He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for his grace, sometimes to offer him your sufferings, at other times to thank him for the graces, past and present, he has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to him. One need not cry out very loudly; he is nearer to us than we think.”
Teenagers need to hear that God is always present with them—including when they’re distracted, confused, and worried. God’s continual presence strengthens and encourages his followers amid daily challenges and opportunities.
The prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi and the historical books Ezra and Nehemiah describe what happened to the small group of Jews who’d remained in Jerusalem and to those who returned to Jerusalem from exile. It was important for God’s people to rebuild the Temple, because that’s where God’s presence resided. God also promised to bring glory and peace to his Temple (see Haggai 2:9).
Shalom, a Hebrew word meaning peace, involves the healing presence of God, freedom from war, true rest, flourishing and abundance, soul comfort, justice, “inner peace” and contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction, and more.
A lot went wrong for God’s people in the Old Testament (http://www.theopedia.com/old-testament); it’s a story of suffering, violence, alienation from God and each other. But in Haggai, God promises that one day his people will experience his presence and his peace.
Jesus made those same promises before he left the earth, and they can sustain young people through tumult and confusion:
I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27).
A YouTube clip called “Lonely Deranged Penguin” is depressing because of the little creature’s self-imposed isolation. Sometimes we feel that way, too. Jesus seems pretty far away from us. Teenagers, especially, often feel alone and wonder if Jesus is really there for them. Maybe he’s not interested in actually being with me, they wonder.
Ponder this: Maybe the question isn’t whether or not Jesus is with us in every moment. Maybe the question is whether or not we are with him. Maybe we’re like that lonely penguin, venturing farther away from the source of life and hope.
Even if we feel alone, the truth is that Jesus is pursuing us. He doesn’t want to lose us, so he chases after us. In fact, he’s willing to leave a huge flock of 99 sheep to find just one who’s lost.
In January 2012, the massive cruise ship Costa Concordia ran into a submerged rock off the western coast of Italy, ripping a large gash in its side and filling the engine room with water. The flooding cut power to the ship, and the 1,000-foot, skyscraper-tall behemoth drifted and ran aground near Giglio Island. There were more than 4,200 people onboard, and it took an agonizing six hours to evacuate the ship, even though it sat half-sunk in shallow water just 500 yards from land. Because of the chaotic and prolonged rescue operation, 32 people lost their lives on that ship. And after a $1.5 billion salvage operation successfully re-floated the boat and towed it to a salvage yard in Genoa, all but one of the dead had been recovered. That missing man’s name was Russel Rebello, a 33-year-old waiter from India. For almost three years after the wreck of the Costa Concordia, Russel’s brother Kevin traveled back and forth from his home in Milan to the coast, where he talked to salvage operators and local residents about the search for his brother’s body.
Kevin told the people he met:
“I’ve not lost hope. I know the official search stopped a long time ago but I will continue to look for my brother’s body. I watch every news bulletin or program on the Concordia in the hope of finding some piece of information that will help me find my brother.”
. If you are not the brother of Russel Rebello, then your assessment of the Costa Concordia debacle is simple—4,200 people were accounted for, and the body of an Indian waiter you’d never heard of before remains missing and probably lost forever. But if you are the brother of Russel Rebello, then you are living in the momentum and the reality of the Good Shepherd, who is Jesus.
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away,” Jesus asks his followers, “what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:12-14, NLT).
Kevin Rebello remained focused on “the one that was lost” because his heart was intimately tied to his brother, and he wouldn’t rest until Russel’s body was finally found (in November 2014, by salvage operators working on the eighth deck of the Costa Concordia). And likewise, Jesus is determined to find his own “lost brothers and sisters” who have gone missing—his focus is, first, on the whereabouts of the lost ones. His where is not with the 99 who are grazing peacefully on the hillside; it’s with the one who got distracted and left behind, or decided on its own to find better places to graze, or reacted to a threat by running away from the Shepherd rather than to him.
The brother of Russel Rebello did not rest until he found his beloved, even though there was no hope he’d be found alive. “No hope” is not a deal-breaker, if the depth of your love and your commitment to the beloved goes deep. Jesus (who exactly mirrors the heart of a God we can’t see) will not rest until he tracks down and offers rescue to every single “sheep” who has strayed from the herd. And all of us, at one time or another, fit that definition. We are all Russel Rebello, and Jesus is our relentless brother. None of us remains safely, throughout our lifetime, with the “ninety-nine on the hills.” We have all been cut off from the protection of the herd by sin. And it doesn’t matter if we feel hopeless, or others tell us we are lost forever, because Jesus generates his own hope with his relentless presence.
Challenge young people to think about these questions:
- What activities do you do that you never think about Jesus?
- What activities would you change if you were more aware of Jesus’ presence?
- What’s something you can do to remind yourself that Jesus is with you always?
Here’s some good news: We don’t have to go far to meet with Jesus. He’ll meet us where we are.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus took 12 guys on a three-year road trip—minus a vehicle. And throughout Scripture, Jesus talks about life in terms of a journey. Basically, he’s inviting us on his road trip, too. That, in a way, is what following Christ is all about.
Two guys who’d come along for the ride thought the trip was over after Jesus was crucified. They headed home disappointed but ended up getting quite the surprise.
Check out Luke 24:13-49, the account of the Walk to Emmaus (for a contemporary re-telling of this story, go here). The disciples’ eyes weren’t opened until the breaking of the bread. That may have been symbolic. It also may have simply been that it was the first time the men looked at Jesus’ hands.
Jesus goes out of his way to demonstrate he’s alive. He shows the disciples his wounds. He eats in their presence. In another account he touches them. He breathes on them. It was very important to Jesus that the disciples knew he’d come back to life.
Although it’s important to know what the Bible says about Jesus, it’s just as important to realize that Jesus often will meet us on the road. He wants us to spend time alone with him, reading Scripture and praying, but he equally wants us to pay attention to him in our everyday lives. Everything—every relationship, every circumstance—can show us more about who Jesus is.
Jesus is always present. If we stop and pay attention, he can show us things about himself all the time, everywhere, in every circumstance.