According to the book of Joshua, “Israel served the Lord in the days of Joshua and the surviving elders, who had seen all that the Lord had done for Israel” (Joshua 24:31). After that, the next generation fell away from God. People had not experienced His power for themselves.
But they had experienced the attraction of idolatry and the temptations of sin, and without their own personal encounter with the Lord these other powers drew them away.
The pattern has repeated itself throughout history.
A generation encounters God deeply and turns to Him in remorse, regret and brokenness. People are renewed and transformed, falling in love with the Lord anew and serving Him with zeal. And they raise their children accordingly, set high standards, and expect their children to respect those standards.
But when this next generation doesn’t experience God in the same way, they perceive their parents’ religion as legalistic and judgmental and see God as an old-fashioned spoilsport. Worse, they question if it’s even real, telling the older generation, “Your holy book is full of myths and superstitions!”
Here we are today, with so many young people discarding the faith of their parents.
There are, of course, many reasons for this defect. (See here for a short list.) And of course there are millions of young people who are zealous for the Lord.
But even in 2018, George Barna could do that to say,
“It may come as no surprise that the influence of Christianity in the United States is waning. Church attendance, religious affiliation, belief in God, prayer and Bible reading have been declining for decades. American beliefs are becoming more post-Christian and at the same time religious identity is changing. Enter Generation Z: They were born between 1999 and 2015 and are the first truly ‘post-Christian’ generation.”
“For Gen Z, ‘atheist’ is no longer a dirty word: the percentage of teens who identify as such is double that of the general population (13% vs. 6% of all adults). The proportion who identify as Christian is also decreasing from generation to generation. Three in four Boomers are Protestant or Catholic Christians (75%), while only three in five 13-18 year olds say they are somewhat Christian (59%).”
Again, there are numerous factors that go into these statistics and I don’t want to oversimplify. I just want to emphasize that the lack of spiritual experience is certainly a key factor as well, as powerless religion cannot keep up with the temptations of the times. Conversely, an old man of God often told me, “A person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with a quarrel.”
Think back to John 9 when Jesus healed the man born blind on the Sabbath.
According to the religious authorities, Jesus cannot have been sent by God because he healed on the Sabbath in violation of their traditions. So they called the man for questioning a first time and then a second time and said to him, “Give God the glory by telling the truth. We know this man is a sinner.”
He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I do not know. I know one thing. I was blind, but now I see!” (John 9:24-25)
No argument would change his mind, and with good reason. He had been blind all his life and now he could see. The person who did this for him was certainly sent from God.
We also find in the Gospel of John the account of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at a local well. When He revealed the mysteries of her life to her, she became a believer and told everyone in her village about Him.
As a result,
“Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ When the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words, many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard it for ourselves, and know that this man is truly the Savior of the world.’” (John 4:39-42)
This is a great key to the spiritual transformation of the younger generation.
You need to hear Jesus for yourself, see who he really is, and absorb his words firsthand.
They need to experience the reality of his mind and be touched in an undeniable way. (Paul spoke emphatically of those who had a “form of godliness” but denied their power; see 2 Timothy 3:5.)
You need to meet the God of the Bible and understand how real he is. Not simply because they were told about Him, but because they experienced Him.
As for the Lord Himself, you can be sure that He longs to reveal Himself to these young people. People who are often suicidal and depressed. People who cut themselves to feel something (or to cover up their emotional pain). People who may have 10,000 social media “friends” but are completely alone. People who sexted each other in middle school. people who need the Lord.
I came to faith in Jesus in 1971 as a heroin-shooting, LSD-using, 16-year-old Jewish hippie rock drummer in the so-called Jesus Revolution. (It has also been referred to as the Jesus People Movement.)
We need another movement like this in our time, and I sense (and certainly hope) that it may be near.