Yesterday, I sat before my youth pastor with an audience of 100 others. I watched a man who influenced my life in unimaginable ways, influence some of my church’s body in just an hour. He brought up a time period in his life when youth ministry seemed futile. It just so happened that it coincided with the years I spent in his youth group. Listening to him bear his heart about this dark period, I couldn’t help but think about the light he shed on me.
First, I understand where he was coming from. I could look back and see his desperation. Nevertheless he touched my life, and I am sure he touched many more, he just couldn’t see the fruits of his labor. I came into his youth group as an outsider. And I was a homebody; I had absolutely no desire to spend a weekend, much less a week, away at a camp with my fellow peers. It wasn’t that I was bullied or felt some sort of negativity from them; I just didn’t feel like I was a part of their group. I know this was partly because of my lack of enthusiasm to join them on their outings. But despite my non-existent efforts to “fit-in”, my pastor made me see we were all a family. A family under the headship of Christ.
While I grew up in a family of faith and I am tremendously fortuitous to have parents who led me to Christ, I remember a specific Sunday morning when my youth pastor caused a turning point in my faith. Up until this Sunday, my faith was about me. It was all about me. Where was I in my relationship with Christ? Who was God to me? How did He effect my life? I was blissfully unaware of the world around me and their lack of faith.
In our youth fellowship we sat in rows while our pastor stood up front and delivered the message that day with us interspersing questions and comments. It was something I had come accustomed too. I am not one for change. One Sunday, I walked in and the chairs were in a massive circle. (There were quite a few us in the youth group.) I felt odd going and finding a spot in the circular stage. As Baptists we like our routines and we love our designated chairs. Slowly the circle filled in with students. And then our Pastor took a seat. I don’t remember how the session got started. And I don’t remember how it ended. But I do remember one thing He said, that has affected my life ever since.
He looked around the room, slowly and very quietly–almost making eye contact with each one of us. Then he told us to do the same. I remember thinking, why am I looking at all these people. I see them every Sunday. Then he began to speak in a very calm voice (which was unusual; he loved his corny jokes).
Look around this room. See your friends and your peers. One day you’re going to die. Will you see everyone in this room in heaven? [Pause] Chances are, you might not.
I am sure he phrased it some other way, but this how I remember it. And that day, my life changed. I felt secure in my salvation, but now I was worried about everyone else’s. I had never thought to think about what choices other people made and how it effected their eternal destination. Being the self-centered 15 year old that I was, my thoughts always focused on me. But my pastor changed that. That day he opened my eyes to see that I wasn’t the only one in the room. He showed me that people I loved might not join me in eternity. It was a dreadful discovery.
In the days to come I began telling everyone I knew and cared about that they needed Jesus. I was like a new Christian sharing my new found love once again. I am positive that I didn’t go about it in the right ways. And I am certain some people that I was absolutely insane, especially my fellow teenagers. But despite my inability to properly share my love of Christ to others, my pastor had awakened a fire inside of me. One that to this day is still burning.
That one statement put my life in a whole new direction. Without it, I probably wouldn’t have become a Religion major. I wouldn’t have the friends that I do. Probably wouldn’t have married the man I did. And I wouldn’t be pursuing the career I am.
It is amazing how one person, with just a few words, can change your life. I ask you today, to thank someone in your past or your present who has pushed you to be a better person. Thank God that He put them in your life. And remember you could be that person, for someone else. Guard your words and know that every syllable that exits your mouth is influencing somebody, positively or negatively.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25