Adolescents have to work really hard in their education to build a foundation of knowledge, character, and experience. Parents have the hindsight to understand just how important a Middle School and High School education is, so we can serve the pre-teens and teenagers in our lives with a compelling vision for the “why” behind all of the hard work.
The more I work with adolescents and raise a few of my own, I realize that adolescents and adults are not that different from one another. In particular, we both desperately need to be reminded of the “why” behind what we do. We can all get bored, distracted, or even depressed for lack of vision (Proverbs 29:18). But when we are inspired by vision, we tend to get back that enthusiasm God created us to have and we press forward with hope and purpose for our future. Here’s how…
4 YOUNG STUDENTS WHO IMPACTED AN ENTIRE NATION
There were four teenagers during the time of the Babylonian exile who stand out as inspiring examples for young people to follow. The book of Jeremiah and Daniel tell the story in detail, and the implications for today’s students could not be more obvious when you read it.
Due to the long disobedience of the people of Judah, God pronounced judgement on his people and allowed the Babylonian empire to overtake them as a discipline for their unfaithfulness to God. Ultimately, as God always does, he had good purposes in their exile, but at the time, it was incredibly sad and disorienting to the people. As the majority of Israel marched through the desert and finally arrived in Babylon, they absolutely hated it. The language was different, the food, clothing, music, art, laws… everything seemed different to them. But now they had a new normal to get used to. And the new normal lacked anything unfamiliar. So they grumbled and grieved.
THE PROPHET JEREMIAH’S LETTER TO A NATION RINGS TRUE STILL TODAY
Jeremiah was God’s prophet to Judah and as he wept and prayed for his people in exile. Then God gave him a message to send them in the form of a letter to inspire a clearer vision for why God had sent them into exile. A couple of the lines of this letter are potentially some of the greatest, clearest statements of purpose for how God’s people are to live in society. And these words still ring true today especially for any of us who follow Jesus. Jeremiah wrote:
Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper….” “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. – Jeremiah 29:7, 11
When this letter arrive in Babylon, all of the Jews read it (the people of Judah were first called “Jews” during their time of exile because “Jew” was a shorter version for “Ju-dah”). This brings us to 605 BC which is a very important date in Christian history. This was the year that Daniel and his three (soon to be famous) young friends were sent to Babylon. It is very clear from reading the story of Daniel, that when Daniel heard these words from his prophet, Jeremiah (Jer. 29:7,11), he humbled himself and obeyed every single word that Jeremiah instructed. He and his friends committed themselves to seeking “peace and prosperity” of the city to which they were carried, i.e. Babylon. Daniel’s whole life was a fulfillment and commitment to that command. And how inspiring it is to see what he was able to accomplish because he took his education and his commitment to God seriously.
DANIEL & HIS YOUNG FRIENDS PURSUED EXCELLENCE IN THEIR EDUCATION
As the book of Daniel opens, we read about the education and preparation of Daniel and his friends. Then we see that because they took their education seriously and pursued excellence, God blessed them immensely and raised them up to become leaders of the whole nation! This is an inspiring vision that adolescents need to be reminded of today. Your education and preparation matters. God will use it… probably beyond your wildest imagination. The book of Daniel opens with these words:
Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service. Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego. – Daniel 1: 1-7
Then as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego showed themselves faithful in three more years of education in Nebucanezzer’s royal school, the next few verses tell what happened next:
To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. -Daniel 1:17-20
YOUNG PEOPLE WITH EXCELLENT EDUCATION & A VISION FOR THEIR CITY ARE WHAT WE NEED TODAY
The message and implications are very clear and simple. Daniel and his three young friends listened to Jeremiah and had a vision to make their city a better place even though it wasn’t even their favorite place. They committed themselves to taking care of their bodies, and learning everything they could in language, literature, math, science, art, music, etc. These were well-educated kids. Then because they put their whole heart into serving God and learning all that they could, God blessed them even more and raised them up to be a blessing to a whole nation.
When the adolescents in your life get bored or tired of school and seem like they don’t care anymore, it might be a good idea to serve them with a healthy dose of vision. During the middle school and high school years, students are laying a profoundly important foundation upon which the rest of their lives will depend. As they take their relationship with God and their education seriously, they can trust that in the midst of their learning and after they have achieved mastery of their secondary education, God is going to use it for his glory. We learn from Daniel that learning is never over… he spent the rest of life excelling still more, and God kept blessing him with opportunities to improve his world.
TAP INTO ADOLESCENT IDEALISM AND INSPIRE A TEENAGER TODAY!
Adolescents are naturally zealous and idealistic about changing the world, and rightly so. Lets be committed to standing at the water station as they run their marathon of education and hand them a gatorade of inspiration and gel pack of nourishing vision so that they keep pressing on even when they hit the wall. The marathon they run is preparation for bringing peace and prosperity to their city. We need them to run, so lets inspire them!
HOW WOULD YOU WRITE YOUR OWN LETTER?
- If you could write a short note to an adolescent (age 12-25) who means a lot to you, what might you say to him or her in light of Jeremiah’s letter to his people?
- Write down an inspiring message to share with a student today (get creative, it matters). Maybe give it in the form of a hand-written letter or share it verbally as a devotion for your family, or as a talk to your youth group.
- Parents and grandparents, think about the education your adolescents are getting. Chances are you may need to supplement it somehow. In my opinion and observation, core factual background knowledge, cultural literacy, biblical literacy, and character/virtue-based education is hugely variable depending on where you live and the schools in your area. It is your responsibility to educate your children the best you can, so if you see weaknesses, look for ways to supplement. Keep Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in mind as your goal for your kids and trust that God will bless your prayers and your efforts to prepare them for great things.
- The Schools We Need: And Why We Don’t Have Them by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.
- Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.
- Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong: And What We Can Do About It by William Kilpatrick
- A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles by Thomas Sowell
- Daniel, Volume 30 (Word Biblical Commentary) by John Goldingay and David Allen Hubbard