By Wayne Jackson
Which is the most difficult era of human life? Infancy? Adolescence? Mature adulthood? Agedness? It probably depends upon where you are as to how you might answer that query.
While many might suggest that one’s sunset years are the hardest, my own judgment would be that the period designated as youth might be the most challenging.
Youth is a frustrating time in life. It is that period when one is hardly old enough to be on his own, and yet he is feeling a sense of independence. Youth ever are attempting to find some sense of identity; that is why they sometimes act and dress so weird. They are bizarre!
But then, so were we.
The Scriptures represent youth as a time both of danger and challenge. Moses said that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21), and Paul admonished Timothy to “flee youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22).
By way of contrast, though, the Creator also recognizes the value of youth to the divine cause. Youngsters have energy, they are daring, their hearts are filled with visions of the future. Indeed, they can be a most valuable component in the service of Jehovah.
Solomon, who wasted much of his life in folly, perhaps thought better of the matter in his declining days. He contended:
“Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, I have no pleasure in them” (Eccl. 12:1).
Again, Paul would say to Timothy:
“Let no man despise your youth; but you be an example to them that believe, in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).
It strikes me that whereas our youth can be quite impetuous and sometimes a bit silly, they are, nonetheless, a wonderful resource in the kingdom of heaven.
The fact is, the Bible is replete with examples of how God has used younger people in some of the most vital roles in the unfolding of his marvelous plan of redemption.
Let’s reflect upon some striking examples that demonstrate God’s confidence in youth.
Joseph is truly one of the sterling characters of the Old Testament era. He was a favorite of his father, which incited the passionate envy of his brothers (cf. Acts 7:9). Accordingly, these hateful siblings sold Joseph to a caravan of Ishmaelites who transported him down to Egypt, where the younger brother was bought by an Egyptian officer named Potiphar.
As most everyone knows, during the course of his duties, Potiphar’s evil wife cast longing eyes toward Joseph. She attempted to seduce him, but he, with firm resolve, resisted, insisting: “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9).
One of the stunning features of the account is the fact that Jospeh was only seventeen years of age (Gen. 37:2)! A young lad, in a strange land, separated from his people and his center of religious strength — yet faithful to his God. How thrilling!
As the story subsequently unfolds, we learn that Joseph was being used by Jehovah as a providential instrument for the preservation of the Hebrew nation. Joseph would later recognize: “God did send me [here] to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5).
Again, at the end of his life, to his brothers he said: “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good … to save many lives” (50:20).
All of this was done, of course, in view the Lord’s use of the Hebrew nation as an instrument in the divine plan which resulted in the incarnation of Christ. Think about it. God trusted a teenager to accomplish such a vital role.
As the Hebrew people multiplied in the land of Egypt, they were perceived as a threat to the stability of that nation. Hence the order was given that Israelite male babies were to be thrown into the Nile. When Moses was born, his parents hid him for three months; then, they placed him in a small vessel fashioned from the papyrus plant, which they deposited by the river’s edge, committing their precious baby to the care of Jehovah.
In the meantime, Moses’ older sister, who is estimated to be about ten or twelve at this time (McClintock, Vol. IV, 330), was posted some distance away, keeping watch. Finally Miriam obtained Jochebed, Moses’ own mother, as a nurse for the child. Oh, the ways of providence!
Here is my point. The entire future of the Hebrew nation — the instrument to be employed for the conveyance of the Savior — was entrusted to a young girl.
Does this say something about how God values youth? Assuredly it does.
The story of David, who became Israel’s king, is too well-known to need elaboration. Who among us, both as child and adult, has not thrilled to the narrative of David’s encounter with the devilish Goliath?
What a breathtaking episode — the soldiers of Israel on one side of the valley of Elah, the defiant Philistine champion on the other. Morning and evening for forty days, Goliath had challenged Israel to combat, but they were frozen in fear (1 Sam. 17:10-16).
When David arrived on the scene he was chagrined at the timidity of his Hebrew kinsmen and volunteered to take on the infidel. But he was disdained as a mere “youth” — initially by king Saul himself, and then by Goliath (1 Sam. 17:33,42). Never mind; God was with this “youth,” who may have been about twenty-two or so at the time (Clarke, 264). Goliath was slain and the Philistine force was routed. Edersheim called this victory “the turning point in the history of the theocracy” (89).
Again, the Lord invested in youth, and the cause of truth triumphed.
The noblest king to reign in the territory of Judah was Josiah. Scripture says there was no ruler of his caliber, neither before nor after him, who sought the Lord with “all his heart” as did he (2 Kgs. 23:25).
Josiah was but a boy of eight when he came to the throne. At the age of sixteen, he began to “seek” Jehovah, and by the time he turned twenty, he initiated a campaign to purge the southern kingdom of its idolatry (2 Chron. 34:1-3).
When Josiah was twenty-six, he arranged for repairs on the temple. It was at this time that a tremendously significant event occurred. A copy of “the law of Jehovah given by Moses” was discovered in the temple (2 Chron. 34:14). When the religious and moral message of the sacred document was studied, and the spiritual fabric of the nation was seen to stand in such glaring contrast, a reformation was proclaimed.
One of Josiah’s important accomplishments was the restoration of the Passover, which had not been observed with care since the days of the judges (2 Kgs. 23:21-23). Since the Passover was designed to preview the death of Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 5:7), Josiah was an important element in preparing the nation for the Savior’s arrival. What confidence Jehovah had placed in a spiritual lad.
Jeremiah, the great “weeping prophet,” is one of the more remarkable characters of the Old Testament. He sought so desperately to bring rebellious Judah back into conformity with the law of God. He began his ministry in the thirteenth year of Josiah (626 B.C.) and concluded his work among his people when the Babylonian force destroyed the temple in 586 B.C. But he prophesied periodically even after the fall of the holy city.
It is possible that his preaching career spanned some sixty years or more (see Jackson, 7). This suggests that Jeremiah was probably in his late teens when he was called of the Lord to be his prophet to the wicked nation. God can use a youth of faith!
One can only imagine how sweet the beloved Mary of Nazareth must have been, as evidenced by the fact that of all women in Israel, she was chosen to be the mother of our Lord.
Something of her spiritual depth is seen in the psalm she uttered when greeted by Elizabeth, while visiting her kinsman in the hill country of Judah. The song is often called the “Magnifcat” (from the first word of the passage in the Latin Vulgate). The passage begins: “My soul magnifies [present—continuously] the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior” (Lk. 1:46).
In one of his books, Harry Rimmer noted that this little song, of ten verses in the English Bible, draws from twenty-three separate passages in the Old Testament (118). What a commentary on how her precious mind was filled with the word of God!
Here is a fact that makes this even more astounding. In the Jewish culture, a girl was normally married by the age of twelve or thirteen. Prior to thirteen, a maiden might be betrothed to a man by her parents; at thirteen, she was of the legal age to make her own choice (M’Clintock, Vol. V, 774-75).
It is entirely possible, therefore, that when Mary gave birth to the Savior of the world that she was in her early teens. Does this not speak volumes about how God trusts spiritually minded youth?
There was no companion closer to the great apostle Paul than his young friend Timothy. When the apostle wrote to the church in Philippi, the congregation for whom he had the greatest affection, he pledged to send Timothy to assist them. He paid the lad the highest compliment when he told the Philippian saints that “I have no man like-minded, who will care truly for Your state” (Phil. 2:20).
From time to time, during Paul’s missionary endeavors, Timothy was at his side. And during those dark hours as God’s apostle awaited execution, he longed for the friendship of Timothy. In his final epistle, Paul urged: “Give diligence to come to me shortly” (2 Tim. 4:9). What a compliment to this young Christian.
Apparently Paul converted Timothy on his first missionary campaign when in Lystra (Acts 14:8ff; cf. 1 Cor 4:17; 1 Tim. 1:2). When the apostle passed through the region a second time (16:1ff), he selected Timothy to accompany him. Since Timothy was still regarded as a “youth” when Paul wrote his first letter to him (1 Tim. 4:12), which was some fourteen years after the lad joined the apostle on that preaching tour, it is believed that he was eighteen to twenty when he started working with Paul.
Recognize the Potential
A consideration of these cases, and others that might be noted (cf. 2 Kgs. 5:2), clearly show that youngsters, properly trained, are capable of courageous faith and considerable usefulness in heaven’s cause.
Perhaps we do not realize how we might influence youngsters to serve the Lord. Do we not overlook their potential all too often? Think about these cases.
In 1868 the popular preacher, T. B. Larimore, came to Rock Creek, Alabama to conduct a gospel meeting. Larimore later told of an encounter he had with a twelve-year-old boy.
“A little black eyed boy had taken his stand a few feet from the narrow path leading to the door of the meeting house, and was standing there barefooted, hands in pockets, eyes and mouth open, to get a glimpse of the big preacher he had ‘hearn tell of.’ The preacher turned aside to speak to the little fellow, and to take him by the hand, and thus began a friendship that nothing but death could destroy” (Srygley, 29).
That boy was F. D. Srygley, who grew up to become a respected preacher and writer, who wrote several books about Larimore.
Hugo MeCord tells of the influence of one such boy, who, some years ago was attending a gospel tent meeting in Ireland. In the audience he was seated next to Bill Tyner. During the course of the service, Tyner leaned over and asked the lad: “What does Jesus mean to you?” The boy quickly replied: “Why, he’s my everything. What does he mean to you?” Later Tyner, having been deeply moved by the incident, wrote the beautiful hymn, “He Is My Everything.”
Youth can accomplish magnificent things for the Master’s cause. But do we always recognize this? Are our young people merely ignored as empty-headed, silly people who are unworthy of serious responsibility?
Sadly, this may be the case sometimes. But we should not overlook this valuable resource in the Master’s cause. We must be on the lookout for them and encourage them along the way. God can use them mightily.