21(Ecclesiastes 11,09-12,14)Training Wheels for Life
Almost every parent goes through a rite of passage with their child – teaching them to ride a bicycle. Soon after the tricycle has been outgrown, a birthday or Christmas brings out that shiny and large gift: a bike. Most often it comes with an attachment: training wheels. Training wheels are great. They let you ride the bike, get used to turning and peddling and stopping. You can actually go somewhere though it may just be down the sidewalk. And they are safe. You seldom fall and the bike seldom tips over.
But no parent leaves their child to ride through life on training wheels. They know that to get the full use of the bicycle, the training wheels need to come off. To ride faster, make those cool sweeping turns and to enjoy bike riding you have to learn to ride without the training wheels. So the parent removes the attachments, holds the bike while the reluctant son or daughter gets on, and takes their child through a familiar and successful training of a different sort: they run alongside while they peddle and then let go. Then they run to wreck a few feet away, brush off the clothes and try again.
As a parent you are teaching one simple but fundamental principle. You are drawing out of your youngster a new awareness of what they already have inside them but don’t know how to apply to bike riding: balance. You don’t really teach a child how to ride a bike: you teach them how to balance. And by the time you are a parent you have ridden so many bicycles that you just ride, and may not even be able to articulate how you do it. And somehow, you communicate that unspoken grace to the next generation.
You don’t have to teach them balance. You could leave them on training wheels. Your might rationalize, “Just enjoy what you have. After all, training wheels give you almost everything you need in bike riding.” But you don’t. You don’t because a vision of your child riding a 20-speed with training wheels on their college campus doesn’t seem right. It seems odd and out of place.
You could let them learn from their relatives, or kindergarten peers, or by trial and error. But you don’t because this is such a privilege that you don’t want to farm this off. Like watching them take their first steps, you want to be there when they succeed on the bicycle.
My challenge to you this morning is to consider that what we would never do when it comes to developing biking skills, we routinely do when it comes to developing life skills. The same parent, who wants to be hands on in teaching how to have balance on a bicycle, is too often hands-off with teaching how to have balance in their spiritual life. And when it comes to spiritual growth in your children, the issue is balance. You see, there is a crisis in youth ministry in churches today. Bro. Ron knows it and has talked about it often. We are seeing an alarming number of our youth leave high school and church at about the same time. And I am not speaking of the disenfranchised but those youth who were very involved in youth groups and church camps and rallies and retreats. Yet, starting about age 16, they begin to drop out, to drift away. And not to another church, but away from any church. They may go to college or get a job, but they leave their involvement in church behind.
Why? I think I know why. It is that in everything youth ministry is asked to focus on, it is seldom asked to focus on life skills. Too often excitement is the measure of success in youth ministry. Good music, good speakers, great trips. But then a member of that group begins to encounter the complexities of life. They are faced with questions, with temptations, with alternatives that come without any warning label or any foresight on their part. They begin to follow after those other peers and influences. They follow those who are also blind to issues of life, and they fall into a ditch. It is not that they don’t know about God or the Bible. It is not that they don’t know about prayer. What they are missing – is balance.
I. Ecclesiastes 11:9.
The preacher of Ecclesiastes, Solomon, seems to go against what older folks might advise. He tells the young to follow your heart. He tells the young to do what appears best for them. Sounds dangerous! But he doesn’t stop there. He offers balance. Notice the last phrase: “But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment.” Have joy and adventure in your life, but don’t sin! That balance continues in the next verse.
II. Ecclesiastes 11:10.
Don’t go in a state of serious dread. Have joy in your life. But, put away evil. Don’t find your joy in fleshly sin. Don’t pervert the joy God gives with fleshly lusts.
Then in the last sentence of this verse, Solomon makes a strong statement. It says that childhood and the experiences and desires of youth are empty pursuits for life. Many of the things that seem so important in childhood will have little or no meaning in adulthood. What gives satisfaction in youth years will not satisfy in adult years. Solomon wants the young to know this. Why? I believe so they will grow up, and grow up balanced. That is what chapter 12 is about. In fact, it is what the entire book is about. Solomon admits to pursuing all the things that we might consider as satisfying and worthy. From money to work to riotous living, he concludes that they are empty pursuits. They are empty because they lack a balance that only God can give. It is not that working hard or pursuing advancement in a career is wrong. Nor is it wrong to have pleasure in life, the wholesome kind of pleasure. But we fail in seeking these things alone, and as a result our lives get one-sided. You get one-sided on a bicycle and you are going to fall. So too in life.
Some parents may have long forgotten the lessons to learn in simple church attendance and Bible study. We do anything long enough and we may forget why we do these things. That can be dangerous because passion and commitment will be replaced by routine and tradition. As exciting and varied as youth ministry is, I have seen youth who turn it into a tradition, one sided and soon forgotten.
What is the answer?
III. Ecclesiastes 12:1.
There are coming days when life will be full of decisions and difficulties and disease and death. The purpose of youth ministry is not to baby sit but to train, to take the principles of Scripture and ingrain them into the hearts of the young. It is done in fun ways. The founder of Young Life once said, “It is a sin to bore young people with the Gospel.” That is true. But the goal is not to entertain, it is to train.
Now here is the kicker. Here is the point. The Youth Pastor cannot do this alone. No where in Scripture does the Bible cut off the influence and involvement of the parent. “Train up a child…” is addressed to parents. “Raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” is addressed to Mom and Dad. Somehow the church has assumed a role is not capable of carrying out by itself. Neither Bro. Ron nor I advocate abolishing Youth Work, but rather strengthening it. And its strength comes from the involvement of the parents. That begins at home. But it carries through church.
When the days come that your adult child says “I have no pleasure in them” they need more than superficial acquaintance with God. They need to have understood that the principles being taught are important for them. They may not fully understand fear and cancer and failure now. But how sad that a parent did not point to the lessons of Scripture and prepare them for just those days.
IV. Ecclesiastes 12:2.
There are dark days ahead for every Christian. There will be days when the clouds return right after a storm has gone through life. A Savior standing on a boat and crying, “Peace, be still” is more than a colorful flannel graph. It carries a truth that will guide your child through their own storms.
V. Ecclesiastes 12:3-5.
Fear will come to the heart of every young person here today. What have you done to prepare them for that day when they are shaken to their core? Did you encourage them to listen to the lessons they have been taught or to rebel and be skeptical of them. Will they fall before the temptations of life or have learned the words of Paul who said, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
VI. Ecclesiastes 12:6-8.
I have been to funerals and seen the look of those who fear death. I live in a culture where the elderly are seen as plagues and not honored. Part of that is the isolation we maintain. We design ourselves to pursue youth and keep it at all costs. To grow older is to fail. But the Bible teaches differently. Exodus tells us to honor father and mother. Proverbs 20:29 teaches that the gray head is the splendor of older men and not their shame.
All of us need to know that age is a curse, but it is the curse of Adam, and should not be a curse of our culture. And as a curse of Adam, it finds its cure in Christ, so that as 12:7 tells us, “The spirit will return to God who gave it.”
VII. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.
The greatest lesson Solomon could teach the young is to learn to fear God and keep His commandments. To fear God is to reverence Him. It is to know Him, to learn all about Him. When our youth sing praises of God, it is to be more than a catchy tune. It is designed to draw them nearer to the presence of the almighty God who desires to draw near to them. When they see you praise in worship, and not pass in worship, that lesson drives home. When they see you bow before him in humility and obedience to God and His commandments, those commandments have meaning beyond the teen years.
When my children began to ride without training wheels, I knew the first time they mounted that bike that they would fall, even scrape their knees. But that fear of pain did not keep us from training them. The end result was far better.
There is pain and missteps in training your child to walk in the Christian way. They will find pain at times, ridicule, even disappointment. But the end result is far better.