Why do teens leave God’s Church?
Sometimes, the reason is a relationship with another guy or girl. Sometimes, it is because they are too close to worldly friends. Sometimes, it is because they have a problem with authority. But the number one reason why teens leave the Church—the reason behind all of those other reasons—is because they are not close enough to God.
What separates the teens who are successful in God’s Church from those who are not? The determining factor is that God is real to those successful teens. If God is real to you, you will think twice before you make certain decisions. You will know He is answering your prayers, and you will see Him actively working in your life. That will affect everything you do—every decision you make.
In his May 1963 Plain Truth Personal, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote: “The Creator is active,today! He is real! …
“God is more real than you or I—or any of the things about us.
“Why, then, does He seem so far away, until it seems He has faded in the distance? Why does He seem mysterious and unreal? Why do the objects with which you come in daily contact, your friends, your pleasures, seem more real—when actually they are less so?”
It’s easy to know academically that God is supposed to be more real to us than the physical things we see around us. But to us, the physical seems so much more real! The reality is that the closer you are to God, the more real He will be to you—even more real than your own human father, as Mr. Armstrong wrote in Mystery of the Ages. The best way to make God that real to you is through the power of prayer.
Psalm 90:2 shows us that God has existed forever—“from everlasting to everlasting.” Doesn’t it make sense that the One who has made everything physical should be more real to us than the things He has made? We can easily marvel at God’s creation around us and still lose track of the One who made all of it.
Consider this paradox: Society is more connected than ever, but it has never been more disconnected from God. We have email, cell phones, texting, instant messaging, social media, FaceTime and mass communication—yet talking to God is a lost art! Technology can be so distracting and even addictive. Is your iPod more real to you than God?
So why do physical things seem so much more real to us? Mr. Armstrong wrote, “You may say, ‘Because I can see, feel, and hear these things or people.’
“But that is not really the reason at all. You don’t see the air you breathe, but it seems very real to you. You cannot see, or hear, or feel the power of gravity, yet it seems very real to you ….
“Perhaps you say, well, these things are real to me because they are close to me. But that is not the reason. God is as close as any of these—He, too, is real, and He is close! Yet He seems unreal and far away!
“Now let me tell you the real reason. …
“God seems unreal and far away only to those who have not established, and are not actively maintaining close personal contact! It is not a matter of distance or visibility—it is a matter of contact.”
When I was in ninth grade, I had a neighborhood buddy who had moved to the area from Texas. We spent a lot of time together during the summer—riding bikes, swimming and played sports. Then he moved away. We talked on the phone after he moved, but the contact gradually became less and less frequent. He moved back to Vancouver for our senior year of high school, but by that time, we had both changed quite a bit and didn’t spend much time together. Distance can really affect relationships, but if we had maintained regular contact, our friendship could have picked up where it left off.
It’s the same way with God. The number one way to make God more real in your life is to maintain close personal contact with Him!
Learning how to pray effectively is the most important lesson you’ll ever learn in this life. Without prayer, nothing will work spiritually. It is your connection to God—your lifeline. Psalm 91 talks about this special relationship we can have with God; verse 14 shows that the one who has “set his love” on God will be delivered from his trials. That phrase “set his love” means to cling. If you cling to God, He promises to answer you: “He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him” (verse 15).
Timing is Key
For the majority of us, the best time for us to pray is in the morning when we are the most fresh. How do you start your day? Do you rise up out of bed in the morning and stumble around your room, still half-asleep—brain still fuzzy, hair looking like a bird’s nest—and then kneel down to talk to your Creator? That’s not how you set your love on God. Is that a respectful way to talk to the One who made you? The first step is really to wake yourself up before you pray.
Go brush your teeth, make your bed, perhaps take a shower, freshen up. While you’re doing this early morning routine, use the time to think about some things that you want to pray about. Think about that lesson you learned yesterday, or the class you’re having difficulty with. Think about a friend who is struggling with something. Think about God’s Work, and remember a detail that you were encouraged to pray about during announcements that week.
Then—once you’re awake—go to a private place and pray.
Mr. Flurry wrote in the May-June 1998 Royal Vision, “Our primary focus in life must be on how we talk to God in prayer! That is our number-one priority.” Prayer is your number-one priority! It should be the most important part of your entire day! Members are encouraged to pray for 30 minutes to survive and an hour or more to thrive. Strive for at least 30 minutes. When you go to pyc, your counselors will encourage that. Don’t break the habit after camp!
What if you don’t know what to pray about? The 30-Plus Program, based on Matthew 6, is a great way to structure your prayers. Make no mistake—becoming proficient in prayer is not an easy task. It’s actually one of the hardest things that we all have to do. But the more organized your prayers are, the more effective they will be. If you follow this 30-Plus Program, you will find that you’ll have plenty to pray about.
Be specific when you pray. For instance: “Father, the teen activity is approaching, and we’re all looking forward to it. Please direct the coordinators to plan it according to what You want us to do. Calm the weather for us. Help the other teens and me to be grateful for this opportunity. At the last activity we had, I didn’t get involved as much as I could have, and I didn’t have the best attitude at times. Please help me to put a smile on my face and really participate. I don’t want my shyness to hold me back. Help us all to include each other and not play favorites. Thank you, Father for making this possible!”
Develop this habit of prayer in your life now! Don’t think you can wait until you are older. Don’t walk through life by yourself. Bring God into the middle of everything—your successes, your failures, your challenges, your questions and your trials. If you’re having a hard time with a class, pray about it. If you and a friend have a disagreement, take it to God and ask for His help. If you’ve done well with your grades or in a recital or sport, give God thanks for it. God is your Father, and He wants to know what’s going on in your life! Romans 12:12 tells us to be instant in prayer.
Prayer is like exercise. The more you do it, the more comfortable it becomes, and the stronger you become. Mr. Flurry wrote in the November-December 2010 Royal Vision: “We must fight to do spiritual battle every day. We have to fight to remain faithful to the great God. We have to fight to get our prayer in. We have to fight thinking that we are ‘too busy’ to pray. If you get ‘too busy’ to pray to God and don’t fight to put Him first in your time, then you are in the carnal zone. Never allow that to happen.”
Prayer takes work, planning and effort. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted. If you find your mind wandering, try praying out loud quietly if you can. Or keep a prayer list in front of you to help you stay focused. Mr. Armstrong wrote, “You can talk to Him, and He will hear! You can pour out your heart to Him, and He will listen—and comfort, and come close and give you what you need.” Pouring out your heart means that you don’t hold anything back. It means that you are comfortable with talking to God. It means that you trust Him with your deepest thoughts and feelings, and you know He is listening.
James 5:16 says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” The words “effectual” and “fervent” in that verse come from the Greek word energeo, from which we get our English word “energy.” If you put real emotion and energy into your prayers, God will love to listen. Think about it: Which friend would you enjoy talking to more—one who talks in a monotone, disinterested, tired voice, or one who puts energy, emotion and color into the conversation?
Pray to God in private, realizing that He is the one who created you. He has performed miracles for you. He sacrificed His only Son for you! Talk to Him every day—especially when you are struggling. Remember, you were created to need Him! Some of your electronic devices won’t work unless you charge the battery—and you won’t work properly unless you are recharged by contact with the great God every day. You need God more than you need oxygen!
Don’t run from God. Always run to God! Think about the example of Jonah. God gave him a commission, but he was afraid. It was a challenging assignment, but instead of turning to God for help and courage, he allowed his fears to become bigger than God in his mind. Instead of turning to God for help, Jonah ran away.
The prophet Jeremiah was also afraid when God gave him a special and somewhat dangerous commission. But Jeremiah prayed to God in Jeremiah 1:6, “Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.” He did try to make excuses—but he also cried out to God for help in his weakness. The difference between Jonah and Jeremiah is that both were afraid, but one cried out to God for help to conquer his fears while the other waited until he was in the belly of a fish to finally turn to the only One who could help.
Don’t wait until the absolute last possible second to turn to God. Go to Him early for help when you need it. And realize that when you pray, you are not just praying by yourself in a room. Your prayers literally soar up to God’s throne room in heaven. Read Revelation 4-5. Those chapters give us a vision of God’s throne room. Every time you get on your knees to pray, that is where those prayers are going.
How much do you involve God in your life? Never think: “God wouldn’t care,” or “God wouldn’t understand.” He made you. He understands better than anyone. He is interested in every aspect of your life because He has a special plan for you. He wants to give you the opportunity to teach the whole world—and very soon! Will you be the kind of young person that He can really use?
Pleasing God has nothing to do with how tall or short you are, how pretty you are, how smart you are, or how talented you are. It has everything to do with how much you desire to be shaped by the Master Potter (Isaiah 64:8).
God’s promises are real. His blessings are real—and so are His curses. Believe in Him. Trust Him. He is the Almighty, the Everlasting—and He is the ultimate reality. Nothing is more real than He is! If you really want to live the way of happiness and joy, then make sure that you are staying in close contact with God. If you do, God will become real to you—more real than anything else in your life.