I recently had the opportunity to write a letter to one of my nephews who was celebrating his 13th birthday. I share a portion of this letter as an encouragement for other families and specifically young men.
Congratulations on reaching an important milestone in your life. Though the world often associates the teenage years with rebellion, lack of responsibility, and other ills, our gracious God obviously has a much different view of this time of life you are entering. In OT culture, something carried over into modern Judaism, the age of 13 was an important transition point. A bar-miztvah (literally son of the law), is the celebration that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. No longer are you a boy; you are now a young man. Though you are only one year older than your last birthday, you are now entering into a much more important and significant period of your life. For the next 5-10 years, you will be making decisions that will not only affect your life but will also affect the lives of many other people.
You are certainly familiar with the story of Jesus from the end of Luke 2. It is an important story for it is the only information that we have in Scripture of the life of Jesus as a young boy apart from the stories concerning his birth. Jesus was 12 years old at the time and was in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover with His parents. Luke’s account shows how serious Jesus was as a young man. He spent at least three days “sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.” Jesus did this because as He told his earthly parents, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” This we pray will be your greatest desire and also your testimony. It is time for you also to be a man in your thinking, praying, and planning as you continue to prepare for future leadership and service.
Briefly, I would like to share a list of things I would recommend you do. Maybe you are already doing some of them, but for whatever it is worth, here it is.
10. Keep with you a small notebook so that you can record thoughts and observations and things you need to do. This is different from a journal, but it can be as useful as a journal. This notebook can be used both for spontaneous thoughts and to record ideas after more careful reflection. Though I have a computer, cell phone, and my ipod touch at my fingertips, I frequently use something like this small notebook I am recommending.
9. Keep a separate journal, one that you will not necessarily carry with you, so that you can record other important things that you will forget unless you write things down. I wish I would have done this more consistently. I think your mom has kept a journal for quite a few years. The journals that I have kept, somewhat sporadically, still are useful to remind me of how much I have changed and how much I have not changed. This need not be anything fancy – just something that you will use consistently, if not daily.
8. Be careful of how much time you give to sports, entertainment, and other things that might be enjoyable but aren’t going to make a you a better man. When I was your age, I also followed sports very closely. As I look back on my time, I now realize that I gave too much attention to these things. And as you mature, you will also have to be careful not to give too much of your time, energy, and emotions to things that aren’t very important. The author of Psalm 119 prayed, “Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, And revive me in Your way.
7. Make a list of books that you should read or want to read in the next 5 years. Have your parents help you choose some of the books you should read.
6. Invest in books that especially will help you with studying the Bible. Especially in the OT, it is very helpful to have a commentary that you can read to help you understand the passage in a deeper way. The New Bible Commentary by Intervarsity Press is one commentary that I could recommend as a companion to your Bible readings. I use it frequently in my studies.
5. Get a Bible that you can use for reading and studying that you will be able to use for at least the next 10 years. Maybe you already have a good Bible that you use for this purpose. I think it is certainly good to have different translations, but I have come to appreciate now the importance of having one main Bible that I will use hopefully for a long time to come. I now think that Read-through-the-year Bibles and similar Bibles are not very beneficial except for convenience. A benefit of mainly reading one Bible is that you come to remember where certain passages are located. If you care for your Bible it could easily last you twenty years.
4. Have you read through the entire Bible from Genesis – Revelation? Maybe by now you have done this already. If not, make this a goal to do over the next 2-3 years. Some try to read through the Bible in one year. This can be done, but I sometimes think it would probably be better to read a little more slowly and read through the entire Bible in two or three years. Along with reading through the Bible from cover to cover, it would be good practice to also summarize each book of the Bible with regards to major themes and key passages.
3. Make the most of your time with your brothers and sisters. There will be some big changes in your family in the next 5 years. I think you already appreciate your family more than most young men your age, but still make the most of this time.
2. Pray often about the future. At this time you are not expected to have the clearest idea about what you might come to study and what your calling is. This will come as you humbly seek the Lord and as you have meaningful conversations with your parents and others about ideas and opportunities. I know that the Lord was preparing me well before I started teaching and pastoring. The Lord is also preparing you. Wait on Him.
1. All of this could be summarized under one main point, the words of Jesus to Peter that are found in John 21. “You follow Me.” Have your identity as a young man and your purpose in life be directed by these simple but most profound words of our Lord and Savior. Follow Christ in all things. You will certainly fail at times in doing this. There will be plenty of distractions, but thankfully the Lord is gracious, compassionate, and understanding.
May the Lord continue to bless and guide you. You have been given so much in God’s grace. I pray that you will be faithful and responsible for the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am always happy to talk with you and share any advice I can.
In Christ’s Love,
 John 21:22.
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