Okay guys. I have a confession to make. Don’t be mad, but…
I hate devotionals.
Well, not really. I love the idea of devotionals. But sometimes it feels like I’m unimpressed by, like, 98% of the devotionals that I look at. Especially for middle schoolers and high schoolers. It’s because I hate verses without context or relevance and I hate questions that are too leading or too simple or sound too much like What did you learn? instead of What do you think? But, sometimes, it feels like I see a lot of those things on the shelves of Christian bookstores. Bummer.
When it comes to devotionals (especially devotionals for middle schoolers and high schoolers), I want something that gives kids an understanding of the voices and culture that are behind the verses they read. I want something that affects their lives, right now. I want something that provokes discovery and thought and engagement.
And that’s why I need to tell you…
My friend Ben Crawshaw just wrote a devotional for students that I really don’t hate. In fact, I love it. I super love it. It’s called Live Free. And I want you to know all about it, so I interviewed him really quick. Check it out!
HELLO, BENJAMIN. THANKS FOR GRACING MY BLOG WITH YOUR PRESENCE. LET’S JUMP IN, SHALL WE? WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO WRITE A DEVOTIONAL JOURNAL FOR STUDENTS?
Now to your question. I grew up in church my entire life. I constantly heard that Christians were supposed to pray and read the Bible. And yes, those are obviously two huge tenants of having an active relationship with God. But the problem with that, at least for me as a student, was that these concepts were too broad. I left every week never sure what to pray about or where to start reading in the Bible. In fact, I didn’t know how to do those things. When I opened the Bible, it felt similar to when I took Geometry in high school and opened that book. I thought, I don’t get it. Other people get it. I must be stupid. It wasn’t until I was 19 years old that I bought my first devotional journal at a youth camp. It may have been simple, but it was really the first time I felt like I understood what it truly meant to spend time with God. And it was amazing.
Think of it this way. If you’re trying to learn to play the guitar, you could go one of two ways. You could pick it up, put your fingers somewhere, and start strumming. Sure, you’d make noise but it probably doesn’t sound that great. I had a phase in college where I decided to “teach myself to play.” It sounded like a cat dying slowly. Or you could take lessons, get someone to guide you through learning to play until you’re good enough to play on your own. And that’s what this devotional journal is for students: a guide to help them learn how to read the Bible and talk to God on their own.
LIVE FREE REALLY CENTERS ON THE THEME OF GRACE. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO GO THIS ROUTE?
I spent time talking with Jared Jones, a student pastor who co-wrote Live Free with me, and both us kept going back to the fact that, in our years in student ministry, we encountered so many students who felt like they simply weren’t measuring up. There was a lot of pressure to live a certain way, and they felt as though they were 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 simply 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.
That’s why we wanted to introduce the concept of grace in this devotional journal—to not only change their view of themselves, but also their view of God. He extends grace to us because of his love and kindness—and in spite of our shortcomings. Jared and I want students to know about God’s kindness. And it’s this grace that motivates us to want to live our lives right in God’s eyes.
YOU FOCUSED THE DEVOTIONAL ON THE LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF PAUL. WHY HIM?
Sometimes the best way to try and define something that’s hard, something like the concept of grace, is to tell it in a story. And Paul’s life is that story. His story is a spotlight on God’s grace.
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. 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. Who better to hold up to students as an example of a life changed by grace than him?
WERE YOU EVER A LITTLE SCARED AT THE THOUGHT OF WRITING A DEVOTIONAL JOURNAL FOR STUDENTS CENTERED ON THE CONCEPT OF GRACE? ARE YOU JUST GIVING THEM A LICENSE TO DO WHATEVER THEY WANT?
I’ll answer your question with a question: 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 seem like someone who loves Oprah. In fact, y’all remind me of each other. 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?”
I am still trying to figure out what that Oprah-and-me comment meant. So while I do that, go get yourself a copy of Live Free. I think you’re gonna love it.