Light The Spark
An essential tool in relating to young people can change life’s entire course!

Picture what it would be like to witness Jesus Christ interacting with a child.

We are given a vivid description of one such encounter in Mark 9, where His disciples were disputing among themselves who would have the highest rank in the Kingdom of God (verse 34).

To illustrate the principle that “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be … servant of all,” Mark records that Jesus “took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me” (verses 35-37).

Christ made it clear to His disciples that how they interacted with and treated young people was inextricably linked to their prominence in the Kingdom.

As He was saying this, He called a little child over to Him and picked the child up into His arms. Apparently neither the child nor his parents—probably nearby—were intimidated or threatened by this religious leader having this exchange with the child.

Matthew 18 records more of Christ’s instruction at this instance: “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (verse 10).

Here is a direct command to “despise not” the youth. Yet not long after, the disciples ignored this exact command. In the next chapter, when people “brought unto him little children” for Christ to pray over them, “the disciples rebuked them” (Matthew 19:13).

Christ was “much displeased” with their treatment of these children (see Mark 10:13-14), which in the Greek means indignant!

Christ emphasized to His disciples that young people are closely connected with the gospel message. This is a lesson all of us can learn more deeply. How easy is it to neglect our young people and think we are doing Christ a service?

Do you know how to relate to young people? To those in your congregation? To those in your homes? Whether biological parent, grandparent, uncle, or even a spiritual brother, sister, aunt or uncle, you would do well to heed Christ’s words to “despise not” the youth of God’s Church. How do we relate to them? How do you view their place in the Family of God? What is your attitude toward the programs the Church has instituted for the young people?

Closing the Gap

For the past half-century we have accepted the relatively modern notion that parents and children are designed and destined to have drastically different interests and tastes. We call it the “generation gap,” and assume there’s nothing that can be done. Children are destined to grow up liking music, entertainment and fashion that parents will dismiss or despise. And parents’ tastes—the children are told—can never be up to speed with the social landscape’s latest developments.

Yet the Bible describes the World Tomorrow as one where old and young will find much common ground while socializing in the city streets (Zechariah 8:4-5).

The end time just before that—though marked by this “generation gap”—would also see a godly figure who would “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6).

This end-time man of God followed God’s pattern for working with and nurturing young people. The Prophet Samuel, his mother Hannah and the prophets Elijah, Elisha and Jeremiah all saw the importance of spending much of their life’s work educating the next generation. During His earthly ministry, Jesus emphasized the same principle, saying essentially that having the right attitude about young people is a matter of eternal life in the Kingdom of God, or not. These are the ideals behind the Philadelphia Church of God’s youth programs, worldwide summer camps and its educational institutions.

This man of God recorded a life-changing experience he had as a young person. In his Autobiography, Herbert W. Armstrong talks about one way we can help our young people—one thing they need from authority figures or adults in their lives. Mr. Armstrong said it has the potential to change their entire life’s direction and outlook.

Lighting the Spark

Under the subhead, “The Awakening—Spark of Ambition Ignited,” Mr. Armstrong wrote about an experience he had at age 16. That summer, “I obtained my first job away from home. The job was waiting on tables in the dining room of a semi-resort hotel …. The owner was a single man of perhaps 45. He complimented my work highly. Soon he began to tell me that he could see qualities in me that were destined to carry me to large success in life. He constantly expressed great confidence in me, and what I would be able to accomplish, if I were willing to put forth the effort.”

Mr. Armstrong explained that it was this constant encouragement that gave him an awareness of his potential that he had never had. It aroused a desire to succeed. He called this “the turning point of my life.”

He wrote, “It is impossible to estimate the importance of this sudden arousal of ambition—this injection of an intense desire for success—this igniting of the spark of determined energy to achieve worthy accomplishment.”

We occasionally refer our young people to this passage of the Autobiography—telling them they need “spark.” But the lessons we can draw from it are more for those mentoring young people than for our youth. The more we step into the role the of “hotel owner,” the likelier they will be to identify with young Herbert Armstrong.

Whether you are a parent, employer, minister, counselor, teacher or any adult figure in a young person’s life, this is something you can practice. What’s more, this is something that young people cannot get from their peers.

This “vital ingredient,” as Mr. Armstrong called it, is constructive encouragement from authority figures.

We are the ones who can light the spark! Yes, they have to be doing something themselves. If Mr. Armstrong wasn’t working at a summer job, this may not have happened. But someone lights the spark in a young person’s life.

As editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote, “We must learn to say things that will encourage people and lift them up. When we fail to do that, we can easily beat people down. A parent can change the nature of creation in his own family, or alter the whole direction of his child’s life, just by the words he speaks to that child” (The Epistle of James).

Battling Self-Consciousness and Shame

A simple passing comment made to a youth can easily bring him down, resigning him to accept failure or feel inferior. Satan the devil is constantly bombarding them with discouraging thoughts and impulses.

In my many years of teaching every age of childhood, from 5-year-olds to those exiting their teens, I see vividly how the onset of self-awareness that accompanies puberty is often perverted by extreme self-consciousness—even shame. Messages from peers and society force young people either to want to fit in with everyone else or hide.

That comes from the god of this world, the devil himself
(2 Corinthians 4:4).

Compare a child’s lack of inhibitions to an adolescent reaching puberty and becoming increasingly self-conscious. Though greater awareness of the self and the world around us is undoubtedly part of the maturing process, consider how Satan—the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2)—broadcasts moods and impulses to our young people just as he did to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.

When Eve and Adam partook of the forbidden fruit, “the eyes of them both were opened, … and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:7-8).

Though Adam’s and Eve’s awareness came from a sinful act, Satan wants to give our young people the wrong kind of awareness and a sense of self-consciousness and shame about anything and everything.

Adam’s and Eve’s shame and awareness was not something God intended. “And [Adam] said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And [God] said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” (verses 10-11).

Do not give children a wrong kind of awareness—a self-consciousness, an insecurity, an unfounded shame—about themselves. That is so easy to do! Society is already doing that to them—through their peers, the media and other worldly influences. God looks at our children and says in essence, Who told you that you were naked?

In contrast, imagine the power of giving our young people the right kind of awareness—drawing attention to their proclivities for success!

When that happened to the teenaged Mr. Armstrong, he said, “Suddenly life became a whole new ‘ball game.’ There had awakened within a totally new outlook on the future. This, I believe, is the vital ingredient that has been missing in most human lives. Most continue through life as I was prior to this arousal of ambition” (op. cit.).

Awakening Awareness

Consider the verbiage Mr. Armstrong used. He calls this awareness of the potential for success the “vital ingredient,” something “missing in most human lives.” He notes how “most” go through life as he was “prior to this arousal.”

Again, this instruction is not so much for our youth but for those of us in these mentor roles. Are we awakening our young people?

“[U]p to this point I played with boys older than I. It seemed natural for them to assume leadership,” Mr. Armstrong continued. “I simply ‘went along.’ The idea of looking forward to achieving success, or an accomplishment of any note never intruded itself into my mind. Nor does it, probably, in the average mind. And it was like an intrusion, for my mind was uninterruptedly occupied only with the interests, pleasures and enjoyments of the moment.”

Are we there to “intrude” with positive observations and “constant encouragement” on the minds of our youth, which are “uninterruptedly occupied only with the interests, pleasures and enjoyments of the moment”?

“Suddenly all this was changed! Drastically changed! What a tragedy the vast majority of human minds cannot be given this hope—this desire—this ambitious expectation—this confidence—in their future! The general attitude of hopelessness for the future has spawned the modern mod rebellions—the hippie movement—the campus protests, riots and violence” (ibid).

Can we give our young people hope for the future? In this case, the hotel owner didn’t give him hope for the future spiritually. He gave Mr. Armstrong hope for his personal future and success. They may need that first before they can have any “spiritual” awakening.

What strengths do our young people have that will cause them to succeed? What character traits have such potential? Don’t assume they know!

“Of course, as yet, at age 16, there had formulated no definite goal to work toward, further than the general ambition to succeed. Of what that success was to consist had to crystallize later” (ibid).

Yes, we have a definite goal for them. Still, that is not required prior to having the spark lit. It may be too abstract for them at this moment. But if they have the desire to succeed because of this awareness—this spark—then they will eventually pick up on what God defines as the epitome of success.

You can inspire greater effort and achievement by noticing the positive attributes in our young people and telling them how beneficial those will be to their success if they put forth the effort.

Encourage—Don’t Flatter

Mr. Armstrong said it was the “first start toward later accomplishment.” It’s not the whole fire, just the initial spark.

One more example Mr. Armstrong shares in this account: “The effect it had on me reminds me of an experience my wife has related which happened when she was a little girl. She was in her father’s general store. A man came in, placed his hand on her head, and said: ‘You’re a pretty little girl, aren’t you?’ ‘I’ll thank you,’ spoke up her mother indignantly, ‘not to tell my daughters they are pretty! That’s not good for them.’ Promptly little Loma ran to a mirror and looked into it. She made a discovery. She said to herself approvingly: ‘Well I am pretty, amn’t I?’”

We are not to flatter or puff up their vanity, but perhaps hearing a compliment like that wouldn’t hurt in a society that incessantly beats them down. So many of our teens are simply hiding. Their “fig leaves” may be their hair, their hats, even current outlandish fashions that camouflage them among the masses.

Mr. Armstrong writes: “I had never realized before that I possessed any abilities. … But now, for the first time, I began to believe in myself. This hotel owner aroused ambition—created within me the desire to climb the ladder of success—to become an important somebody. This, of course, was vanity. But it also was ambition for accomplishment—for self-improvement. And he also stimulated the will to put forth whatever effort it would require to achieve this success. He made me realize I would have to study, acquire knowledge and know-how, be industrious and exercise self-denial. Actually this flowered into grossly overrated self-confidence and conceit. But it impelled me to driving effort.”

You can be like that hotel owner who “aroused ambition,” “stimulated the will,” “created within me the desire to climb the ladder of success” Even if it is vanity at first it may start to yield self-improvement. It forced Mr. Armstrong to study, be industrious, exercise self-denial.

Yes, sometimes we must correct them to improve them, yet can we also inspire them to improve? We can be like that hotel owner and impel our young people to “driving effort.”

Read one more time exactly what the hotel owner did: “He complimented my work highly. Soon he began to tell me that he could see qualities in me that were destined to carry me to large success in life. He constantly expressed great confidence in me, and what I would be able to accomplish, if I were willing to put forth the effort.”

There are a number of ways you can express your confidence. Make them aware of strong character traits. See the potential of a “neutral” trait (one that has positive or negative applications) if channeled correctly. Encourage them where their talents lie. Compliment a physical characteristic (not to flatter, but if they are self-conscious about their looks, a sincere compliment might help them forget all about that). Instill confidence in them by giving them responsibility in an area where they are capable. Compliment their “work highly.”

Being involved with them in a practical, physical way—noticing them, placing confidence in them—can back up any teaching or instructing you do.

That helps “shape” them into royalty. How much more impactful your mentoring will be if you encourage in ways that really awaken their drive—that arouse their ambition, to make them really want to achieve, in this life and in the next!

Our youth should know we are interested in their future! Emulate Christ, stop what you are doing and “bless them.” Take them up in your arms, so to speak, and see the Kingdom of God in them. Supplement your teaching with practical interaction. Constantly express genuine confidence in them—to where they have that spark of ambition lit in their lives.

This is the “vital ingredient” Mr. Armstrong said our young people need. We could call it constructive encouragement from authority figures, or awareness of their strengths.

We cannot assume they know what their strengths are. We must light the spark! It could be just the turning point they need.