I’ll never forget the lesson I learned on my first trip to Mexico as a youth pastor. I slept on a wooden bench which sat on a dirt floor in a back room of a church on top of a mountain in a village with no running water. We took baths in the river each day and the pastor would walk for miles to preach to his people. I brought nearly thirty teenagers from, let’s be honest here… an affluent church in Indiana. None of us lived in these conditions at home but we were sure immersed in it now! And I noticed the youth from the village… and the differences between us. The local youth came to church services early… sang loud… smiled big… and dressed nice. It was convicting to us all. They were so happy and seemed to have something we didn’t. I remember spending a lot of time that week trying to figure it all out and to be honest… trying to keep our teens, well… uh… happy.
Over the years I’ve met others who seem to have this “happiness thing” figured out a lot better than others. Here is what I see in happy people…
It’s hard to be happy when you don’t have peace. Peace comes when your conscience is clear and you know you are “right with God and right with others.” To be at peace you need to do some “soul-searching” and be honest about where you are in your relationships. Did you lose your peace along the way when you chose to hold on to something hurtful or maybe just choose to do life your way instead of God’s way?
It’s really hard to be thankful for what you think you deserve. If your perspective is that you deserve so much more than you have… you are going to really struggle to be happy. But when you put it in perspective… there is always so much to be thankful for and in that place of gratitude you will find so much joy.
Hurt people hurt people. Think about that for a moment. There are so many things in life that “offend” and it is not always an easy task to completely forgive others… but you just won’t find true happiness while living in bitterness… you must accept this truth. In Psalm 51:10 David asked God to “renew a right spirit within him.” If you are really struggling with anger and bitterness toward someone who hurt you… please start the journey today toward forgiveness. Your happiness depends on it!
Those kids in Mexico taught me a lot. The smiles, the laughter, the genuine joy of God in their heart was amazing. During one “testimony time” with our youth group I’ll never forget one of our teenage boys putting it this way when he said, “I’ve met people that helped me see that I am so rich materially, but so poor spiritually… and they are so poor materially… yet so rich spiritually.” So guess what? You may be richer than you think… but you won’t be happy without peace, perspective and forgiveness.
Psalm 139 speaks volumes to us on the intimacy of God. We learn that:
1. He Knows Us, 2. He’s With Us, 3. He Made Us and 4. He Leads Us.
According to the BBC Website’s calculator on “where do you fit in to human life” I was the 3,173,426,221st person alive on Earth and 76,947,364,311th person to have lived since history began.
God made you. Let the thought of that sink in for a moment.
Psalm 139:14, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”
Of the 7 billion+ human beings living on the planet we call earth, you are masterfully created by God.
He Has A Plan For You. – And He Still Does
He said of you, “My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.” When you were still an unformed substance that looked more like a peanut, God was at work shaping and creating you in to the person He intended you to be. While you were still “a secret” and your own mother didn’t know you existed… God had you in His grip. Psalm 139:15
He Made You This Way For A Reason
God was shaping the “members” or the parts of your body from the very beginning. He was making decisions about the color of your eyes, the shape of your nose and just exactly how tall you would be. “Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.” Psalm 139:16
He Is Fully Aware of Your Circumstances and He Wants To Help
And He was thinking about you. As a matter of fact, He’s still doing that. If He tried to count how many times He thought about you the number would be greater than the number of grains of sand on the sea shore. “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.” Psalm 139:17-18
So take time to meditate on just how intimately God is involved in your life and your current situation. He desires to help you and He has the power to change your life. It’s time to start trusting Him.
If you want to see where you fit in to the 7 billion people God has created and are living on earth today, check out this calculator… you can enter your date of birth and see where you “fit in.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-15391515
Don’t ever think that God has forsaken you! If you have accepted Christ as your personal savior, you have a promise that will never be broken. The promise of God’s presence means He will never leave you.
It’s easy to forget that God is with us and to slip in to a place that feels like He has stopped listening, stopped caring and stopped loving.
When a friend forsakes you, when the money isn’t there to make ends meet, when the doctors give you a bad diagnosis, when you lose your job or even when you know you have miserably failed Him yet once again… surely He can’t still be near. But He is.
Psalm 139:7, “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?”
Psalm 139 is a powerful chapter in the Bible and if you will let it’s truth sink in, it will change your life.
Truth – God’s With You
Psalm 139:7, “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
In The Highest and Lowest Places of Life – He’s With You
Psalm 139:8, “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.” Figuratively, if I find myself on the mountain top of life, a place of incredible success, God is there. If I find myself in the lowest place of life as if “I’ve experienced hell on this earth” God is still with me.
When You Feel You’ve Drifted So Far Away – He’s With You
Psalm 139:9-10, “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” Even when it seems you’ve allowed the cares of life to distract you away from Him, He’s still near.
When Life Has Grown Strangely Dark – He’s With You
Psalm 139:11-12, “If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.” When you pass through extremely dark periods of life, God is as much with you as He was in the brightest days.
Hey, you know that thing that happened that continues to steal your joy?
Well… God knows all about that and He wants you to know that He knows. He doesn’t want you to know so that it will just make it harder. He wants you to know that He knows so that you will understand that He can make it better.
Psalm 139:1, “O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me.”
If you’ve ever struggled to experience intimacy with God, you are not alone. And if you struggle with forgiveness (including forgiving yourself for all your shortcomings), it’s going to be hard to ever feel close to God.
Psalm 139 is a powerful chapter in the Bible and if you will let it’s truth sink in, it will change your life.
Truth #1 – God Knows You
Psalm 139:1, “O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me.”
In order to understand Psalm 139:1, you need to understand the deeper meaning of a couple of words. God has “searched” you. He is telling you that He has not just searched you casually but He has “thoroughly investigated” you. Like a private investigator has searched a crime scene, God has completely investigated all the details of you and your life. He searched you and “knows” you. You really can’t truthfully say that “nobody knows and nobody understands” my situation ever again. Because, God actually does know and He actually does understand. He has essentially “placed you under the giant microscope of heaven” and taken a deep look into your life. He knows you.
God not only knows you and understands the circumstances of your life story He also understands these things…
He knows your actions. “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising…” Psalm 139:2
He knows your thoughts. “…thou understandest my thought afar off.” Psalm 139:2
He knows your ways. “Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.” Psalm 139:3
He knows your words. “For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.” Psalm 139:4
So, how should you and I feel about this? Knowing that God knows us so intimately. The psalmist David said in Psalm 139:6, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.” In other words, it is an awesome concept to embrace… that the God of the universe, the creator of all things, cares enough to know me so well. Because of this truth, I can trust Him. I no longer need to struggle with those things that keep coming back to steal joy from my life. I have God and He cares and He is near.
After nearly three decades in youth ministry I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard people say, “By the time they are seniors… you might as well give up on them.” And it’s the one statement I couldn’t disagree with more!
Here’s the truth. I’ve seen high school seniors make that “11th hour decision” that changed the course of their life. And I’ve seen it happen often.
In April of my senior year of high school, I completely changed course. I filled out an application to go to college, received an acceptance letter within ten days and started making plans to go five hundred miles away to study youth ministry. That was in 1981… and I’m still on that path. Thank God people didn’t give up on me.
Realize this. High school seniors are in a position where all the key decisions they are wrestling to make are what I call “directional decisions.” The decisions they are making will change the direction of their life. If adults who care about them will continue to believe in them, invest in them, nurture and guide them, you will be amazed to see what God can do. So never give up on a teenager… especially a high school senior.
Ephesians 3:20, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us…”
5 Things To Know and Understand About Your High School Senior
They Are Happy about Where They Are in Life – There is a “spike” in their level of happiness because they are looking forward to seeing the future unfold. Don’t throw cold water on their joy. Take the opportunity to inspire them and teach them. Seize the unique opportunity you have now to talk then through true spiritual lessons of where true joy comes from. You might even set up some “one on one” talks between your teen and some trusted adults who have great lessons to share about their own experience with God and times of great joy.
They Are Apprehensive – As exciting as it may be to see the “finish line” of high school, they are also apprehensive about all that lies ahead. They want and need your input but seek to give it in a spirit of a coach and mentor from the sidelines, helping them transition to confident adulthood. This is not the time to pull away even though it may feel like that is what they want. It is the time to modify your approach to “coach from the sideline” while still always being available. Before you know it they are going to be asking you, “What do you think I should do?” And you will be in a great position to answer.
They Are Moving Away From Peer Pressure and Toward Adult Influencers – An 18 year old is less dominated by peer pressure. They are feeling more independent and are looking away from hundreds of classmates and looking forward to finding a few close friendships with adults. They are starting to form closer bonds with a few trusted friends. Their values and beliefs will be affected by those few close relationships. Be one of those close adult friends and pray fervently for God to bring the right “influencers” into their life.
They Want You To Be Proud of Them, Not Sad About Them Growing Up – Your 18 year old is ready to roll with a high level of enthusiasm and they will make some mistakes while learning to adapt. You are proud of your accomplishments too! You raised your child to be an independent adult! But you will deal with your own sadness of letting go. Don’t let your sadness dominate and don’t burden your teen with it either. They are excited and want to see that you are excited for them.
They Are About To Become More Fun Than Ever – It’s true! You will begin to see a shift in your teen’s thinking. They are going to start seeing their parents as much more valuable. They will notice and process what mom and dad have accomplished in life at home, at work and as a family unit. They start seeing parents through adult eyes and will desire more and more to be connected on an adult level to you as a parent. It’s important that you have kept a strong foundation in your relationship with your teen so you can enjoy this next stage without having to struggle through emotional baggage and unresolved hurt from the past.
Remember, of all the billions of families on earth, God placed that child in your home! He has clearly created a great plan for you and your teen. Now is the time to engage with your son or daughter and enjoy it more than ever!
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6
After living in Indiana for 21 years we moved to the mountains of Tennessee in 2010. Our family enjoyed so many things about Indiana. The people we served in the two churches where I was a youth pastor became like family. Our farm house in the country was surrounded by corn fields and flat… really flat land. But it had it’s own sense of natural beauty.
When we moved to Tennessee I constantly found myself admiring the mountains. I grew up in the foothills of South Carolina but it had been a long time since spending much time around mountains. I remember so many times during our first year here I would comment to my wife and kids about how beautiful the scenery is here. I would often say, “I bet the people who have lived here all their life don’t even notice these mountains. They are probably just so used to it.”
Don’t you think that’s one of life’s great pitfalls? It’s especially true of our relationship with God. Do you remember a time when you hungered and thirsted for God more than you do now?
That’s one thing that is so rewarding about the ministry we have with youth in juvenile detention centers. Many of them are fatherless and so many have never really known much about God or the Bible. But God often uses this time in their life to speak to them and show Himself real in their life.
Sometimes the words I hear from these youth bring conviction to me. It causes me to ask, “Do I still hunger and thirst for God? Do I still notice His hand at work in my life… or have I gotten used to it?”
Here are 10 powerful statements from 10 different youth I have met. I hope this inspires you to be thirsty for God today.
My dad died at 15, I’m 13 and I don’t want to die on the street like my dad. (13 year old boy)
I’m locked up, I’m 12 and I have two kids. Is my life over? (12 year old girl)
I gave my life to Jesus. Now I am reading the Bible and praying everyday. Please don’t bring me any other books, I just want to read the Bible. (13 year old boy)
Will you pray with me? I want God to change me. I want to know Jesus personally. (15 year old boy)
My dad died on the street two years ago and I have no one. How do I know God’s plan? (13 year old boy)
I’m glad I got locked up. This is like the whale in Jonah’s life. If I had not landed in the belly of this place, my path would not have changed. I’m ready to follow God’s path, I have given my life to God. (15 year old boy)
I have no one. I don’t even know where my dad is and my mom lost custody of me when I was 2. (15 year old boy)
Will you pray with me? Will you talk to me? Can I see you when I am released? Will you teach me to study the Bible?
I came to the Bible study tonight hoping there would be food. I got something more fulfilling than food. I learned about God and His word. (17 year old boy)
Before I got into trouble, I told everyone I was an atheist. But I now realize there really is a God and I’ve decided to believe in Him and trust Him as my Savior.
Question: When you find yourself becoming spiritually complacent, what have you found that reignites your passion for God?
After twenty-one years in church youth ministry I established an outreach ministry in 2008 with a key focus on reaching troubled youth in the community of Indianapolis, Indiana. Our ministry moved to Tennessee in July 2010 and I continue to minister to high-risk and fatherless youth.