In Sunday school, I remember singing at the top of my lungs, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see.” Such songs allowed my imagination to take me into Scripture. I could picture myself climbing that sycamore tree to see Jesus and hear him announce he’d visit my house that day.
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Stories about David and Goliath, Jonah and the big fish, and Daniel in the lions’ den all pulled me in. Yes, I could do mighty things in the name of the Lord, too. I believed it, and I was engaged. That’s the beauty and power of the Bible: It invites the youngest ears to hear the heart of God. Scripture invites the youngest minds to discover wisdom and find their identity in Jesus as they picture themselves in its pages.
As a teenager, my experience with the Bible changed. My youth leaders usually focused on a single verse—such as Mark 12:31, “Love your neighbor as yourself”—and then asked us to apply it to our lives. Instead of imagining myself in the context of Scripture, now I was trying to imagine Scripture in the context of my life.
God’s Word became more like a recipe to follow. Take a few verses from John, sprinkle in some Psalms and Proverbs, add a touch of Ephesians, mix all the ingredients together, set the bowl in the refrigerator overnight, and you’re set. You’ll be a mature follower of Jesus. After a few failed attempts to apply Scripture to my everyday life, my relationship with God’s Word lost the connection I had experienced as a child.
The Bible isn’t made of stand-alone verses that combine to form a great recipe for Christian living. It consists of real stories about real people—people such as you and me—faithfully loved by a God who holds them in their brokenness, failures, and storms.
When Jesus stops the stoning of the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), we can’t help but consider what it must have felt like to receive Jesus’ protection and forgiveness. We’re invited to imagine what it’s like to grip a stone in our hand and then drop it. We’re invited to imagine being loving enough to step in, protect, and give life to the accused, just as Jesus does.
As a youth leader, for years I’ve pondered this question: How do I help teenagers engage with the Bible—and with Jesus—with childlike imagination and awe? Now I encourage kids to consider these five questions as they read:
- What lesson or command is this text teaching? For example, “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” (John 8:7). What a great lesson about not judging and considering our own humility before accusing others.
- How can I follow Jesus’ example in this story? Here Jesus stands by the accused, giving her life rather than the death her accusers have in mind.
- What’s worth celebrating? This accused woman is about to be killed, but now her sins are forgiven. Jesus sees a woman worthy of life and love, not one worthy of death because of her past. Jesus sees us for who we are, not for what we’ve done.
- What if I were there? What if that had been me? Help teenagers think through and imagine being the person ready to cast a stone, or the woman who’s accused. Also encourage them to picture stepping in as Jesus does in the text.
- What truth is this Scripture passage uncovering? In John 8, the truth is that Jesus comes to forgive, not to condemn. Even though we’re all sinners, Jesus loves us and wipes away all our sins.
Keep inviting teenagers into the Bible so they can keep inviting Jesus into every area of their lives.