Fighting for the Joy of Our Students
Within the youth ministries in our churches today, there is a battle for joy.
Teenagers don’t live blissfully unaware of the world in which they are a part. Their access to constant news, information, and interaction with others online makes them exposed to the world’s grief at an earlier age than I ever was. The major world event in my lifetime was 9/11, at which point I was 18 years old. This year, however, every student in my youth ministry was born this side of that harrowing event. And that’s a significant fact. No student in my ministry was born prior to 9/11. They have never known a world where the words ‘terrorism,’ ‘security,’ and ‘threats,’ were uncommon to our global vocabulary.
When the students in our ministries look upon the world stage, they see a broken and pained planet. They see a world with more hurt and injustice than happiness and joy. These are the grounds of the battle for joy in the lives of our young people. And those of us who disciple and influence students have the opportunity to be people who fight for joy, for their sake.
This fight for joy is relentless. For adults, let alone for teenagers. There are so many events and encounters that can decrease our joy. Despite the temptation to believe everything is #soblessed, the reality for most is that it is not. Whether it is the global pain of nations and peoples, or whether it is at the individual level of personal suffering and distress, the fact is we must fight for joy – for ourselves and for others.
In this life of brokenness, pain, and discouragement, joy can be diminished. And so it is no surprise that the Scriptures speak of contending for joy. Consider the Apostle Paul who, encouraging Timothy to flee those things that dampen true joy and hinder faith, says, “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). Paul also writes to the church in Corinth saying, “We work with you for your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24); again in context of sustaining faith. And we can also remember the first letter of John, which proclaims the truth of Jesus Christ and is written “to make our joy complete” (1 John 1:4).
That we must fight for joy should not be a huge surprise for us believers, who recognise we live in a fallen and sinful world. A world that mutes the joy we were created to have.
As I interact with teenagers on a regular basis, and see the struggles they have in various areas of their lives, I am more convinced than ever that we are to fight for joy for our students and their families. The reality of family pressures, school stress, the rise in levels of anxiety and depression, the dysfunction of social relationships, and the threat of over-exposure online, can all come with a tempering of joy. As our teenagers navigate school life, seek to understand who they are, and find where they belong in this world, we can be people who point them to the true Joy-Giver. We can help place them in the story of God, grounded in Christ and his work on the cross.
God’s story, of course, is the story of Christ contending for his own joy. In Hebrews 12:1-3 we read of Christ enduring the cross – scorning its shame, and sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God – all for the joy that was set before him.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”(Hebrews 12:1-3).
The joy of Jesus is the joy that comes from being with his Father. And in this context we are called as the people of God to persevere in life and faith as we seek the same joy, the joy of being with the Father.
How often and how easy it is to lose heart. A dysfunction in the family. A relationship breakdown. A disagreement with friends. An unexpected medical result. Whatever it might be for us and our students, we are called to fix our eyes upon Jesus. Through stories of believers of long ago, we are given examples of faithful people persevering to the end. But in Jesus we find something greater, an everlasting joy that is gifted to us through the work of the cross. As we seek to take hold of this joy for ourselves we also call others to do the same. For our students, the teenagers in our churches and in our homes, we call them to come and take hold of this joy.
As I pray for students in my youth ministry I am praying more and more for their joy. I pray they may come to know the true Joy-Giver and what he has done for them through the cross. In a world where it is easy to drift from joy, to find false joy, and to live in despair and self-loathing, the call of Christ provides a different way. A way that leads our students to have confidence as they face whatever comes their way, knowing that the joy of the Lord is their strength (Nehemiah 8:10).