It’s no surprise that students need to spend daily time alone with God. And its also no surprise that a student’s relationship with God can improve if they would just spend some time cultivating that relationship through reading the bible and praying.
The majority of youth leaders regularly encourage students to do just that and probably spend at minimum, an entire message series a year, talking to kids about the importance of reading the bible and praying. But we know that students aren’t really focused on doing it. At least, not with any real consistency.
Heck, most of us probably aren’t spending the time reading and praying either. A survey by LifeWay Research suggests that only 19 percent of protestant Christians say they read their bible daily and only about 14 percent say they read it about once a week. What makes the results even more staggering is that these are adults! So you can probably imagine that the number of students reading the bible is even lower.
It can be a tough sell to try and convince someone to spend time with someone they can’t see or hear. But we know the transformative power of time in God’s word, so what if we came up with more compelling reasons to move students in the direction of participating in these spiritual disciplines?
We’ve come up with two reasons that take time spent alone with God beyond the primary objective of simply getting to know Him. Time with God…
- Helps teenagers know themselves
- Helps teenagers experience authentic or real community
In other words, what if we told students that quiet reflection would make them better at life and better at relationships? Now that’s a compelling reason for students to get alone with God.
Why? Because students already want and need these things. They want to know and like themselves and understand who they are and why they are the way they are. But that’s not all. They want real friendships and realcommunity. They want to know where and how they fit in the world around them. And this makes sense— because God wired them with those needs.
But this generation is attempting to get these needs met in a way no other generation has before: through technology.
Somewhere along the way this generation has been sold the lie that their desire to know themselves and be better at life is best met through technology.
In an effort to fill that need, students find themselves constantly connected. Technology is with them all the time. They are connected so often, they no longer knowhow to be alone. And that’s because they aren’t ever alone. Even when they are physically by themselves, they are mentally held hostage by what’s happening on their phone or computer.
And even if technology is a good thing—which, in a lot of ways, it is —constant connection is not a good thing. In fact, we’re learning that constant connection is the biggest barrier to forming both a well rounded sense of identity and creating a safe sense of community.
How? Because teenagers have a three dimensional need to know themselves and to know others, but they’re using a two dimensional thing to meet it.
The good news is, students know their needs are legit—even if they haven’t put words to it. Meaning, we don’t need to create a felt need when it comes to trying to get teenagers to spend time developing these spiritual habits.Because every teenager already wants a better sense of who they are and how they fit. We’re just trying to show them there is a better way to get that need met than through technology—which is leaving them less satisfied than we they started.
So what can we do to show students that a quiet time can not only help them know God, but help them better understand who they are and how they fit?
Make it attainable.
Our oldest child is learning how to read. So our lives right now are sitting and going through the painfully slow, but necessary stages of sounding out each and every letter—about a dozen times—before the word comes together. It’s challenging for everyone involved. And when he sees more than three sentences on a page he’s totally overwhelmed. So we’d be terrible parents if, as he’s tackling a level 1 reader, we presented him with a copy of War and Peace and said, “We’ll start on this tomorrow!”
Not helpful, right? It wouldn’t make any sense and it would make our son feel totally demoralized.
But for a lot of our teenagers, that’s what we’re doing. They are beginning to work on their spiritual lives, learning how to do this whole God thing and we’ve set the bar for having twenty minutes of quiet reflection everyday, reading through the Bible in a year, and fasting once a month. It’s insane.
We need to start where our students are. Are they currently doing nothing? Set an attainable goal. Read your bible once a week. Set aside ten minutes. Are they already reading their Bible every day? Encourage them to go one step further.
If we have students who aren’t doing anything at all, maybe the most helpful thing we can teach them to do is to simply be quiet. Even if they aren’t reading their Bible yet, encourage them to turn their phone off for thirty minutes. That’s it. Have them turn in their phones when you meet for small group. Make it simple. Make it attainable. Give them a step they can achieve.
Make it accessible.
If you’ve ever been on an airplane, you know that before taking off there’s the safety procedure the flight attendants walk through. Now, they would be terrible at their job if they told you, “You need to find an oxygen mask and an exit, but I’m not going to tell you how.” There’s a reason they point out the exit row and the overhead compartment where the oxygen mask is stored. Because they know, just telling people what they need to do isn’t helpful if they don’t give you the tools you need to do it. The same is true for our students. Find resources you feel comfortable passing along to teenagers as a great place for them to start in this journey of spending time along with God. In other words, don’t just tell them to spend time with God. Give them tools to make that time with God happen. The objective is to eliminate as many barriers as possible that’s keeping them from attaining this goal. Giving them something takes away the excuse of, “I don’t know what to do.”
Make it communal.
The popular diet Whole30 which cuts out all bread, sugar and more — is miserable, if you do it alone—and even then, it’s still kind of miserable. But if you do it with someone else, it’s not as bad. Same principle applies with students.
If you want your students to just begin by turning off their phones, make a small group commitment, or family commitment. Have everyone turn them off at group or the dinner table. Or every Tuesday night from 8-8:30, even if everyone’s at different places, we agree to turn them off to spend time being quiet. This helps ease the the feeling teenagers have about missing out on everything that is going on in social media—when they know others are also giving up their phones at the same time. You could go through a book together. Create a sense of community and accountability. When other people are involved there is more skin in the game.
Make a plan.
Help your teenagers land on a time of day and a place where they can consistently begin to make space for this new habit. But don’t stop there. There are things that are keeping students from disconnecting in order to have time alone with God. You can help guide students through identifying whatever is holding them back, and then help them navigate these issues so that spending time with God is more likely.
What are their biggest hang-ups for doing this? Are they afraid of missing out? Boredom? What can you do this week to help your students combat those things and help walk them through it? How does your phone or not having time alone help with these feelings?
Could you imagine telling your students that there is a better way to get to know themselves? That there is a better way to like themselves? That there is a better way to know they are loved, and that they are enough? That if they spend time alone with God, disconnected from everything and everyone else, they will find a greater peace about who they are and who God made them to be?
What if we told our teenagers, and they believed, that what God says about them helps them rise above their insecurities and their current social status? Imagine teaching them that time with God can be the road to true friendship, not just having a sense of friendship, because they know themselves better?
Imagine this generation of students being taught and believing that they will never overcome their doubts and fears about who they are on social media. Imagine them knowing and believing that surfing the web is not the same thing as having a space to meditate. That it doesn’t provide the space for self-reflection. What if they started believing that the best place to begin to be whole, was spending time alone in God’s word? What if they believed that’s where they could find themselves and find their identity? That would be a game changer.
About Rodney and Sarah Anderson
Rodney and Sarah Anderson are a husband-and-wife writing team with a combined 20 plus years of ministry service and experience. Through their in-depth knowledge of ministry and passion for faith, the Andersons inspire ministries, parents and teens to engage in their faith and start meaningful conversations.
One way the Andersons promote meaningful conversation is through their co-authored devotional, WIRED (Orange Publishing, October 2015), which aims to show middle and high schoolers that by spending time alone with God, and disconnecting from the noise of social media, they will better understand who they are and find peace with who God made them to be. Are you prepared and wired to be a parent of a teen? Take the Wired Parent Quiz to find out.
The Andersons live in Roswell, Georgia, with their two boys, Asher and Pace. For more information, please visit www.orangebooks.com.