A Sermon prepared for the YFC International General Assembly in Taipei, Taiwan in the Mid 1990s and given to YFC Leaders who preached in Different churches
Notes to the preacher:
- I am a strong believer in the premise that preaching is communicating truth through personality (Phillips Brooks). As such, I am not happy about people taking a sermon written by someone else and simply reproducing it. What is preached must come from the fire in the heart of the preacher about the truthfulness, appropriateness and power of the material he or she is preaching. So this material is only a guide to you in your preparation.
- It would be best for you to use examples that you know, especially from your ministry, to illustrate the points of this sermon.
Youth for Christ/ Sri Lanka
THEIR FUTURE—OUR PASSION
Bible Reading: Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:7
TEXT: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.’” Ecclesiastes 12:1
I am here in your country for the Tenth World Convocation of Youth for Christ International along with representatives from most of the 100 or so nations in which Youth for Christ has a ministry. We are grateful for all the work done to make us welcome and happy here by Taiwan YFC director Paul Liao and his team.
We are meeting under the banner “Their Future—Our Passion.” It expresses our commitment to the youth of this world. It is estimated that by the year 2000 young people will constitute 50% of the world’s population. We consider ourselves to be advocates of this vital segment of the world’s population.
THE NEGLECT OF YOUTH
The need for such advocates of young people has become necessary because youth are often neglected and their value is often underestimated by the rest of society. Even the Bible recognised this problem.
When Jeremiah was called to be God’s prophet, he felt he was not qualified for the job because of his youth. When God called him, he said, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” But God’s replied, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you” (Jer. 1:6-7).
Paul urged Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”
In both these instances the Bible overturns the verdict of the world that youth were not suited for the special service they had been called to.
The difficulty that society has with young people is understandable.
- Youth is a time of great change in a person’s life.
- This is a time when they realise that they have to soon be released from the protection of their families and be ultimately responsible for their futures.
- They are going into an adult world in which they see a lot of inconsistencies, hypocrisy and uncertainty.
- They sense that they have to suffer the consequences of their predecessors who have left the world in the mess that it seems to be. And they wonder whether they can do any better.
- There are many physical changes that come with their preparation for adulthood which cause them much pressure.
- They have a taste of freedom from the control of their parents but they realise that this freedom is not yet complete. Therefore conflict with parents is common.
- Amidst this instability and these awkward relations with the rest of society, they will seek refuge in being accepted by their fellow young people. But this also causes much conflict because these peers often want to do things that are opposed to the values that they have been taught.
In light of these problems it is not surprising that often there is conflict at home between parents and children. Most parents would say that the teenage years of their children were the hardest years of their parenting careers.
Some youth react to the pressures they face by expressing themselves with extreme forcefulness. So they revolt or give themselves to violence, vandalism, drugs or alcohol.
So the negative reaction of adults to youth is understandable. Many simply don’t know how to handle them so they ignore them or reject them.
—Children, on the other hand, are considered sweet and loveable because of their simplicity.
—Adults are valued because they are considered to be able to make a more useful contribution to
—Older people are valued for their experience and wisdom.
This neglect of youth is often reflected in the programme of the church too. Often not much energy or resources are given for ministering to the youth of our churches. But this situation must change. After all such a large percentage of the people for whom Christ died who are living today are young people.
THE POTENTIAL OF YOUTH
The words to Jeremiah and Timothy we quoted earlier show that youth are people with potential for doing great things for God.
In fact our reading from Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:7 suggests that the young years are the best times in one’s life. 11:9 says, “Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see….” These words suggest that young people really can enjoy life and that it is good to do so.
But the verse ends with a caution: “…but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgement.” They must enjoy in a way that pleases God. And what better way to enjoy is there than to do it according to the will of God who made our capacity to enjoy. If he created joy he is the one who could give us the most complete enjoyment.
This is something we must let our young people know. We know that enjoyment is a very important part of a young person’s life. As Christians we can make use of this and channel it aright so that they can have the purest and the most satisfying enjoyment.
Ecclesiastes 12:1-6 suggests that youth is the most productive period in ones life. It says that weakness sets in with age. It urges: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.” The reason for this is that weakness sets in upon our lives after the youth years. So it continues, “… before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them’— before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain; when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim.”
There are those who say that they would become religious after they get older. They want to enjoy their youth and then become religious when they get old and serious. These verses from Ecclesiastes give an opposite type of reasoning. It is best to commit our lives to God at youth, for then you can truly enjoy life and use the great energy of youth to do the best things with your life. To turn to God at youth is the wisest decision possible and opens the door to the most enjoyable life possible.
There are other places in the Bible that speak of the vigour of youth (Job. 33:25; Psa. 103:5). Actually in the Old Testament the word “young man” is used to mean soldier (Gen. 14:24; 1 Sam. 30:17; 2 Chron. 36:17; Jer. 11:22). This points to the strength and daring of young people.
So it is not surprising to find examples of bravery by young people in the Bible.
- The young man David bravely fought Goliath when the others were afraid to take up his challenge (1 Sam. 17).
- King Josiah instituted a great reformation in Judah, when he was only 20 years old (2 Chron. 34:3-7).
- Three brave young men, Shadrach, Meshach and Adednego, refused to bow before an altar and were thrown into a blazing furnace where they experienced a miraculous deliverance (Dan. 3).
- The young queen Esther was willing to risk her life for the sake of her people. She made that memorable statement to her cousin Mordecai, “… I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).
- A teenager named Mary accepted God’s will for her to have a baby out of wedlock, and told the angel who gave her this message, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).
The history of the church also has shining examples of how young people were greatly used by God.
- One of the greatest movements in church history has been the Protestant missionary movement out of North America in the 19th and 20th centuries. Thousands of missionaries have gone from North America to the far corners of the world bearing the good news of the gospel. It is acknowledged that this movement was triggered off by a prayer meeting when a group of five students at Williams College in Massachusetts met under a haystack because of a storm.
That day they focused on the need for awakening interest in foreign missions among students. Their leader Samuel Mills exhorted his companions with the words that later became a watchword for them, “We can do this if we will.” They committed themselves to foreign missionary service. Then they went other campuses and shared their vision for missions. The movement grew and grew until the whole church was affected by this missionary vision.
- Ever since, students have been in the forefront of pioneering missionary efforts. The Student Volunteer Movement sent out thousands of students from North America and Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They had as their watchword: “The evangelisation of the world in this generation.”
- Today movements like Youth with a Mission, Youth for Christ, Operation Mobilisation and Campus Crusade for Christ mobilise thousands of young people from all parts of the world to be involved in missions.
- We could speak of the great student revivals in North America in this century, when revived students from Colleges like Asbury College went all over sharing what God had done in their lives. And they triggered revivals wherever they went.
- A similar thing happened in India in the girls school run by Pandita Ramabhai. Hundreds of girls joined with their teachers to pray for revival in India. And when they were revived they went all over India sharing and praying for revival. And in many places revival resulted.
Several years ago an engineering company in Japan, bought a piece of equipment from an American firm. Later, when the machine broke down, the Japanese requested the American company to send an engineer to repair it. When the engineer arrived, the Japanese gasped in astonishment. He was so young! They sent a cable to the States, “Send an older and more experienced person.” Imagine their surprise when the American company cabled back, “Use the young man. He invented the machine.”
The Bible then looks at youth as people with great potential.
THE RECEPTIVITY OF YOUTH
Our text says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (Eccles. 12:1). This is actually an age when they are most receptive to the gospel. Most of the crucial decisions that determine the course of a person’s life are made in their youth. Proverbs 22:6 speaks of the lasting impact that can be made in a young person’s life: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
Because young people are in transition, this is a time when they are very vulnerable to the influences of others. Actually around the world youth are being targeted by people wanting to exploit them and get them to accept a given lifestyle. So the music, television, film and advertising industries give much attention to the youth audience. Unfortunately some of these influences lead them to drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, sexual immorality and violence.
This is a great challenge to the church. We must seek to win them in this impressionable and receptive time their lives. Indeed a majority of committed Christians in most churches made their commitment to Christ when they were young people. Someone has estimated that over 80% of committed Christians in churches in USA made their commitment to Christ before they were 18 years old.
The great reformer King Josiah was the son of a wicked king Amon. But he did not go the way of his father. 2 Chronicles 34:3 tells us that “in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young [16 years old], he began to seek the God of his father David.”
Church history is filled with stories of great people who were converted in their younger days.
- The most prominent evangelist of the last century Dwight Lyman Moody was led to Christ by his Sunday school teacher in his late teens.
- The most prominent evangelist of this century, Billy Graham, made his decision for Christ at an evangelistic meeting when he was in his mid teens.
- The most famous missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, was an irreligious boy of seventeen, when he read a tract and gave his life to Christ.
- China’s most famous preacher, John, Sung made his commitment at the age of nine. And though he backslided when he was a student in USA, he returned to Christ and had an amazing ministry before he died at the relatively young age of 42 years.
- India’s most famous preacher, Sadhu Sundar Singh, saw a vision of Christ at the age of 15 and converted from the Sikh religion to the religion he had severely opposed.
- Do-Wai was one of the most effective preachers to the highlanders of Taiwan. He was converted to Christ as a youth during the Japanese occupation while working as a room boy in a Japanese Police station.
In some non-Christian communities and families, the young people are the only ones who are receptive to the gospel. They are open to change whereas the older people are more set in their ways and not interested in listening to a new teaching. But when young people are converted in such a community or family they could be the agents of bringing others to Christ. In that way they become the gateway through which the gospel makes inroads into a community or family.
In the history of Youth for Christ there are many stories of young people who came to Christ and opened the door for their family members to respond to the gospel. Non-Christian parents came to know the YFC workers through their children. These workers were there to help the family in its times of need, and they prayed when there was sickness or trouble in the family. In the meantime the parents noticed a marked change for the better in the behaviour of their child who has become a Christian. Soon they become open to the gospel, and ultimately yield to the lordship of Christ.
OUR RESPONSE TO YOUTH
What I have said today would have shown you how important it is to give an adequate place to ministering among youth. There are many things that you can do in response to this challenge. Let me list some of these things.
- You can encourage those who work among youth. This work does not have much prestige. Therefore for many people youth work is just a stepping stone to a more prestigious ministry. We need to show our youth workers how much we appreciate the important work they are doing. This is particularly true because youth work can be very discouraging. Young people have their ups and downs. One day they may be highly enthusiastic about the gospel, but the next day they may be cold and apathetic. This can be very discouraging to the youth workers.
- You can pray for youth ministry.
—Pray for those who work with youth.
—Pray for their programmes.
—Find out about their needs and support their work with your prayers.
—Pray also that the Lord of the harvest would send labourers to reap the harvest of youth that
he has prepared.
—As you pray be willing to give your children, if you have any, to this great work.
- Seek to give time and funds for ministry among youth. When we remember that youth work is not very popular and prestigious today, we will realise that this is an urgent need.
- Seek to help those working to reach young people who are outside the church. Remember that young people are often more receptive to the gospel than adults. Therefore we should think specially of them when we think of reaching the unreached.
- Tens of thousands of non-Christian youth meet Christ each year through the work of groups like Youth for Christ. These youth need to be incorporated into churches. Often it is difficult for them to adjust to the church culture. So it is very important that the Christians go out of their way to make them feel welcome.
—We may need to adjust our programme a little so that they will not feel too uncomfortable.
—As the other family members of many of them are not Christians we may need to welcome
them into our families and let them spend time in our homes experiencing the joys of
Christian family life. This becomes particularly important in times like Christmas when
converts feel very lonely.
It is possible for us to look at youth as a group that is difficult to understand and therefore to neglect them. But let us rather look at them as a group with great potential for the kingdom. And let us do all we can to bring them to Christ and to encourage them in their Christian life. May their future be our passion.