The King I Wish I Knew in High School

This summer, the student authors of the Rooted Student Series give us a taste of the themes we explore in our upcoming book, The Jesus I Wish I Knew in High School. As students either currently in high school, college, or just recently graduated, our writers offer us a fresh and unique perspective of the Jesus they got to know in high school or wish they had known when they were younger. Their stories and their wisdom will help youth leaders and parents guide their students through high school and point them to Jesus.  -Rooted Student Series Editor Lauren Center

All of us are ruled by something or someone. We want to define ourselves by either a certain style or a famous person. We’re drawn by a particular fad of the culture, or we just want to do our own thing. We also want to excel at what we do. We want to lead and be successful. Receiving recognition feels good! 

For me, I wanted to stand out as the “Christian athlete” of the public high school I attended. Sometimes I got harassed by students, other times I would get challenged by my teachers, but I knew I was set apart for something more. I knew that Gospel transformation continued to take place in my life since the day I repented and trusted in Jesus in second grade, but I also felt like something was missing in my life.

As I look back on my time in high school, I couldn’t deny that I was externally living according to the Bible, but there were areas in my life where I grew complacent in my faith. I relaxed on certain parts of the Bible because I was still “figuring it out.” However, it took me until my sophomore year of college to realize a crucial part of my faith was missing when I went into a period of anxiety and lament over the rampant passivity in my life. Out of his abundant love for me, he brought me to my lowest to realize that even though I was walking by faith, I grew lukewarm. I was neither refreshed by nor radiant with gospel truth because I put my confidence in my leadership and athletic abilities rather than in Jesus as my King. 

During my senior year of high school, various setbacks began to challenge the confidence I had placed in my own abilities. I applied to be a captain of the football team my senior year, but didn’t get the position. I tore my right pectoral muscle two weeks before the state championship of powerlifting. My struggle with injuries continued on to college. Both my freshman and sophomore seasons of college football were plagued with major injuries. My injuries made me think that I was a failure. God reminded me that apart from His strength and guidance, I am a failure (2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV).  

God used both failed leadership opportunities and sustained injuries in athletics to humble me and to remind me that he’s the King over my life and my future, not me. In God confronting me, I came to realize that I had totally forgotten that Jesus is the King who is worthy of my full devotion. I was more concerned about my future and success rather than serving my King wherever I was at in life. I was not being a loyal servant of his Kingdom, and he brought me to my knees in humble submission to him.

One of the most foundational components of the Gospel message is Jesus’ ascension, yet we often fail to even mention Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of the Father (Psalm 110). In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter preaches the full Gospel to an ignorant crowd. He heavily emphasizes Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension (Acts 2). Christ ascending to God’s right hand means more than just him moving from one location to another. It means that Christ is reclaiming his rightful place as King over all things. Because Jesus is on the throne as the King, we have the blessing of proclaiming, “You are worthy” (Revelation 5:9 CSB).

Jesus calls us to be his faithful servants. Even though we struggle surrendering to Jesus, we must remember he is not like other flawed kings; he laid his life down so we can know our King and be known by him. Good kings know their servants, and Jesus knows every part of us–our sinfulness and all–yet he still loves us as we are. 

Out of the abundance of his radical love for his servants, he doesn’t leave us as we are either. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are equipped with both the desire and ability to faithfully obey him. This is also part of being a loving King, that he calls his servants to be faithful to him. Faithful servants must deny themselves and fully devote their service to their King (Luke 9:23). In fact, the requirement for entrance into Jesus’ Kingdom is that his servants be “born again” (John 3:3). 

Even though I knew Jesus as King at a basic level, I wish I had known Jesus as King at a personal level. Knowing him as my King would have alleviated my stress and anxiety surrounding my performance in high school. I was more worried about what my teammates, my friends, family, and coaches thought about me rather than joyfully serving my King, whether I was injured or healthy, officially in a leadership role or as a teammate. 

We don’t have to (nor should we) be ruled by the culture or by others, or by even ourselves, especially since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). You will be tempted to worry about your performance and about your influence. You’re going to feel the need to fit the vision the world has for you. If you’re feeling this way, I want to remind you that if you are a child of the King, he’s your only audience. We serve an audience of One, and he loves you and is worthy of our full devotion. 

Trying to please the world will leave you feeling empty, but Jesus laid down his life so in submitting to him, you can experience love, peace, hope, and joy the world could never offer. The highest and most noble calling we have is to pledge allegiance to the King of kings. Have you surrendered to Jesus as King over your life? If you haven’t, don’t wait any longer. You can experience the glory in being a servant loved by the King. It will cost you everything, yet it’s the best thing you can ever do for both now and into eternity. All hail King Jesus!


Isaac Karpenske serves as the Associate Pastor of Apple River Community Church in Amery, Wisconsin. He earned a Bachelor of the Arts in Pastoral Ministries from the University of Northwestern - St. Paul, and is currently working on his Master of Divinity from the University of Northwestern - St. Paul.

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