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Amazement

They were amazed! This one theme struck me in my latest reading through the first five books of the New Testament.

In the Gospels and the book of Acts, the words “amazed” comes up 19 times and “astonished” 17 times. Similar words like “awe,” “wonder” and “fear” come up regularly as Jesus was doing His ministry and as He worked in the lives of his disciples. Which gets me thinking… How about in our ministry? Does this sense of amazement hold as well?

Is our youth ministry amazing?

Consider this question and ask it of your youth leaders. And if you don’t want to be biased, why not ask the students attending your events as well. Is “amazing” an adjective a youth would use to describe the ministry? Observing your young people could also give you some clues to the level of amazement. Coming into your youth room, do they look expectant? Is there excitement? As the program proceeds, how do they react to each part? Consider how they went home: Did they look delighted? Amazed?

I’m not suggesting an over-the-top, minute-by-minute thrill ride of a youth ministry. But perhaps young people have come to associate our ministry more with a classroom–ordinary, routine, expected–rather than something special. Maybe our events have become ordinary because we have settled for ordinary. It’s important that we don’t settle! I think of the fact that even in the ministry of our Lord there were tragically many who the Lord described with these words:

“For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.” Matthew 13:15

Here were people who had the God of the universe come down to be with them and they missed the significance of the event! I wonder how many of the lives that pass through our ministry remain unchanged as well because they expect only the ordinary? May we be leaders who pave the way for our young people to be the opposite—a people excited by what God is going to do. [1]

Are we amazed by the right things?

Now it may be just the case that you are in a ministry that has this sense of amazement. Then the question to ask is “Are we, as a group, amazed at the right things?” Yes, teenagers can get to be very passionate. But is the amazement for God?

Not to say that we shouldn’t be incorporating all manner of things to amaze—I for one appreciate the team that goes the extra mile to catch teens’ attention, whether that’s doing an exciting skit to start an event, building an environment that feels natural to young people, providing good food or doing just about anything to recapture a youth’s attention.

But don’t let these things be ends in themselves. Planning for them to enjoy and appreciate the food or friendship is good, but it should also lead to something better. May our use of the temporary things lead to their appreciation of things eternal. While we have their attention, let us point them to our Lord Jesus Christ, the only one who can satisfy and sustain their attention forever.

I like the Lord’s response when the disciples where being amazed by the man-made structures around them:

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Mark 13:1-2

And using that remark, He led them into being amazed by what God would be doing.

Are we still amazed ourselves?

It often comes down to this. If there is no amazement or excitement in the youth ministry, it just might be because the youth group is getting its cues from the leaders. If the leadership team or I am not excited at all or if we ourselves are chasing after other things apart from Jesus, we shouldn’t be surprised that the youth group does the same.

Now this question is scary for me. Scary, because as John Flavell says, “We are more able to stop the sun in its course or make rivers run uphill as by our own skill and power to rule and order our hearts.” It is humanly impossible to become amazed by God on our own.

The encouragement though is that if we admit that we lack for amazement we are in just the right position for a change to happen. Because as humanly impossible as it is for us to change on our own, God can do it. He amazed old men who had all but given up on their dreams (Abraham, Moses), he amazed young women without positions of note (Ruth, Mary) and He even amazed us–when we were still sinners Christ died for us! For are we not all in ministry out of the amazing fact?

Wherever we are in our journey with God, I think we can always ask him to astonish us again. I pray for you and me that indeed we continue to come again and again to be amazed by God in our life.

May we, like the apostle Paul realize and cry out:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:33

Note:

[1] For more practical details of how you can make the regular event more than ordinary, I write about that here.

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