levels of character. Our children will rise to the level of our expectations. But we must help them begin to build a noble life, with character and moral strength. As Solomon said: "Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right" (Proverbs 20:11).
Does this mean young people will be perfect? Of course not! They make mistakes. They need encouragement—and sometimes correction. But parents must not lower expectations or make excuses for failure. We must inspire them to do the right thing, even if it is hard.
Why is it so important to help teens face responsibility? Because teenage apathy leads to young adult apathy! Television sitcoms today often portray twenty-something (and, increasingly, thirty-something) "kidults" or "adultescents"—overgrown children, with no apparent direction or purpose, whose main focus seems to be spending time with their friends in an unending haze of perpetual adolescence.
This is not an isolated occurrence—it is a growing cultural phenomenon. TIME magazine writer Lev Grossman observed: "Social scientists are starting to realize that a permanent shift has taken place in the way we live our lives. In the past, people moved from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood, but today there is a new, intermediate phase along the way. The years from 18 until 25 and even beyond have become a distinct and separate life stage, a strange, transitional never-never land between adolescence and adulthood in which people stall for a few extra years, putting off the iron cage of adult responsibility that constantly threatens to crash down on them" ("Grow up? Not so fast," January 16, 2005).
Yet the young adult years are precisely the time of life when people have the most energy and vitality to pour into building careers, marriages and families. It is not a time to waste just "hanging around"!
Some words from the Apostle Paul to the young evangelist Timothy are particularly poignant for this generation: "Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12). Ironically, while the Western world idolizes perpetual youth, it also despises it. Not only can older people look down on the accomplishments of young people who succeed at hard things; young people themselves, by pursuing worthless and wasteful distractions, can unwittingly "despise" the opportunities God has given them to direct their lives and build their futures.
Not only does God give young people the opportunity to prepare for their future human lives, He is calling all true Christians out of the world today, to prepare for a future as firstfruits in His Kingdom. What does this mean? Those who respond to His call today, and commit their lives to Him, will receive opportunities beyond their wildest dreams! Look at what Jesus Christ told His disciples: "Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. Therefore He said: 'A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return'" (Luke 19:11–12).
The nobleman gave ten pieces of money to his servants to use profitably while he was gone. When he returned, the nobleman rewarded them for their service. What was the reward? Notice: "Then came the first, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned ten minas.' And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities'" (Luke 19:16–17).
The servant who multiplied his master's money was given a great reward. Today's Christians will receive an amazing reward if we repent and respond to God's call today. We can become the firstfruits in God's Kingdom at Christ's return, receiving eternal life as our reward (1 Corinthians 15:52–53). We can have the opportunity to serve in Christ's own government. Paul asked the question, "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?" (1 Corinthians 6:2). Today's Christians will be judges—rulers—in the Kingdom of God. Now is the time for us to prepare, by growing in character and obedience to God and committing to be tools in His hands.
When we grasp the opportunities God is giving those who learn to do His will, how can we fall for the laziness and apathy the world wants to offer us? Now is the time to prepare for our destiny! Now is the time to learn to make and keep commitments. Now is the time to take on and not shirk responsibility. Now is the time to obey God—even when it is tough, and means going against the crowd. Now is the time to be willing to do hard things for God.
The prophet Jeremiah watched Jerusalem descend into warfare and chaos when Babylonians besieged the city. What did he conclude from what he saw? "The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth" (Lamentations 3:25–27).
Jeremiah understood. The youthful years are the time to prepare for responsibility—not to ride along in apathy, flowing with the tide of society.
But is this message just for teens and young adults? Or is it for a broader audience? As Dr. Douglas Winnail describes in his article, "Seven Lessons from Seven Churches" (on page 22 of this issue), the second and third chapters of Revelation describe seven historic Church congregations—and successive Church eras—from the time of the apostles to the end-time. The seventh and last is named "Laodicea"—and characterizes the prominent attitude of most Christians at the time of Jesus Christ's return.
We are now living in the end-time, so the warning to Laodicea is a warning to our generation—to a people in the end-time, struggling against the corrosiveness of spiritual apathy: "And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth'" (Revelation 3:14–16). What a contrast this offers to the portrayal of the faithful Philadelphian Christians, mentioned just a few verses before, who will be holding on as a remnant alongside their Laodicean brethren.
Christ's message is also an indictment against a lukewarm and apathetic society as a whole. Think about it. A few generations ago, values of hard work and self-discipline were deeply ingrained in the fabric of Western society. People grew up expecting that success often meant self-restraint, and required people to do things that were not always fun or comfortable in the short-term. How out-of-date that sounds to many today! Even the terms "self-discipline" and "self-control" sound archaic! Yet self-control pleases God; it is listed as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23), and the Apostle Paul preached about it to the governor Felix (Acts 24:25).
It is sometimes hard to obey God, especially when the tide of society goes against you. For instance, our society finds it hard to control desire for possessions—and so credit card debt soars higher and higher. However, Christ taught His disciples not to set their hearts on possessions. He said that unless we are willing to give up our possessions to serve Him, we are not fit to be His disciples (Matthew 19:21).
It is also sometimes difficult to control one's passion and anger. How many times do we lose our temper and do things we later regret? In a society throwing off self-restraint, we hear almost every day of people losing their tempers and even engaging in road rage and murderous attacks on helpless victims. And yet, to please God, Christians must conquer their emotions and bring even every thought into captivity (2 Corinthians 10:4–5).
It also is hard to guard what comes out of our mouth. We hear coarser and cruder language all the time, on television, on the Internet and in daily contact with others. The tongue is very difficult to tame (James 3:8). Even so, with Christ's help, we need to control our words, for He said, "But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36).
In our present day, it can even be hard to keep God's Sabbath. How ironic! The Sabbath is a rest day, yet many who exercise faith and courage to keep it are risking rejection by family, friends and neighbors. We may risk losing a job—or be unable to find one—because we will not work on the Sabbath. Yet Jesus Christ promised that if we make obedience to Him our highest priority, He will take care of us—even making sure that we have what we need to eat and to wear (Matthew 6:33)!
Being a true Christian today demands strength of character! It demands that we are willing to make sacrifices. If God is calling you and opening your mind to His Truth, are you willing to do the hard things? Are you willing to control your desires and passions? Are you willing to control your tongue? Are you willing to conquer your temper? Are you willing to put God first in keeping His Sabbaths and Holy Days?
This is not the time to shrink back—it is the time to be strong and take the challenge! It is the time to go against the complacency and apathy of society. It is time to truly submit to God. It is time to let Him empower us to do the hard things to serve Him, even when others are not. God is looking for people who will step out and serve Him even when it's hard. Scripture encourages us: "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him" (2 Chronicles 16:9). Eternal blessings and opportunities await true Christians who are willing to commit to Him, submit to His ways, and conquer themselves. Even if it is hard.