I grew up in church my entire life, and I felt like I constantly heard the same two things over and over: read your Bible and pray. And while I most definitely agree that these are two huge parts of having an active relationship with God, as a 15-year-old, these concepts were intimidating. How was I supposed to pray? What exactly was I supposed to be reading? The Bible is a complicated book. When I opened the Bible as a teenager, it felt similar to when I opened my Geometry book in high school. I thought, I don’t get it. Other people get it. I must be stupid. (As a side, I took Geometry as a senior. The class consisted of 90% freshmen. That should shine some light on my Math fatuity.)
Simply put: I needed a little help.
A “Getting Started” Guide
It wasn’t until I was out of high school that I bought my first devotional journal. It changed the game for me. Sure it was basic, but it opened the door for me to finally understand what it meant to spend time with God. That journal (along with many others after it) served as a guide to help me learn how to read the Bible and talk to God on my own.
That was the motivation behind writing Live Free, a five-week devotional journal for students centered on the concept of grace and the life of Paul. The goal is to give students that same kind of guide to a better understanding of God, His teachings on grace and forgiveness, and the way these things directly impact their lives.
I spent a lot of time talking with Jared Jones, a student pastor who co-wrote Live Free with me. We feel like we encounter so many students who simply feel like they’re not measuring up. There’s a lot of pressure for them to live a certain way, and they feel like they’re constantly falling short. Without an understanding of grace, they start to see themselves as failures in response to all the stuff the church tells them to do. And worse than that, they start to see God as someone who’s just angry or disappointed in them. If we neglect talking about grace to our students, we run the risk of them walking away saying, “God is love” with their mouths, but carrying in their hearts a picture of a God who doesn’t like them very much. They lack a basic understanding of God’s grace.
A Radical Story
So as we sat down to try and give them a guide to grace, we thought, “Who better to illustrate the concept of God’s grace than Paul?” I mean, talk about a guy who pretty quickly became aware of how he didn’t measure up. He started his career by trying to kill people who were passionate about loving other people and connecting them to Jesus. That’s a really bad entry into Christianity! But as soon as he had his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, he realized how wrong he had been. And because of God’s grace in His life, he ultimately became the greatest missionary the world has ever seen. His story shines a spotlight on God’s grace and how it can radically change a life.
A Free Pass
People ask me, “Are you worried that teaching grace will give students a free pass to do whatever they want?” I say, “When you read the teachings of Paul, do you come away thinking you’ve got a free pass to do whatever you want?” Not at all.
Let me put it another way: remember when Oprah used to have her “Favorite Things” shows? You know the shows where she’s giving away cars and tropical vacations to everyone in her audience—just for showing up! Do you think those people left those shows bigger fans of Oprah than they were before? Of course they did!
When you understand that you’ve been given a gift in full measure that you couldn’t earn or didn’t deserve, you become a fan of the person who gave it to you. The more you understand grace, the more you get to know Jesus. And soon, the question isn’t, “What can I get away with?” The question is, “God, what role do you have for me in Your incredible story?”
A Confidence Boost
Our hope is that students who pick up Live Free, whether it’s the first devotional journal they’ve ever encountered or not, will walk away having taken a step closer to Jesus. And that step will give them confidence and motivation to take another step. Not because they have to, but because His love and grace makes them want to.
Ben Crawshaw is a youth worker and author of the new book Live Free, available now on Amazon!