~by Derek Timms

Following Christ is a lifestyle, not a light switch.

At the age of seventeen, Joseph decides God will rule in his life. As a common shepherd boy, David accepts God’s leadership in anointing him the next King of Israel. A teenage Daniel chooses to keep walking with God during his march to Babylon. Focusing on the parts of their stories where these three youths become heroes neglects the point that God trains the young to live by His principles not individual circumstances.

God uses uncertain and humble beginnings as preparation. As a young man, Joseph confidently led the most powerful nation in the world because he already knew how to trust in God from his life as an Egyptian slave and prisoner. King Saul identified David as too young to battle Goliath, but David, remembering God’s teachings from tending his father’s sheep, replied, “the Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37 NIV). Daniel became a prophet and helped lead God’s people through one of its darkest hours because he refused to go along with the idolatrous customs of Babylon. Ellen White writes, “Daniel and his associates…had been taught that God would hold them accountable for their capabilities, and that they must never dwarf or enfeeble their powers … no power, no influence, could sway them from the principles they had learned in early life by a study of the word and works of God” (Prophets and Kings 482). Now is the time for the youth of the church to prepare to stand with Christ by learning and applying His principles to their individual circumstances.

Principles, Not Circumstances

After reading multiple Biblical examples that teach how to become more Christ-like, I created the educational philosophy “Principles Not Circumstances” to help my students remember God’s will for their lives when they ask Him how they should live their lives. God’s principles are defined by the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and are illuminated by the fruits of His Spirit which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22 NIV). The life and teachings of Christ harmonize these two descriptions of God’s character. Daily learning and practicing these principles creates and strengthens the character that will always choose to stand with Christ.

CVA Atmosphere Project

The earnest desire for a Christ-centered lifestyle was captured by a student’s prayer request in Religion III while I was student teaching at College View Academy (CVA) in 2011. They simply declared, “I’m just tired of the way things are.” At the time, my response to the students was to stay strong in faith and God would lead them. However, in the days that followed those words became much more than a prayer request of a single person or class. The statement represented an academy who desired a change for Christ.

Later while preparing for class, I found a recommended homework assignment in the Religion III Romans textbook that spoke to the prayer request. I changed the topic of the existing week-long journaling assignment to the prayer request and increased its length to help fit the needs of my students. In addition, each day the juniors chose a specific challenge for their journals that would invoke change in the community. Examples include: “practice passion,” “treat other classes like they are in our class,” and “be kind to your teachers and supervisors.” Then, each student individually decided how they would practice God’s principles on campus.

During the “encourage the discouraged” challenge, one junior went into town and picked up something special for her younger sister. Having received the unexpected gift, the younger sister then asked for supportive prayer for her sister during the prayer portion of her science class. “My sister did something nice to me… something must be wrong…?” The science teacher then turned the request into a worship thought. Nothing had to be “wrong” to do an act of kindness. This two-second kindness intended for one sister made a positive impact on many more people.

Sometimes the students completed objectives in groups. For the “put tough situations in a positive light through prayer” challenge, the students gathered in small prayer teams. Instead of quickly rushing to their next appointment, the students sought out other classes and offered to pray with them in the hall. Their prayers ranged from the quiz next period to silent requests concerning friends and family. From a teacher’s perspective, I thought, “they may not know how to get from Point A to Point B, but they trust in the fact that God does.”

God brought individuals together by His principles and built them into a stronger Christ-centered community.

As they recorded their efforts in their journals, I reviewed each one to provide guidance and encouragement. Satan’s resistance to positive change occurred frequently and sometimes felt severely. During these times of adversity, the administration and teachers supported the students by directing them back to Christ. Students learned through these trials that they are stronger together with Christ than alone. The assignment became known throughout campus as the “CVA Atmosphere Project” with the purpose of bringing about change for Christ.

God’s influence quickly spread beyond the classroom as students began assigning themselves challenges over weekends and during vacations. Actions included intentional acts of kindness for friends and family, innovative vespers programs and Afterglow activities, and a Prayer Chain that wrapped around their chapel. (Its online counterpart, created using Facebook, still exists today.) With the inclusion of other classes, the goal evolved into establishing a lasting legacy of change for Christ through daily challenges passed from class to class until Christ returns.

DAA Joins In

The separation of summer break caused new and intense struggles for some students. When I learned of the discouragement, I remembered that people with specific life experiences are best equipped to minister to others who have similar experiences. In August, my new students at Dakota Adventist Academy (DAA) agreed to write letters of encouragement to all the CVA students. I paired each DAA student volunteer with one to four CVA students. Initially, the DAA students felt nervous about writing to teens they had never met, but they quickly laid their hesitation aside to help those in need. This activity launched “Adventist Pen Pals” (APP).

Encouragement – God gave us an APP for that!

Later, the DAA Religion Department mailed the letters in a single packet to the Religion Department at CVA. Receiving the unexpected letters of encouragement created a spirit of excitement because of this new ministry opportunity with another academy. Meanwhile, DAA students anxiously awaited the response as it was not known if anyone would reply. When they did, excitement also came over the DAA students. Throughout the school year, CVA and DAA continued to exchange letters.

Again God’s influence quickly spread beyond the original project. In order to help my DAA students understand life at CVA, I showed them pictures from my CVA 2010-2011 Yearbook. The students were quick to inquire about the picture of the Prayer Chain, which subsequently resulted in the desire to create their own. Then, CVA approached DAA for help collecting bottle caps for their “Bottle Caps for Cancer” ministry. In February, a CVA worship team visited DAA for a spiritual weekend that focused on the theme “Change for Christ.” Student-led worships and the personal testimonies from both schools moved many to seek a closer relationship with Christ. The DAA students also shared an APP-like ministry with CVA called “Insta-Cookie” where students write up to four lines of encouragement on “cookie sheets” to be included with the delivery of a cookie to the student body every other week during lunch. At DAA, every student receives a cookie and a note: no exceptions. Recently, other academies witnessed or heard about the new relationship between the youth of CVA and DAA. As a result, in February the Mid-America Union Education Council voted to endorse the idea of APP expanding Union-wide. The academies coming together to encourage each other helps improve today while pointing forward towards life in heaven.

Making the Choice

Community change for Christ is no small task. “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Changing our lifestyles to become more like Christ’s is not something we can just turn on-and-off. The students prepare for the difficult road ahead through their school ministries, Bible study, and prayer. It takes discipline, courage, and commitment no matter what happens. God provides them with “evidence of His supremacy, of the holiness of His requirements, and of the sure results of obedience” as He did with Joseph, David, and Daniel (Prophets and Kings 480). They choose to stand with Christ in favor of His eternal principles rather than earthly circumstances.

If you are “tired of the way things are,” choose to become the change you seek.

Choose to stand with Christ today and make a positive daily difference. You are not helpless. Jesus is leading us. Follow Him.

 Mr. Timms is chaplain and teaches religion at Dakota Adventist Academy.