Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Make Spiritual Progress?
“When I went to church, I was really confused. I didn’t understand what they were trying to say, so I stopped going. I don’t think that you have to belong to any certain religion in order to have faith in God.”—Seventeen-year-old Carrie.
WHY does the church turn off so many youths? In a survey conducted by pollster George Gallup, young people gave the following reasons: ‘The sermons are boring.’ ‘They are not teaching about God or the Bible.’ ‘They are always asking for money.’ ‘The churches and churchgoers are not living up to what they profess.’ Clearly, the churches have failed to nourish the spirituality of young people.
But do you want “a firm hold on the everlasting life”? (1 Timothy 6:12) Do you want to be respected as a mature Christian, one who can be entrusted with responsibility? Do you want the privilege of being one of “God’s fellow workers” in helping others gain everlasting life? (1 Corinthians 3:9) Then you must advance spiritually! By associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses, you enjoy advantages that youths in Christendom do not have. You attend meetings at a Kingdom Hall, where solid Bible instruction is imparted. You receive personal attention from your parents by means of a family Bible study. You regularly associate with people who earnestly try to apply the Bible in their lives. Nevertheless, if you are to make spiritual advancement, much more is required. As the apostle Peter put it, you must put forth “all earnest effort.” (2 Peter 1:5) Let’s see what doing so involves.
Cultivate a Spiritual Appetite
Jesus said: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need.” (Matthew 5:3) In the original Greek, this phrase literally referred to “those who are beggars for the spirit.” Like a destitute beggar who is painfully aware of his need for physical food, you must be conscious of your need for spiritual food. Said Jesus: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of . . . Jesus Christ.”—John 17:3.
Most youths do little to fill their spiritual needs. The book The Psychology of Adolescence says of the average youth: “His knowledge of his religious faith is probably low, although his concern for and interest in religion is quite high.” In one study a group of youths were asked a hundred questions about the Bible. The average youth could answer only 17. In another survey, seven out of ten teenagers could not name the four Gospels.
What about you? To what extent have you applied yourself to a serious study of the Bible? Can you refute false teachings, such as the Trinity and the immortality of the soul? Can you prove Scripturally that there is a hope for eternal life both in the heavens and on the earth? Can you establish that we have been living in “the last days” since 1914? (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Or do you “need someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God”?—Hebrews 5:12.
If such is the case, you need to “form a longing for the unadulterated milk belonging to the word, that through it you may grow to salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2) It may take great effort initially. But the more you apply yourself to studying God’s Word, the more your appetite for spiritual things will grow.
A 19-year-old named Kevin says: “I really don’t know where I stand religiously right now. I’m just really confused about the whole thing.” Many youths in Christendom feel this way. But could it be that your spiritual progress has likewise been hindered by nagging doubts?
For example, are you utterly convinced that living according to the Bible’s moral standard is the best way to live? Or do you find that you are ‘envious of wicked people’? (Psalm 73:3) Are you settled at heart that we are living in the last days? Or are you anxiously planning a career in this system of things? Are you certain that the Bible is God’s inspired Word? Or do you sometimes wonder if scientific theories disprove it? If doubts afflict you, remember what the Bible says at James 1:6: “But let him keep on asking in faith, not doubting at all, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and blown about.” Doubts in connection with one’s faith can also be compared to leaks in the hull of a ship. The bigger the holes, the more likely it is that the ship will sink.
Does this mean that your faith is about to “sink” if you occasionally have unresolved questions? Not necessarily. But if you have nagging doubts, you must work hard at resolving them. For example, if you had doubts about purchasing a new pair of slacks, would you not closely examine the garment, checking its workmanship, fiber content, and price before making a decision? Similarly, most legitimate doubts can be resolved by making a close examination of the Bible or by talking matters over with a mature, knowledgeable Christian.* Says Proverbs 15:14: “The understanding heart is one that searches for knowledge.”
Setting Spiritual Goals
The apostle Paul told the young man Timothy: “Ponder over these things; be absorbed in them, that your advancement may be manifest to all persons.” Notice, though, that Paul did not burden Timothy with some unrealistically high, unreachable goal. He gave Timothy specific, realistic goals to work on: “Become an example to the faithful ones in speaking, in conduct, in love, in faith, in chasteness.”—1 Timothy 4:12-15.
Like Timothy, you need to set spiritual goals that are realistic, attainable. Imagine, for example, that you decide to learn to cook. How futile it would be to attempt to become a master chef overnight! You can, however, master the culinary arts one step at a time—perhaps first learning to prepare vegetables and then moving on to cooking meats, breads, casseroles, or delicious desserts. Similarly, you can more readily reach your long-range goal of spiritual maturity if you approach it by intermediate goals or steps. These can serve as markers of your spiritual progress. Each time you successfully complete a step, you build your self-confidence. This can spur you on to tackle the next step.
Reaching Your Goals
Let’s now look at some goals you might set. Have you, for example, read the Bible all the way through? Yes, the Bible is a big book, but why not break down the reading of it into small portions? (The average person in the United States eats well over 1,400 pounds [640 kg] of food every year. But who would try eating it all at one sitting?) The “noble-minded” Beroeans ‘carefully examined the Scriptures daily.’ (Acts 17:11) If you follow a daily schedule of reading just 15 minutes a day—about the time it takes to listen to five popular songs on the radio—you could complete the reading of the Bible within a year.
You might set a goal of reading every issue of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. The fine information therein is sure to speed up your spiritual progress. If you are not one already, you could also make it your goal to represent a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses as an unbaptized publisher. This would involve regularly sharing in the door-to-door preaching work and reporting such activity monthly. You can discuss how to qualify for this privilege with your parents or local congregation elders.
Other possible spiritual goals? Becoming discreet and mature in your thinking. (Hebrews 5:14) Cultivating each of the fruits of the spirit. (Galatians 5:22, 23) Improving the quality of your prayers. (Philippians 4:6) Manifesting more respect for the headship of your parents. (Ephesians 6:1) Becoming more adept at making a defense of your faith. (1 Peter 3:15) These goals are practical and attainable!
Remember, though, it is not enough to set goals. You must stick to them! As former British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli said: “The secret of success is constancy to purpose.” Yes, cultivate a spiritual appetite. Set sensible spiritual goals. Show constancy by sticking to them. Spiritual advancement is sure to result.*
The books The Bible—God’s Word or Man’s? and Life—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? (published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.) can help you resolve questions you might have about the inspiration of the Bible.
Future articles will develop other aspects of this subject.
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Scheduling a few minutes of Bible reading each day is one way to nurture your spiritual progress