How to Help Youth See God as More Than an 'Old Guy in the Sky'
- Anne Peterson Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2020 13 Apr
We live in a crazy world. One where our teens and young adults are falling away from faith in droves. Many can’t even grasp the concept of God. And yet, they are interested in the next new thing—anything technical they can get their hands on and plug into.
We hear the rebuttals: do you really believe God is a dude with a beard? Do you really pray to some ‘old guy in the sky?’
We know God is never afraid of doubt. But if we ‘believe’ then how can we explain to others who are skeptical, that God isn’t ‘just an imaginary old guy in the sky?’
Well, how did we come to believe in him? And how did God get assigned this persona of an old guy, with little power, strength, or interest in us? Sharing truth is the answer. God’s truth. Here are eight encouragements for revealing a mighty God:
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1. Begin with Respect for Where Anyone Is in Their SeekingSlide 1 of 5
I was college age myself when a former high school classmate invited me to a Bible study. I wouldn’t say I had been searching for anything spiritual, but I decided to check it out. Walking in the basement in this bungalow in Chicago, I was amazed at what I saw. Young people like me sitting around long tables where Bibles were stacked, and pens and pencils along with scraps of paper could be found.
“Help yourself to a bottle of pop,” someone offered. And immediately I felt at home.
A woman sat on a stool at the end of one of the tables. Lois was thirty-something sitting there in her jeans, wearing long dangling earrings. She held a cup of black coffee which became her trademark. I had never met her before, but she exuded a warmth that felt so inviting.
But what really got to me was when she talked about Jesus. It was as if she knew him personally. Like they were best friends.
I soon came to understand what those Bible studies were about and why it was relevant to me. But the interaction among the people was something else. They had never met me before, but I felt totally accepted there. To this day, I still know some of those same people.
But the one I really got close to, was the one who introduced me to Jesus, and taught me so much about God.
Everyone who sat around those tables felt important. Not once did we feel that our comments or questions were silly. Not once did we feel less than Lois because of how much she knew.
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2. Show, Don’t Just TellSlide 2 of 5
We can try to tell others about our spiritual journeys, but what really gets through to them is our walk. We can talk from now till forever about how important it is to forgive someone, while we hold onto grudges from the past. Words have power when they are illustrated.
Even though the problems young people face differ from those of their parents, they are still important, and often life-changing. It’s one thing to tell us God loved us, but Lois showed us that in many ways.
I had just started going to Bible classes when my father died. But though my mother was already gone, I did not have to go through that time by myself. Lois even attended my dad’s funeral, which really touched me.
As she paid her respects, I saw a picture of God’s tender love.
3. Teach that Life is Hard
A girl in that Bible class lost her sister. Her brother-in-law killed her sister, their little two-year-old child, and then himself. It shook all of us up.
But do you know what our Bible teacher did? She didn’t just send a card to the family. She showed us what it looked like to serve. She went over to the house and scrubbed blood out of the carpet. And we learned that those who walk with God serve others. That God doesn’t just serve from ‘up in the sky.’
I remember waiting to share a problem with Lois and I saw one or two others waiting. Her answer was always the same when we struggled. “If you think life is hard now, just wait, it’s going to get worse.”
And that gave us a clear picture of what Jesus meant in John 16:33. Yes, there would be trouble in the world. But Jesus had overcome the world. And when the enemy, Satan tried to discourage us, we learned what it said in 1 John 4:4. That God’s Spirit in us, was greater than the enemy.
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4. Explain That the Son is Like the Like FatherSlide 3 of 5
What is God like? Jesus told his disciples in John 14:9, that if they saw him, they had seen God. Jesus also said that he and the Father are one (John 10:30). God poured Himself into human flesh so that we could relate. We can’t relate to an imaginary old guy in the sky. The image of that is someone who is of little use. Someone who is weary. Certainly not like the God I learned about.
Jesus’ words conjure up other images. And we add to them things we learned as little children. The verse we memorized telling us God loved us in John 3:16. He sacrificed his only Son.
Because love is boundless, ageless, and uncontainable. Love gives.
5. Share the Qualities of God
God Is Almighty
Trying to describe how powerful God is might be a challenge, but take a look at nature and how it can leave us speechless when there is a storm or natural disaster. God tells lightning where to go (Job 38:35). God actually asked Job, “Can you send lightnings that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are?’”
And as far as the stars, Isaiah 40:26 tells us God leads forth their host by number and calls them by name. Just look up at the vastness of the sky some night. There are millions, and he knows them by name! Point to the wonders of nature...proof that God cannot be contained or diminished.
God Is Personal
God also created each one of us (Psalm 139:13). He knit us together in our mother’s womb. Even if you all someone can envision right now is that incredible power coming from an ethereal elder floating in space. God’s awesome power is beyond our imaginings. He did create, does create, and continues to create.
And he knows all about us, down to the number of hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7). He knows our thoughts and how they are futile (Psalm 94:11). God has even written our names on his palms (Isaiah 49:16).
Share these scriptures with those who dismiss God as the ‘imaginary old guy’ as an invitation to be amazed.
God Is Trustworthy and Immutable
Over and over in scripture, we are encouraged to trust God (Proverbs 3:5-6). We are told to cast our cares on him (1 Peter 5:7). Not only because God is big and powerful, but because God cares about what we care about (Psalm 27:5). And we’re told, if we keep our minds on God he will give us peace (Isaiah 26:3).
In our world that changes all around us, God doesn’t change (Hebrews 13:8). If we could count on him last year, we can still count on him today.
Why not try this with your child or friend who dismisses God? See if they can make a list of ways that God has helped your family, or even your them in the past. Especially if they seem to be worried about what is going on in his/her world. If they can’t come up with any divine intervention moments, share some of your own.
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6. Embrace that Values Are Caught Not TaughtSlide 4 of 5
No longer do we live by the words, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Our children are aware of what we believe by what they see. We can model for them worry and anxiety. We can let them see that we are uncertain of our future and leery about what is around the next corner.
Or, we have the privilege of showing them what it looks like to put our trust in God. To believe no matter what, God is looking out for us. God cares about what concerns us, and he loves us like no one else ever has (John 15:13).
And if our child does feel our love, we can explain it’s because God’s power gave us love for them. Families were his idea, and children are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3). And when we extend grace to our children, explain to them that it’s a result of God extending us grace.
7. Invite God to Restore
But what if we’ve missed our window of opportunity? What if we did not model what God is like, and they have wandered away from God? What then?
We know that God is a God of reconciliation. Reconciliation is putting two things together that were once broken apart. We were separated from God when man sinned. And because of God’s great love for us, he sacrificed his own Son, Jesus, and reconciled us to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18).
I love the story of the prodigal son because it shows God’s loving heart (Luke 15:11-32). When the father in the story saw his son returning to him, he ran out of the house towards him. That is a beautiful picture of how God loves even those who have turned their back on him.
God’s love is unfailing love (Psalm 36:7).
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8. Patiently PraySlide 5 of 5
Can we show youth who can’t imagine God as good and mighty, all of these things at once? No. But we can do it in moments. Teachable moments. Little opportunities God will grant us. So that when our children see us, they will see a reflection of God.
We are made in God’s image and we can reflect Him. From the moment we accepted what Jesus did on the cross, God began working in us (Philippians 1:6). And God who started this work will not stop until we look like Jesus.
A Prayer to Reveal God to Those Who Doubt
God, we lift up our children, our grandchildren, and any children in our sphere of influence. Help us, Father, to show them who you are. Give us the words, the illustrations, and wisdom to know how to best share what you have meant to us.
Lord, let them see we trust you with our steps each day. And when we falter, help us remind our children how you pick us up when we stumble. We pray this in your Son’s most precious and Holy name. Amen.
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