Three Vital Words For Successful Teens

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.”

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Best Books

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Check out these great deals on Kindle readers. You can get reading on a Kindle now for only $49! And the Fire Tablet’s starting at about $100.

Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation by Joel Beeke and Bill Boekestein $1.99

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones $1.99

Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything $0.99

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Thank God for God

We all have so much to thank God for, but we often fail to thank God for Himself; that there is a God, that there is such a God, and that such a God is our God.

The Psalmists lead the way here in helping us celebrate God’s God-ness. For example, in Psalm 103 the Psalmist celebrates God as the Savior-King, and as the Creator-King in Psalm 104. He praises God as the Father of His children in Psalm 103 and as the Creator of His creatures in Psalm 104. Let’s join Him in Psalm 104 as he thanks God for God.

1. Thank God For His Involvement In The World (1-4)
Although God is so high, so lofty, so transcendent (1), yet He is so involved, so near, so touchable (2). He uses the physical world to reveal Himself, the light being His clothing and the heavens His tent. Where we see the clouds, He is there; when we feel the wind, He is there.

2. Thank God For His Creation Of The World (5-7)
The Psalm roughly follows the day order of Genesis 1, and reveals God’s methodical, systematic, and beautiful organization of the creative process. Instead of being an equal competitor with the sea, as in contemporary Baal myths, He simply spoke the waters into being and into place.

3. Thank God For His Rule Over The World (8-10)
The pagan culture of the Psalmist’s day saw the world as weak and vulnerable, continually threatened by unpredictable and uncontrollable natural forces. In contrast, the biblical worldview is that God determines exactly where everything goes, He sets the boundaries of even the mighty seas, and makes sure they stay there.

4. Thank God For His Provision In The World (11-15)
God’s rain is presented as bountiful and beautiful. How can we ever complain about the weather again? The Psalmist celebrates the way God sends it, channels it, and gets it to the beasts, the birds, and humanity; and also to the crops and trees that feed them. And God doesn’t just provide functional food and drink for our necessity but even luxury food and drink for our enjoyment (15).

5. Thank God For His Protection In The World (16-18)
He provides His largest and smallest creatures with shelter in trees, caves, burrows, and various other forms of suitable housing.

6. Thank God For Regulating The World (19-23)
God regulates the seasons, the day/night cycle, and even the human/animal cycle by which humans use the planet by day and the animals by night.

7. Thank God For The Rich Variety Of This World (24-26)
Like the psalmist, we should notice and study God’s creativity in the diversity of His vast creation and turn our study to praise and prayer for creating such an imaginative range of creatures to learn about and admire. Nothing in the creation is to be despised; rather, we are to use each and every creature as a verse of praise to the Creator.

8. Thank God for His Goodness To The World (27-28)
The whole earth and everything in it needs God, and consciously or unconsciously depends upon Him. And He provides and fills with good, so much so that Luther once remarked, “The Lord must have a very large kitchen.”

9. Thank God For His Renewal Of The World (29-30)
For all God’s bounty and the earth’s beauty, the creative order has been invaded and disrupted with death. But even that is under God’s sovereign control. Yes, He takes life from His creatures, but He also gives it. As dogs die, He gives new litters of puppies; as birds fall to the ground, He fills new nests with eggs; as frogs lose their legs, new tadpoles start swimming, and so on. These are not just natural processes; God’s Spirit is involved in the powerful renewal of creation.

10. Thank God For His (Future) Redemption Of The World (31-35)
There’s another hint of the world’s brokenness here, with the reminder that God can start an earthquake or volcano with the merest glance of His eye. That’s why the Psalmist longs for the removal of every disruption, every invasion, every rebellion against His created order (34). He’s looking forward to a world without sin, to the new creation full of new creatures. He’s anticipating and hastening God’s greatest work, redemption, and its result – the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Thank God For God
Given all this, let’s thank God for God. Let’s work hard at looking behind the stores, the trucks, the factories, and all the mechanized processes that now so easily interrupt and obstruct our view of our Creator at work in His creation, and turn each insight and discovery into a song of praise. God rejoices in His works of creation and providence (31), and we’re invited to join Him in this song (33-35).

Happy Laws

If man were infinitely wise, and could draw up a code for himself, which would involve no hardship, and entail all that was happy, he could devise no regulations more healthful, more profitable, or more pleasant than those of the Savior. Charles Spurgeon

For many people, the existence of the Ten Commandments is proof that God opposes human happiness. “If God really wanted me to be happy, He wouldn’t put all these laws in my way.” Thus, every day, billions of people try to throw off God’s law, cast it behind their backs, and run away from it as fast as possible. What they don’t realize is that instead of escaping hardship, they are escaping happiness.

Here are four reasons why we should trust and obey God’s laws as designed for our happiness.

1. God knows us. As our creator, He knows what is best for us in our bodies, minds, relationships, lifestyle, communities, and so on. He has observed billions of human lives over the years and knows what works well and what doesn’t.

2. God knows our world. He knows the dangers of this world better than we do and has designed His laws as boundaries, as fences, to keep us in safe places and away from the danger zones. He knows what damages and what destroys us.

3. God knows the future. When men change God’s law, they cannot foresee the consequences. If politicians could look down the road and see all the implications of their legislation, they often would change their plans. God sees down the road, views all the possible consequences, and therefore has never had to change one of His moral laws.

4. God knows the Gospel. God also designed the law to show us our sin and our need of a Savior. The law not only shows us the best way to live, but also that we cannot live that life, that we need Someone who did, and that we need the Holy Spirit to fuel our future obedience.

“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

6 Steps To An Awe-Full Church

In The Holiness of God, R C Sproul addressed the problem of large numbers of people leaving church because they are bored.  As we saw yesterday, Sproul’s solution is more awe in our worship services, which puts significant responsibility on the pastor or worship-leader. But it also places important obligations upon worshippers too if we are to be awed by the evident presence of God.

1. Preparation. Just as the worship leader has to prepare, so do worshippers. If we’re busy all Saturday, get to bed after midnight on Saturday evening, sleep long on Sunday morning, rush to church in mild panic, and arrive with little or no time to get ready for worship, we’re not going to experience awe or much of anything beneficial. If we haven’t met God privately, we’re unlikely to meet Him publicly.

2. Enthusiasm. If we go to church reluctantly, dragging our heels and hearts, with little anticipation or excitement, our expectations are likely to be met. But if we go with eager optimism, prayerfully seeking God and pleading with Him to come down and bless, then God will often exceed our expectation.

3. Participation. Worship is not a spectator sport but one in which all must take part. Joyful singing not only stirs up our hearts, but others’ hearts too. Engaged postures and lively expressions are contagious – as are mumbled songs, slouching shoulders, and sleepy eyes. When the pastor is praying, let’s engage our hearts and minds fully with him. When Scripture is read, let’s listen to it as the very voice of God.

4. Unity. God delights to dwell where His people are united in love of the truth and love for one another. He will not honor churches with His presence where there is disunity and division. But when there is union around the truth and communion with each other, God comes down with His unmistakeable presence.

5. Reverence. When we realize who we are, what worship is, and who it is we are trying to worship, there will be a careful gravity and sobriety about what we do. It won’t be depressingly dull and dour, but it will affect what we wear, how we sit or stand, how we listen. It might even make us skip the Starbucks and candy in the sanctuary. Need help with this? Read The Holiness of God, and you’ll never worship the same way again.

6. Concentration. Some of the greatest impediments to awe in worship are distraction, noises, and actions that divert the congregation’s focus and concentration. I’ve been in services where I’ve almost started waving in the pulpit and saying “Hello! Have you never seen a kid walk to the bathroom before?” Or, “Do you all really need to know exactly which kid is crying over there?” Having said that, parents of young children also have responsibilities to ensure that their children are not disrupting services too much or too often. This is a delicate balance requiring much wisdom.

I end where I began yesterday – with the sovereignty of God. Yes, there are things we can do that hinder and obstruct awe in worship services. And, yes, there are steps we can take that God is often pleased to respond to with His presence. However, we cannot create or produce awe; God alone can do that. And when He does, it is unforgettable and utterly compelling.

Many church growth experts tell us that we’ve got to make church more casual, less threatening, more like “normal life.” That will certainly get people in the door. But it won’t keep them there for long. Why should anyone go to church for ordinary normality? They can get that in the mall or at the football; and many bored churchgoers go back to that.

Instead, what we want are churches that are places of the extraordinary, supernatural, different, abnormal, unusual presence and power of a holy God. We don’t want people coming and just saying, “That was nice.” Rather we look for what the Apostle Paul described in the early church:

“An unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you” (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

When was the last time that happened in our churches?

Why Is Church So Boring? R C Sproul’s Answer

A recent survey of people who used to be church members revealed that the main reason they stopped going to church was that they found it boring. It is difficult for many people to find worship a thrilling and moving experience. R C Sproul

“How awesome is this place!” This was Jacob’s response to being in the house of God. People do not normally feel that way in church. There is no sense of awe, no sense of being in the presence of One who makes us tremble. People in awe never complain that church is boring. R C Sproul

Two quotes from The Holiness of God by R C Sproul, the first identifying boredom as the main reason people stop going to church, and the second identifying awe as the antidote to boredom.

Summary: More awe in church services = less boredom in church = less people leave church.

If Sproul is right, and I believe he is, how do we create more awe in our church services. Is this something only God can give, so we have to just wait for it to happen? Or is it something for which we are also responsible? 

Obviously, it’s God’s presence alone that can create awe, and therefore, ultimately, we are entirely dependent upon Him to choose to honor our worship services with His presence. However, there are important elements of human responsibility here too. God usually works through human means, and that puts obligations on the worship leader and the worshipping people.

The Worship Leader

In my own tradition, the preaching pastor is also the worship leader, and it’s that worship model I have primarily in mind here. However, most of this can also apply where the role is divided between two or more people.

1. Preparation. The worship leader should be prayerfully preparing for worship just as he prayerfully prepares his sermons. Far too often the pastor gives 15 hours to his sermon, 15 minutes to choosing songs, and 15 seconds to thinking about public prayer. He may pray for hours about his sermon and not at all for the singing, praying, and scripture reading. I’ve often found it helpful preparation to sing or listen to some Psalms in my office in the last few minutes before going to church.

2. Integration. The worship leader must ensure that the songs he chooses, the scripture reading, the prayer, and the spirit in which he conducts all this, fit the sermon theme. For example, there’s no point in having all praise songs if the sermon is about confession of sin. The prayer should also reflect at least some of the sermon content.

3. Organization. There should be a regular and recognized order to the worship so that the worshippers know what’s happening rather than just a haphazard free-for all, jumping from one thing to another without any rhyme nor reason. The Apostle Paul said that one of the ways to ensure that visiting worshippers are awed and stunned by the church’s worship is by orderliness and regularity (1 Cor. 14:23-32), not by novelty and unpredictability.

4. Conviction. No one is awed without conviction of sin. Look from Genesis to Revelation – from Jacob to Job to Isaiah to Ezekiel to Daniel to Peter to Thomas to Paul to John in Patmos – and you won’t find one example of any awed worshipper apart from them being first convicted of their sin. We’d love to go straight to doxology but there’s no shortcut past the valley of humiliation. Through song, prayer, and Scripture readings, worship leaders must remind people of their sin and sinfulness and lead them in confession.

5. Passion. Although some worship leaders sometimes take this way too far and the whole worship experience ends up in artificial emotionalism, which is more fleshly than spiritual, many in my more Reformed world take this to the other extreme and lead worship like a robot. If we look and sound bored, little surprise if those we are leading look and sound the same. If we’re not enthused, excited, and expectant, no one else is going to be.

6. Education. Perhaps the greatest need today is re-educating people about worship. We assume far too much. Do most people really know what worship is? Who’s it to? Who’s it for? Who is the God we are worshipping? A great start would be to give every worshipper Sproul’s book, The Holiness of God.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the responsibility of worshippers for creating awesome worship services. Meanwhile, what else do you think we can do to make our services more awe-full?