Our anxious youth
Charlie Y. Kang | JULY 8, 2019 | 4 MIN READ
Bitten nails, chewed pencils, incessant tapping of feet. The outward signs of anxiety used to look docile. Now, when we look at the youth of today, we can see the great harm that anxiety and stress has put upon them. Whether it manifests itself in panic attacks, depression, drug use, or detachment, the present picture of anxiety we see in youth culture looks fairly bleak. Yet, we as a church can look at this as an opportunity to reach our students with the gospel as we share to them hope in the midst of an anxious, stress-filled world.
A God who is Near
First, we need to remind our youth that God is near. For Christians, our hope is that we don’t live in a closed-circuit world where there is no hope of God’s presence intervening in the midst of our mundane or anxious lives. Instead, we have a God who loves us and is with us, even in our weakest, most anxious moments.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
God is near to us, not far away and distant. Furthermore, we have a God who is not only with us, but a God who is all-powerful and all-knowing. We have a relationship with the God who is sovereign over all situations and circumstances in life and whose strength is at work in spite of our limitations and frailty.
Paul sums up the nearness and sovereignty of God in Philippians 4, he describes God as “the God of peace” and also writes of “the peace of God” guarding the hearts of believers (4:7,9). This is not a contradiction. God is a God who gives peace because He is the God who is peace. His nearness gives us comfort and hope because his nearness reminds us that God is with us and has total control over our circumstances.
Thus, our hope for peace isn’t by reciting the right prayer as if it was a magic spell from Harry Potter. Instead, the way believers can have peace through prayer is because prayer reveals the God of peace to us. We realize that God cares for us intimately, and therefore, we can cast our anxieties upon Him (1 Peter 5:7).
Model This to Your Group
Secondly, we need to model living with the peace of God for our students. Philippians 3:17 and 4:19 share Paul’s desire to not just teach and instruct the church, but rather for the church to imitate the apostle in the way that he lived in the anxiety-free life in the Gospel.
We too have the opportunity and obligation to show our students the peace we have in Christ. Author and pastor Eugene Peterson writes, “How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion?”
Do we feel the weight and pressure of ministry? Surely many of us do. Now, what do we do with those anxious thoughts? The deadlines? The retreats? The wayward students? Where do we take our stresses and pressures?
May I encourage you (and myself) to consider how we are modeling our habits? Do we run away and escape from our problems through our hobbies and entertainment? Do we just grin and bear the hectic summer of youth missions and retreats until our students go back to school? Do we feel paralyzed by our anxiety, unable to do anything because whatever we’re anxious about keeps growing in our mind? Do we feel like we need to hide our worries, rather than sharing it and asking for prayer?
If we have been handling our anxieties like this, then we have like many of our students, been living like we’re in a closed system. A place where the Divine has no opportunity to intervene in our lives. We can do much better to model to our students how to take our anxieties to God.
Name your Requests to God in Prayer
Lastly, we need to help our students is by coaching them how to pray through their anxieties. Many of us simply undercut their issue with the very first words of Philippians 4:6, “do not be anxious,” not realizing the way towards peace isn’t simply trying not to be anxious, but rather, by lifting up our prayers and supplication with thanksgiving before the God of peace.
Well, what does that look like? Bible commentators note that the words “supplication” and “prayer” are synonymous, but both pointing to naming our direct requests before God. We name our requests before God because ignoring them or leaving them to be a nebulous entity in our lives just makes the problem become larger than it actually is. Then after we name them, we categorize what is making us anxious and that helps us with giving our anxieties over to God.
Christian counselor David Powlison writes in Overcoming Anxiety that we categorize our anxieties to things we can control and things we have no control over. The things we cannot control are to be entrusted over to God as we remind ourselves of His sovereignty, goodness, and purpose in our lives. When we realize we are worried over situations and problems that are out of our control, we realize how pointless worry is. But not only that, we realize that this is an opportunity to exercise real, living faith before a God who works all things for His glory and for our good (Rom. 8:28).
The things we can control, we pray them to God and ask Him for strength to respond in faith. When we pray to God for an A on a test that has been making us nervous, we not only pray for the grade but also to study to the best of our abilities. When we pray for finances for college, we pray and ask God to provide but also pray for God that we be a good stewards of the resources He has given to us, knowing that the one who is faithful in little will be faithful in much.
What we cannot control, we trust in God’s power. What we can control, we lift up to God and ask God for the strength to respond in a faith-filled way. In both cases, we become less anxious about them because we don’t ignore it. We need to walk with our students like this as we think through the issues and hardship that have been making them anxious.
I pray this helps all of us as we seek to make God known to our students and His peace be given to them through the ministry of the Word and prayer. Blessings to you and your ministry.
Charlie Y. Kang is a youth pastor at Good Stewards Church in West Covina, CA where he has been serving for seven years. He has his m. Div from Talbot School of Theology and is an ordained minister with the KPCA (Korean Presbyterian Church Abroad). He is happily married to his wife Angela and is a proud father to his spunky two-year old daughter, Allison. In his free time, he loves to spend time with his family, go surfing, and getting his heart broken by his two favorite sports teams (Arsenal FC/LA Clippers).