After three years of leading a group of guys from 6th grade through 8th grade, I bumped up with them to lead through four more years of high school. Last night was the first night of the next four years, and there’s so much I want to say.
Most of you start school – if you haven’t already – this week. Last night I heard some leaders talk about how many of you haven’t figured out you’re in high school yet, but it will happen soon. That actually made me kind of sad, because they were talking about the crazy, zany parts of you. And while it’s true, to be the best adult you can be, you should have an attention span longer than 4 seconds, and you shouldn’t act completely crazy.
But the next 4 years are going to grind on your heart. Middle school has already started it, and college will continue one day. But right here, right now, it’s your heart that is going to take the brunt of it all in a way that’s different than at any other time of life.
You’ve read and heard so much advice about situations you’re going to face. From alcohol to drugs to popularity, to girls, to porn, to every thing else. But here’s something you probably don’t hear everyday: every one of these things is going to affect your heart. Your heart is about to be put into a vice grip, and every person you let influence your life is going to get an opportunity to come at it with an angle grinder. They will try to shape your heart and your life in the way that seems best to them.
And if that sounds horrendously painful – good. Because it is. Oh not immediately, but eventually you will be more and more like the people you let influence your life, and those patterns will either produce good fruit in your life and your heart, or not.
Here’s what I mean. When I was 16 I got involved with the youth group at my church and I met some really great leaders who invested in me and believed in me. When I was 17 I got a part time job at that church and every day some of the best leaders I’ve ever met in my life would invest in me. When I was 18, they bumped me up and had me lead one of the tech teams in the youth group. I had no idea what in the world I was doing (and, as a leader, still often don’t – you all are intimately aware of that) but people still believed in me and I haven’t forgotten that now almost 10 years later. I never will.
I think a lot about that and as I look back, I realize that so much more changed in my life at that time than I realized. With the hindsight of 10 years, I realized that my heart was in a vice grip, and some people came over with angle grinders and helped grind away some of the hard, difficult parts of my heart. It was, at times, painful, and difficult and hard. But through some of their words of encouragement, and words of challenge, all of it seeped into my heart and began to change it. Probably in more ways than I will ever fully realize or appreciate.
So, freshman men. Here’s the deal. Who you listen to in high school will affect your heart. Sometimes positively. But frequently negatively. And as Proverbs says, you should do everything you can to guard your heart for how you handle your life will flow out of your heart (Proverbs 4:23). You can’t go through high school without having some of it seep through to your heart, and what seeps into your heart today becomes who you are for your whole life.
And so who you have in your life is so very important. I’m not going to pretend. I’m here because I want to change your heart. I want my words – which are not always well chosen or articulate, but are genuine – to seep into your heart. And I hope they point you closer back to Jesus. You can take it or leave it, the choice is up to you, but that’s why I’m here. Because I know it’s a better way.
The words that will seep in from high school will be things like, “You’re not enough.” “You’re going no where.” “You’re all alone.” “No one cares about you.” And, “You have so much to do.”
But the dying promise of a Galilean carpenter-turned-Rabbi says “It is finished.” And we know we can trust him because he didn’t stay dead.
You don’t have to work so hard. You don’t have to change everything about you. You don’t have to let high school grind away the things in your life you love just for popularity or being cool, or whatever the hot thing is today. You are enough. You are loved. And the sooner you let that seep into your heart, the better your whole life is going to be.
Praying for all of you. I’m always here if you need me. I love you all.