Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Powerful Way to Help our Teenage Friends Deal with Discouragement

Our middle and high school friends often encounter discouragement.  Sometimes it’s from their parents, through rejection or divorce. Sometimes it’s a from a boyfriend or girlfriend who cheated or broke their heart. Sometimes it’s simply in the form of being made fun of by their peers. Most often it comes from failing to meet their own standards and fulfill their own dreams.

As Young Life leaders, we try to relate to our teenage friends. We tell them everything will be okay and encourage them to focus on positive things or assure them God loves them. 

But I think it’s rare that we actually practice what the Bible teaches in regards to helping our friends deal with discouragement. The Bible encourages us to die and rise with Jesus in every decision, every relationship, and every circumstance. 

When Paul faced the physical and emotional discouragement of being "hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed" (2 Corinthians 4:8-10), he didn't tell himself to stay positive and that everything would be okay.

Instead, he told himself (and all Christians) that each of these circumstances were opportunities to die and rise with Jesus.  "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body" (2 Corinthians 4:10).  In other words, Paul reinterpreted the hardship and discouragement through the lens of "always" carrying Jesus' death in his body "so that" he could experience Jesus' resurrection life. 

For Jesus, death and resurrection were onetime events.  But for Jesus' followers, death and resurrection are the rhythm of the Christian life.

Practically speaking, what does this look like?

Think about one of your middle or high school friends whose parents are getting a painful divorce.  How does this situation relate to dying and rising with Jesus?

Just as Jesus faced death and prayed to be taken out of a terrifying situation (Matthew 26:39), this student is facing the death of their parent's marriage and likely wants the situation to end. Death in all forms (emotional, relational, reputational, financial, moral or physical) is always painful, both for Jesus and for us.  Let’s recognize this and acknowledge their discouragement for what it is--an awful experience of death.  This allows our friends to grieve and mourn, just as Jesus mourned in a psalm of lament on the cross (Psalm 22; Matthew 27:46).

Our teenage friends may find some release through mourning deeply (and even angrily) the death of their parent's marriage.  But with Jesus, death is never the end.  It is only the beginning. 

Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it" (Matthew 16:24-25).

Just as little league leads to big league and middle school leads to high school, with Jesus- death inevitably leads to resurrection.

Rather than lashing out, denying their parent's divorce bothers them, or creating an alternate life of pleasure or escape (all of which are attempts to avoid the reality of death and maintain some version of life through their own strength), we can encourage them that when we die with Jesus, he promises to raise us from the dead.  Just as nothing could keep Jesus in the ground, nothing can keep us in the ground either, if Jesus' resurrection Spirit lives in us.

Think of everything that tried to keep Jesus dead: a guard of soldiers, a huge stone, a seal, hush money paid to the soldiers and lies from religious leaders about a stolen body. It all failed.  Similarly, much will try to keep our friends in the tomb after their parent's divorce. They might struggle with thoughts like, "I'm on my own now, nobody cares for me, my only option is to take care of myself, healthy relationship is impossible for me." 

But just as God the Father inevitably raised Jesus from death, God will inevitably raise us, as we die with Jesus in our daily life, relationships, decisions and hardships.

What does resurrection practically look like? 

We spend so much time dreading and fighting death, that embracing the cross with Jesus and imagining the inevitability of resurrection is often difficult. 

We can't manipulate or control how Jesus raises us from the dead.  But resurrection after going through the death of your parents’ divorce could look like:
  • A new closer friendship with a friend or Young Life leader or pastor
  • A strong experience of living in community and being cared for by the body of Christ- maybe a Campaigners group or a church family.
  • Increased dependency on the love and care of God.

Whenever we face discouragement, we also face a choice. We can desperately fight to maintain life and happiness on our own, OR we can daily die with Jesus and trust him to raise us from the dead. Death and discouragement are so painful… BUT JESUS… Jesus is capable and desires to form a far better resurrection life than we can ever create on our own.

Written by Elijah Lovejoy: author, pastor, and friend of Young Life. 

If you'd like to read more about this concept of living in the daily rhythm of death and resurrection, check out this short book by Elijah Lovejoy. You can read it in a couple hours and it could dramatically impact the way you live and lead.

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