Eternity and Youth Ministry

Unless the Sunday school lesson we’re giving is particularly boring, the youth we work with  probably aren’t thinking much about eternity in any concrete way.  In truth, we probably don’t give eternity much concrete thought either.

But I’ve been learning this past week that we should. 

My grandma is dying.  She may still have a few years left, but she has a chronic, degenerative condition that will eventually end her life.  Her recent trip to the E.R. shoved eternity into my face.  And me being me, I tend to think about what’s in my face.

It was uncomfortable.  But it was also instructive.

I found that the more I thought about eternity, the more life felt short and fleeting (even a relatively long and full life, as in my grandma’s case).  In addition to sympathizing with the plight of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, three admonitions have found a more prominent place in my spiritual life.

First, since vapor can’t be held on to for long, I need to learn to enjoy what the Lord’s given me to do today rather than always focusing on tomorrow.  My wife has been especially helpful in helping me see this with my two young kids.  My baby boy is sleeping on me right now as I write this.  Whatever relationship I’ll have with him in eternity, it won’t likely be like this. 

Many of our youth are discontent and impatiently longing to grow older, move out, get married, etc.  Eternity reminds us to enjoy today. As the Teacher wisely put it in Ecclesiastes 3:12-13,  “I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”

Secondly, even as I seek to enjoy the pleasant moments the Lord gives, I need to learn to hold more loosely to this life.  This life will end, and the new life that already began in Christ will one day be the fullness of my life.  If I must pass through death to obtain this, then so be it.  In light of eternity, death loses its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55).

My prayer is that as I learn to cling less to myself, I will find the freedom to orient myself more around the needs of others.  I’m finding that self-sacrifice actually makes perfect sense in light of eternity.  As the martyred missionary Jim Elliott famously quoted, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Perhaps if we talked more about eternity with the youth, they might also find freedom in Christ to focus less on themselves and more on the needs of the people that surround them.

 Thirdly, if life is short – “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” as James puts it in James 4:14 – then eternity isn’t.  Whereas this life is fleeting, eternity with Triune God offers supreme fullness forever – or eternity apart from God holds the supreme agony of total emptiness forever.

In contemplating eternity, I’ve found renewed vigor to make the most of the opportunities I’ve been give to bear witness to Christ and the eternal hope of his love.  I desperately want the youth to taste and know the fullness of new life in Christ by the Spirit with the Father now and forever. 

And I need this reminder.  I fear rejection.  I dread those awkward moments after a difficult truth has been said.  But eternity reminds me that these moments of fear and awkwardness are also fleeting.  My eternal reality is true peace and total rest in the Lord.

Perhaps this truth can help our youth find boldness to proclaim their faith in the face of fear and rejection as they rest in and receive from Christ Jesus their eternal Lord.

Mark Howard was a youth pastor for five years before joining Elam Ministries, an organization that seeks to strengthen and expand the church in Iran and surrounding areas. Through Elam, he's had the opportunity to work with Iranian youth as well as talk with American churches about God's work in Iran. Mark has his M.A. in Theological Studies from Wheaton College Graduate School and serves on Rooted's steering committee.

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