Based on my experience of parenting teens, pastoring teens, and being a teen, I’d like to burn three words into the hearts and minds of all teens: FOCUS, FORCE, FAITH. These three words are the key to success in any walk of life, any calling, any course of study.
“Focus” is not a word many of us would associate with teens. “Blur,” maybe, or “Diffuse.” Instead of traveling down one road and aiming at one destination, they often try every road they can with little idea where they hope to eventually end up: college, work, social media, church, business ideas, home, sports, trucks, hobbies, shopping, TV, Internet videos, music, fashion, books, photography, sleep (sometimes), friends, and on and on. And that’s just in the morning.
This is partly a cultural problem; there’s just never been so much choice, mobility, accessibility, availability, and possibility. And never so much insanity!
The fact is, I’ve never seen anyone succeed who is not totally focused on one thing. That doesn’t mean they only do one thing; it means everything serves, advances, and contributes to one thing.
For example, the teen who’s totally focused on his studies works part-time, but only to pay his tuition. He plays sport, but only to relax and reward his hours in the library. He has a friend or two, but not dozens of them and they don’t dominate his life or distract him from his goal.
The focused teen ruthlessly cuts out everything extraneous. Nothing secondary is ever allowed to become primary. Nothing peripheral becomes central. Without harming physical or spiritual health, the maximum number of hours are devoted to a single aim.
What should that “one thing” be? “Follow your passion” say many today. No, no, no! The biblical route is “Follow your talent.” Passions may not be God-given; talents are. Your gifting is the primary indicator of God’s guidance and call.
The biggest favor we can do our teens is to help them to find and follow this focus; to sharpen their vision and encourage them to aim at one thing.
“Force” should naturally follow “focus.” Just as the river increases in speed and force when narrowed by rocky gulleys, so a focused life should be a much more forceful life, with forward drive and unstoppable momentum.
However, this doesn’t necessarily follow. We all know people who have only one or maybe two interests, but they approach life with too much of a laid-back and casual mindset. They stroll along a single path but with little energy and make little progress.
Yet, such is the cut-throat competition today, that without drive and determination, half-hearted teens will quickly be left behind. Also, there are so many “thorns and thistles” in their path that they will need tons of motivation to push through difficulties and setbacks.
I know it’s not “cool” to be hot about anything today. But I also know that without passionate enthusiasm, mediocrity is guaranteed. No, we don’t want our teens to be characterized by ruthless and selfish ambition, but we do want them to do whatever they do with ALL their might (Eccl. 9:10).
FOCUS + FORCE can be a horrific combination, if not combined with FAITH. Without FAITH, without the blessing of God, FOCUS + FORCE will produce nothing, or at least nothing worth having. Sure, you might make a pile of money, but what shall it profit if you gain the whole world and lose your soul? (Mark 8:36)
Christian faith helps a young person find their focus. The Christian teen comes to God and says, “I can’t do everything. I can only do one thing well. Please show me what talent you’ve given me and what you want me to do with it. Help me to cut everything that would hinder my life purpose and to get everything essential in the right position and proportion in my life.”
Christian faith helps a young person find their force. The Christian teen comes before God recognizing her limitations and liabilities, and says, “Lord, please give me the drive, the determination, the energy I need for my calling. Help me to be deaf to the discouragements, and to persevere through the difficulties. Help me to show that I am energized and enthused by your presence and pleasure in my life.”
Christian faith helps a young person look to God for blessing, and for contentment with whatever their God-given focus and force produces.
In summary, I’d say to any teen (as I often do to my own), “With God’s help, pick one thing, pour yourself into it, and plead with God for His blessing.”