Young men have it tough. In so many ways, this world seems to have been custom-crafted to take advantage of their weaknesses, their flaws, their immaturities. Solomon lamented this in his day, telling of the seductresses and prostitutes who laid in wait for young men. He told as well of the immaturity and ungodliness of young men that made them especially prone to sadly blunder or joyfully sprint into the traps and snares laid for them. Today he might write about ever-present amusements, the proliferation of porn, the rise of sexting, the sense of meaninglessness that so often pervades the minds and spirits of young men.
I love to spend time with young men, to counsel them, and to assure them that this time in their lives has great significance. As we speak, I find a number of common temptations they face while passing through their teens and twenties.
Purposelessness. Purposelessness may be the foremost struggle for young men, the one that feeds so many other vices. I don’t think we, as older Christians, have done well in communicating the purpose of these years. I don’t think we have helped young men see their importance in laying a solid or shaky foundation for the years to come. In the years of youth it may be difficult for young men to know their purpose, to know how best to fill their time. Enthusiasm often outstrips opportunity and ability. They have not yet proven themselves worthy and capable of accepting significant responsibility, so we give them little to do, we entrust to them only the simplest and least significant tasks. We fail to teach them that even today they are building the house they will have to live in for the rest of their lives. With little sense of purpose, they wile away the years instead of embracing them. They squander the years instead of making the most of them.
Idleness. One of the great temptations of young men is idleness, of squandering days, weekends, months, seasons, or even years. Idleness can take many forms, but it is most often exhibited today in entertainment—endless hours of television or movies or video games. Entertainment is a good gift of God that can help us rest from the stress and weariness of life. But entertainment quickly descends into idleness if it takes up more time than is needed to rest up for the hard work God gives us—the work that is meant to take up the best part of our time and energy. We were made to work, not rest. We don’t work in order to earn rest, but rest in order to work all the more. Charles Spurgeon once warned, “the most likely man to go to hell is the man who has nothing to do on earth. Idle people tempt the devil to tempt them.” As young men pass their time in idleness, they open themselves to a world of temptation. If we address purpose, we will also address idleness, for those who embrace their purpose will be motivated to redeem their time.
Pride. Young men tend to have a high estimation of their own abilities and their own wisdom, but to disparage the abilities and wisdom of those who are older. The great shame of young men is that they say too much and listen too little. They act too much and observe too little. In these ways and so many more, they exhibit pride, the old enemy of all humanity. Young men need to grow in self-awareness so they can, in turn, grow in humility. They need to understand their own foolishness and to seek the counsel and mentorship of those who are older and wiser. They need to learn to listen long and speak sparingly. They need to observe well and to act with deliberation. In short, they need to put to death the sin of pride and to bring to life the virtue of humility.
Lack of self-control. Young men almost invariably exhibit a lack of self-control, especially in the area of their sexuality. Most experience a sexual awakening long before they are ready to meet and marry a bride. Instead of allowing that sexual desire to motivate and increase their self-control, they allow their eyes to roam and their minds to fantasize. They begin to masturbate and quickly become captivated by sexual pleasure, allowing their behavior to progress from occasional to repeated to compulsive. They experience guilt and shame and perhaps even throw off restraint to pursue pornography or other forms of sexual sin. They eventually enter marriage and adult life having trained themselves in sexual license and dysfunction and soon learn that their bride does not care to be party to their lack of self-control, that patterns so easy to establish are so difficult to break. Those who are purposeful and industrious and humble are those who tend to experience the greatest growth in self-control, who crush the patterns of sexual sin and who experience the blessings of obedience.
What God means to accomplish in young men are rarely great deeds that are visible to the public, but the invisible construction of a foundation of godly character that will serve them for the rest of their lives. It is God’s grace that few men have notable accomplishments in their teens or twenties, for most are too immature to handle success and praise. Even Jesus had no accomplishments—at least none that history has recorded—until he was in his thirties. His deeds went unrecorded until his fourth decade. Yet these years were not wasted, for in them he “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Only then was he prepared to appear in public, only then was he prepared to take up his ministry.