Seven For Life | Youth Focus
A House That’s Made To Last
Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars…The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life. – Proverbs 9:1, 10-11, ESV
Imagine the scene. A busy marketplace in a walled city of the ancient world. Farmers and tradesmen hawking their wares, attempting to out-shout one another to catch the attention of passers-by. Crowds of people colliding into one another, dragging livestock behind them, as they try to force their way closer to the stalls. It’s a riot of colors, smells, and noises. And then, into this frenetic scene, enters a stately woman in flowing robes adorned with colorful and intricate designs. Without giving any visible sign that she is aware of the chaos around her, she calmly begins to build a stately home, a mansion meant to endure the ages. She lays a foundation. She slowly establishes seven pillars to support the roof of cunning workmanship. Then, with graceful and deliberate movements, she carefully sets a table, richly decorated and groaning under platters of delicious, steaming gourmet dishes. She pours out dark red wine of ancient vintage. All her preparations complete, the woman climbs to the highest place within the city walls, and calls out to arrest the attention of the citizens: “You that pass by! Partake of the feast I have spread! Drink the fine wine which I have mingled!”
The woman is Wisdom herself, or at least, its personification according to the method of ancient Hebrew wisdom literature. The author of the book of Proverbs stresses the deliberate and unhurried way in which Wisdom sets up her “house,” right smack dab in the middle of a world of men and women hurrying to get on with “life.” He emphasizes that Wisdom builds a house that lacks nothing, that stands complete, that achieves perfection (hence seven pillars). Wisdom cries out to men and women consumed with pursuing their immediate needs; she implores them to consider their eternal wellbeing. She summons them to pause within her temple and partake of her feast for the soul.
Wisdom’s mission, as described in Proverbs chapter 9, is a springboard for us to consider how we do ministry to, and through, the youth of our parish. Studies indicate, and churches which have pandered to cultural paradigms for doing youth ministry concede, that something like 80% of young people raised in “evangelical” churches (not liberal churches which deny creedal absolutes) defect from the faith in their freshman year at college. After being entertained and amused from junior high through graduation from high school, they are ill-prepared to face the challenges thrown at them by agnostic college professors. Clearly, they need something more. In the smorgasbord dished out by this culture, they must develop a taste for the finest filet mignon which God serves up, learning to reject the “happy meal”—or rat poison—which others would recommend.
Seven Strong Pillars
Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:6-8
It occurred to me one day, as I pondered the seven pillars that Wisdom sets up in her palace, that it cannot be a terrific stretch to connect them to the seven virtues which St. Peter exhorts us to add to our faith. What in the world does this have to do with ministry to our young people? Everything! We want our young people to be prepared for life. We want them to hear the voice of Wisdom, in the hectic world of 21st century America. We want them to be inculcated in a way of thinking, and a way of living. Notice Peter’s statement that the seven virtues he commends are for “all that pertain to godliness,” just as Wisdom puts up seven pillars, or all that is necessary to make the building complete.
Here at St. Francis Church, we are launching a new (or old?) ministry focus. I don’t say “activity,” I don’t say “youth group”—I say a focus, a way of centering and integrating all that we want to do to raise our kids in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
And the seven pillars, suggested by Proverbs, and delineated by Peter, are virtues that God wants to develop in our children, not only for their young years, but for their whole lives.
What are the seven pillars?
God’s way of doing things is normal. We have fallen short of God’s standard. We are abnormal. Forgiven of my sin, and united to Jesus, I am called to live according to God’s way of doing things, to aim high, to live by a standard of excellence. I don’t have to follow the way everyone else takes in life—I am free to achieve the excellence God desires for me.
God has gifted me with a mind. He wants me take every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ. I am called to be diligent in learning Who He is by exploring His Word. Armed with that knowledge, I will apply what I have learned to every aspect of my life as I seek to glorify Him in all that I do.
The Holy Spirit lives within me. He gives me the grace to govern my thoughts, attitudes, and actions so that they might be directed in the right way.
It’s going to take patience, it’s going to take strength. I’ve got to take the long view, and not just satisfy my short term desires. I need endurance. Only God can take me through the journey of life successfully. Only by God’s strength will I have the stamina to persevere, even when I feel like giving up.
What will be the end result? Where is God taking me? What is He doing with my life? He wants me to be like Jesus Christ! He wants my character to match that of His Son’s (Ro. 8:28-29). I live in a world full of sin, full of selfishness. Celebrities, sports stars, my peers—they want to act and think a certain way. I need to learn what pleases God. It’s OK for me to go against the grain, to swim upstream, to march to the beat of a different drummer. I learn from the Bible what it means to be godly, to act and think and live the way God wants me to live.
I’m not in it alone. I’m part of a family. Some of my brothers and sisters are older than I am, some are younger, some are my age. But we are all related to one another because we are all united to Jesus. Sometimes I’ll be irritated by things they do, and sometimes I will annoy them. But I am called to put the well-being of others first instead of being selfish. These are my family members.
Love isn’t shallow or sentimental. It’s deep, and strong, and beautiful. God IS love. Love is the glue that holds it all together. If I am going to strive for God’s best, learn about Him, govern myself by His grace, persevere in hope, inculcate godliness, and shed my selfish inclinations, I will have to mature in love. Love turns away from itself, and wants God’s very best for every other person. Only by living close to God (who loves me and gave Himself for me) will I have the ability to make myself, and my resources available to others.
A Firm Foundation
The seven pillars for life, which Peter delineates, don’t hang in mid air. They are founded on something. Peter begins his epistle, not with the seven virtues, but with the grace that has come to us through Jesus Christ. He then exhorts us to “add” to this unbreakable foundation, the seven pillars of the palace of life. Jesus Christ—Who He is, and what He has done—THAT is the objective foundation upon which we build. On top of that foundation, we lay our faith, our confidence, our very lives. Then, with faith in Jesus Christ firmly in place, we begin to set up the building that is intended to last for a lifetime.
A Cohesive Vision for all of Life
And that’s the point, isn’t it? We don’t want our young people building for the few short years they are young people—we want them to instill a godly perspective and godly disciplines that will last for the duration of their lives. The Seven Pillars for Life do just that. They are meant to develop a habit of life that will stand them in good stead as they progress from junior high and high school through college, into adulthood, career, marriage, and family. They are pillars for life, not just for one stage of life.
I will spend time exploring the Seven Pillars for Life with our teens by defining each one, seeking to understand what it means, and discovering how we might apply it in our lives. We’ll refer to the Seven no matter what activates we are engaged in, because everything we do is designed to revolve around them. Are we delving into God’s story, and learning our part in it during Sunday School? Yes, because we are adding knowledge to our faith. Are we enjoying times of interaction and fellowship? Yes, because we are developing the discipline of brotherly kindness, and we are encouraging one another to seek moral excellence. Are we working hard to serve the needy in our community, and to help those in our parish? Yes, because we want to grow in love, learning to imitate the servant attitude our Lord has shown us. Are we learning what it means to set right priorities in our lives, and to be obedient to God’s commandments so that we will glorify Him in all that we do? Yes, because we know that godliness is His goal for us. Is it going to be difficult to work together, to schedule activities that focus on the needs of others and not ourselves, to “get along” with one another and demonstrate Christian love? Yes, but we are committed to persevering with the enduring strength God gives. Are we going to overeat at the next Youth Sunday potluck? Of course not, because we have learned self-control. Gotcha on that last one, didn’t I?
In this way, the Seven will be the “hub” for all of our activities, integrating worship, Sunday School studies, times of fun and fellowship, service and outreach projects.
Mentoring for Maturity
I like what the Rev. Dr. Charles Erlandson, an REC priest whom I know, said to me once. Commenting on the oft-repeated phrase that the youth are the “future of the church” he said “No, it’s not that out there in the future they will be participants in the life of the church, they already are part of the church—integral to its life as any other member.”
Here at St. Francis, let’s look at youth ministry, not as compartmentalizing our teens off to the side to be amused for a few years, but as an opportunity for a multi-generational dynamic where people of all different ages work together as we all grow in the Lord. A place where those with greater experience and a more developed spiritual maturity mentor our youth, desirous to see them formed to become strong disciples of Jesus Christ. “Till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).