Avoiding a Train Wreck

Cary Schmidt

Have you ever seen a train wreck? There is not a more vivid metaphor than the unbridled collision of several tons of moving metal resulting in twisted steel, broken glass, and an industrial disaster of gargantuan proportions. Too often we see high school graduates celebrate their graduation night and start down the tracks of adulthood only to wreck their lives just a few miles from the train station!

This is the time of year we see our graduates “commence” or begin their post-high school adult lives; so I thought it would be appropriate to consider the top three challenges facing every graduate. It could be stated that these are the first big and immediate tests that confront a young adult immediately after high school. If they pass these tests, they avoid the bad decisions that can lead to a spiritual train wreck. Perhaps these thoughts will be helpful to you as you prepare graduates for adulthood.

THE CHALLENGE OF A JOB
Exodus 20:9–10 says, “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God.” God created us to work and expects us to lead productive lives. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

And every young adult is excited about having that first job! Mine was making Big Macs at McDonald’s. What a joy. And yet, so many young people allow their jobs to become their first spiritual downfall, often within a few weeks of high school graduation. How?

They Work at the Wrong Place. Even in a tough economy, starter jobs are fairly easy to find, especially for hard working, honest, and clean-cut young people. It’s amazing how many Christians will take jobs at places where a Christian has no business working. No amount of money is worth corrupting your heart and mind, so teach young adults to be selective about work environments. It is possible to work in the world without “eating the king’s meat” (Daniel 1:8). For every Christian, there ought to be some places we just wouldn’t work, no matter what.

They Work at the Wrong Time. The first test of a new job is Sunday work. How is it that we can toss God and His church aside for $7.50 an hour? One of the greatest reasons young people fall away from God after high school is that they stop attending church because of work! But for those who honor God’s commands and protect Sunday, God always provides for their needs in a better way. I’ve watched it hundreds of times over the years—God always takes care of those who protect His day and who stay deliberately and faithfully involved in their local churches.

They Work for the Wrong Purpose. Some young people view their new jobs as nothing more than a way to meet new friends and buy clothes or iPods, while others see it as a temporary means to a more important end and a way to be a witness for Christ. Those with a higher purpose—pursuing the will of God—always keep their jobs in check and view them as an opportunity to facilitate God’s will in other areas.

THE CHALLENGE OF FRIENDS
Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” Nothing changes more rapidly after high school than friendships. A new job, less time with youth group friends, and college bring a whole new world of associations into the life of a young adult. This is a wonderful opportunity that brings with it some danger for those unprepared. Essentially, every graduate needs to understand how to draw a careful line between friends and acquaintances—defined as follows:

Friends are people who influence me. These are the people I desire to be like and with whom I will spend more time. These are the people whom I will allow to have influence and a sharpening effect in my life. These should always be Christians and godly authorities who will continue to develop and mentor me in God’s grace.

Acquaintances are people I will influence. These are the people I will determine to exert influence upon without becoming like them. These are co-workers, class-mates, and people who just aren’t going the same direction in life. Amos 3:3 teaches, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”

Often, young people feel an obligation to relationships—an obligation to give in to pressure, to fit in, to need acceptance from the wrong people. To survive this challenge, my greatest obligations must be to honor the Lord and associate closely with people who will help me walk with Him. Graduates should feel no infatuation or obligation to potentially harmful relationships or associations. And every graduate should expect that the devil will try to bring distracting relationships into his life very soon.

THE CHALLENGE OF FREEDOM
This third challenge speaks of the increasing freedoms that always accompany adulthood. These freedoms are well deserved, but they must be handled properly—for many abuse their freedom to their own demise. First Corinthians 10:12 teaches, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

This verse reminds me of that scene in Bambi when he is trying to walk on a frozen pond. The slippery surface of the ice makes it nearly impossible for Bambi to get his balance and find stability. With every attempt to walk, he goes sprawling wildly out of control. Often, I see graduates step onto the slippery surface of adulthood only to soon fall and crack their heads open because they didn’t realize how slippery this new surface was!

If you needed to make a long trek across a frozen surface and you wanted to do so safely, you would first choose to step very carefully! Every step—every decision—would be made deliberately and cautiously. Beyond that, you would be wise to find some tool to provide stability and traction. Much like ice-shoes that are equipped with long metal teeth to grip a slippery surface, there are three vital dynamics that provide traction and stability on the slippery surface of adulthood.

Godly direction gives traction. It is always those who have “no idea what to do” after high school that end up floating pointlessly through life only to ultimately make a mess of their lives. It is absolutely vital that every graduate find God’s direction and pursue it—for direction gives traction and solid footing. For the graduate who honestly does not know God’s direction, priority one should be to seek and solidify that direction, and sometimes that makes a year of Bible college a really good idea. That sure beats floating around pointlessly while you make Big Macs.

Embracing responsibility gives traction. As great as freedom is, it brings with it an amazing level of responsibility. Those who handle their freedom in light of the greater responsibility always survive the trek across the ice. Maturity is not age; it is the acceptance of responsibility. Treating freedom with great responsibility makes a person more spiritually stable and less likely to slip and fall.

Voluntary accountability gives traction. Those who stay close to godly authorities—by their own free will—always stand stronger and enjoy God’s greater blessings in the outcomes of their decisions. Those who quickly cast off authority and accountability usually end up broken and bleeding in the middle of a “slippery nowhere.” Wise people always choose to remain voluntarily accountable to godly friends and influences just so they can have the traction to survive the trek.

As I write this article, I have just attended the West Coast Baptist College commencement services where twenty-one of our youth group graduates received their Bible college diplomas. After the service, the students asked me if we could take a class photo by the pulpit. Just the thought brought a lump to my throat. For four years I’ve watched these young people resist the trends of their world. They’ve been mocked at work, scorned in the world, and rejected by carnal friends who slipped on the ice. But these graduates found traction.

As we gathered for that photo, tears of joy welled up from my heart. Then we gathered together in a circle and prayed—thanking God for His provision and protection upon their lives to this point. Then, quite honestly, I had to find a quiet place to cry and thank God for His goodness. Life just gets better and better for those who live God’s way and for those who find traction to survive the tests and temptations of young adulthood!

Beware of these three big challenges, and let us prayerfully and purposefully prepare our young adults to face these tests while standing strong in God’s truth!