Nearly every week I ask the girls in my Sunday School class: "What is the worst thing that could happen to you?"
The first time I asked it, I got a huge range of answers:
"I could get my phone taken away"
"not getting into college"
"my dad could lose his job"
"a parent could die."
All devastating things, to be sure (except maybe the phone), but not what I was hoping for.
So, I re-phrased the question: "As a believer, what is the worst thing that could happen to you?"
They had to think a little harder that time.
"Dying for my faith"
Again, all bad things, but still, I have come to believe, not the worst thing.
As a follower of Christ, the worst thing that could happen to me is to lose my love for Jesus.
I've told my girls this almost every week and I am just praying they are starting to believe it. I hammer this truth so hard because in ten years of working with youth my heart has been broken by how often they sincerely strive to avoid the wrong "worst thing" and don't even notice that the REAL worst thing is happening to them. Eventually many of them move from being a leader in the youth group and Sunday Regular to being apathetic at best and more often drifting completely away from their relationship with Christ--
because, frankly, they don't really love Him that much.
I desperately want them to GET the fact that not loving Him is the worst thing ever.
How does this happen?
Last week I think we stumbled upon something. One girl mentioned that her friends at school find her lifestyle odd. I pressed for examples and she said, "Well, for example they ask me why I want to be a virgin."
"And what do you tell them?" I asked, curious.
She was hesitant, as if she wasn't really confident about her answer. "I told them I want to be a virgin because the Bible says that sex before marriage is a sin and I don't want to sin."
Well, now, that is true. And a good reason for abstinence.
But the uncertain look on this sweet girl's face revealed something to me. It was as if she knew her answer was a fact, and she believed it, but something inside her was questioning: Is this all there is to my faith? Not doing things because they are sinful?
I thought of her curious friends and remembered what it was like to be the one wondering about Christians--and how NOT compelling "it's a sin" was for a response. (From what I have witnessed over the past several years, it's not even compelling to the kids who believe it.) Watching the more vocal Christians at my school work so hard to avoid sin because, well, it's SIN, did absolutely NOTHING to draw me to Christ.
Who wants that--living life in constant fear of disappointing the Rule Maker? Thanks, but no thanks.
As I looked at the faces of my Sunday girls that morning, I realized: We're missing it.
We're teaching them right from wrong. We're teaching them that sin is bad and should be avoided, but we're missing the point of WHY.
What if, instead of focusing so much on what the rules are, we revealed to them the heart of the God behind the rules? Because, as I mistakenly assumed as a Junior High agnostic, God didn't make rules so that no one had fun on earth.
Nor, as I mistakenly believed as a young Christian, did He make rules so that we could work really hard to prove our commitment to Him. (See how good I am, God? I'm a virgin! I don't smoke! I don't drink! APPROVE. OF. ME!)
What if we could show our children and the young people we mentor--through Scripture and our lives--that God is loving and good and can be trusted? That the "rules" are not for Him (as if GOD needs to prove anything), but rather for us--to protect us and preserve us for His BEST? What if we took the time to show them that every single rule in the Bible is motivated by God's absurd, unreasonable, gracious love for them?
What if they really understood the concept of UNMERITED favor--that God's love cannot be earned through performance or obedience, but rather is freely given to us IN SPITE of our sinful bent? What if they would obey Him because they trust Him, not to win His approval (which they already have in Christ)?
What if our young people, when questioned about their choices, could answer with confidence, "Because I know God loves me and wants what is best for me. He says that's not best, and I trust Him because I know He's good."
It's a simple idea, but revolutionary.
God's reason for creating me (and you and everyone) was so we could enjoy a relationship with Him, and bring Him glory and draw people to Him through our delight in Him. He demands to be first in our hearts, not because He's selfish, but because giving Him first place is BEST for us.
His love is the reason for the hope that I have. His love is what I want my kids to know before anything else.
His love is the best thing that could ever happen to me.
Just imagine how compelling a church full of imperfect people living loved would be to a hurting world.