As a youth pastor, from time to time I’m asked to meet with a student when things aren’t going well. If it’s a one way street and the student is “forced” to meet with me, the conversation is always super hard and rarely goes anywhere. It’s better if I can meet along with a parent or two in those cases so I can address the whole picture. However, if the teen is unhappy with the situation and looking for help themselves, then the opposite is true and it’s always good to meet one-on-one like I did with a student yesterday after church.
While I don’t use a paper or notes to guide the convo, I always follow this basic script of sorts in a fluid conversation.
- I listen to the story and try to ask questions that get past emotions and to the root of the issue. There’s no point in weeding the yard if we leave the roots and the same weeds just come back three weeks later. I ask things like: Why do you think that is? What made you feel that way? What motivated you to do that?
- I then look for a chance to share this statement and come to agreement that it’s true: “He or she did not intend to get where they are now and it’s not good.” Essentially, he or she was misled and we need to figure out how to keep that pattern from repeating itself so the next time they can call out the lie instead of buy it.
- Once we’ve established that while intentions usually sound good, “I wanted to be a good friend. They made me feel loved. I was trying to be happy,” eventually it produced the opposite results … then I try to lead the conversation to these two intentional questions: 1. Did you think you followed Jesus into where you are now? 2. Will you follow Jesus out of here?
Then, in an effort to answer the second question with some “How in the world do I do that” ideas and not throw rocks at the situation as it is, I just tell them the way they’re feeling is at least 2,000 years old and there’s a set of verses Paul wrote in Romans that tell the same story. I guarantee you they’ve never read them or haven’t thought about these verses in years. In this way, Romans 7:14-25 is a gift from God for all of us.
If a student has a smart phone of any sort, I have them download the “you version” app on their phone for free. I show them how to navigate it briefly, and then we turn to Romans, bookmark this passage for them and then read this together, pausing often to draw parallels with their own story.
“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:14–25)
The beauty of this text is not only that Paul has expressed the struggle we all feel when trying to break negative patterns in our lives, but that he also expresses that the sole solution to our struggle is not behavior change. It’s not like you’re going to be able to pull this off yourself. You don’t need to stop doing drugs, or stop meeting with so and so, or stop buying that thing so much as you need connection with God first. This pattern happens in your life for a reason and it’s because of temptation and our natural desire to gravitate away from God’s best and do our own thing.