Three Words I Want My Students to Claim

In Isaiah 61, we read three compelling words that can lead our hearts to respond in action, passion, and maybe even some fear – restore, rebuild, and renew.

This is the calling that followers of Christ are given in response to his work that “bind[s] up the brokenhearted,” “proclaim[s] freedom for the captives,” and his work that “comfort[s] all who mourn.” It’s an active calling that tells us who we are in light of who Jesus is. He is the anointed one called to save us, we are the ones who require saving. And by his work we are renamed sons and daughters of God who take on the charge of being restorers, rebuilders, and agents of renewal in the world.

These three words are printed on a banner that the students in our church walk by every Sunday. They are included on t-shirts and stickers that they have placed on their water bottles, guitar cases, and car windows. Once in a while, you’ll see them wear the t-shirt as they study at the local pizza place. When we talk of mission trips and our crazy, fun-filled events, these three words are mentioned because they are the foundation for our ministry and the foundation for the lives we hope our students will desire to live.


In the gospel of Luke, Jesus stands in his home synagogue and reads this same prophecy about himself declaring it fulfilled in his very being. This moment marked the beginning of his ministry and its words set the theme for it: Jesus came to free us.

In his living of a perfect life he carried out every God-given law to perfection and thereby freed us from our perfectionistic desires and from our full inability to earn his love and acceptance. In his death, he took on the physical judgement of God for our sins because there was no way we would be able to pay the price for them ourselves. In his resurrection, Christ defeated death, giving us eternity, in which he will restore all people and things. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, showing us the plan for our life. He humbled himself by coming to be with us. And he pulled out all the stops to show us how he loves us. Our response to be a part of restoring, rebuilding, and bringing about the renewal of his Kingdom comes directly from the fact that Jesus restored, renewed, and rebuilt us on the cross.

In Isaiah 58, he uses similar titles as in chapter 61, saying of God’s people that they will be, “Repairer of Broken Walls” and “Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”

I love these words. They point towards hope after a time of hopelessness, because something can’t be repaired if it wasn’t broken first. And friends, we are all broken. Yet as friends of Jesus, these words are spoken as a calling over all of us that gives us a purpose and a place to point our students towards when they ask questions of how Christianity is relevant in their world of social media, social justice, and 6th period math.

Restore, Rebuild, Renew. These three words give us purpose because it answers the question of “what now”? When a student has woken up to the gospel and begins asking questions about what their life should look like based on what Jesus has done, we can point them to this scripture and tell them of their new purpose to be a son or daughter of God who steps into the broken parts of the world. A son who isn’t fearful of a broken friendship in high school, and yet steps into it willing to do the work to restore it. A daughter who becomes enraged by a parent’s failing, and yet allows for God’s grace to begin rebuilding the parts that were damaged. A child of God who decides to see a low-performing school district as a place where God’s love can restore economic, racial, and social divides. These three words give our students purpose because they show the action-oriented mercy of God that empowers us through the Holy Spirit to be a part of doing the holy repairing work of God.

These words provide direction for our students’ hearts, and they also give teenagers a place to plant themselves when the work is hard and seems too much. When we remember that we are a part of restoring a world that has been devastated, a part of rebuilding walls that have been torn down, we are reminded that something greater than us has come before our time. Our students are not the only generation called to this task. Your generation was called before them. And the generation before you was as well. Since the fall of man, we have been called to be a part of the restoring work of Christ on this earth, which means when we lead our students to pick up this work as well, we are not asking them to rectify what we could not do. Instead, we are showing them how to partner in the work that Christ and all the saints have been doing before them. It is good and pleasing work that earns of us the titles of “Repairer of Broken Walls” and “Restorer of Streets with Dwellings”.

Becca Heck is a veteran youth worker based in Atlanta, GA. She has served on the steering committee of Rooted Ministry and is currently working on her MDiv at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta. In between classes she is a part of the Anago Partnership Co-hort in Atlanta, upskilling pastors to lead flourishing churches. You can find her on the weekends teaching at various trainings, conferences, and retreats.

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