Last summer a group of Florida teenagers shocked the nation by mocking a disabled man as he was drowning. The nation collectively gasped at the idea that young, able-bodied men would stand by and laugh as anyone–let alone a disabled man–struggled for his life.
We were understandably horrified, but let’s be real: Nobody intends to grow up to be a bad guy. I guarantee you none of those kids planned to become that kind of a man. None of those boys ever thought to themselves “Two years from now, I’m going to stand by and watch a disabled person drown as I laugh at him.”
Nobody strategizes how to spend an hour in detention or wakes up thinking about how to hurt their best friend. Nobody plans on failing a high-school class or getting kicked out of college. It happens one skipped class, one cruel thought, one late assignment at a time.
Let’s take it a step further. The guy who is madly in love with his highschool sweetheart isn’t planning on having an affair in ten years. Yet many men do.
Nor does the young ambitious theologian signing up for seminary plan to screw it up with a high-profile scandal. Yet, we’ve seen “great” men fail over and over again.
“This will never happen to me,” we think to ourselves. They probably did, too, yet it still happened.
Of course, it doesn’t happen intentionally, but slowly over time. It’s like a leaky faucet: if it’s never fixed it will eventually bursts. A second glance leads to a second thought. Drip. One R-rated movie opens the door for another. Crack.
My point is this: Nobody plans on failure. We’re not sitting around reading articles explaining “Three easy steps to spend your life at a dead-end job.” No one in their right mind studies books on “How to Divorce the Love of Your Life by Friday.”
And I don’t know any twelve year olds practicing for the day they’ll horrify a nation by mocking a disabled man as he drowns.
This happens when we don’t care. When we let go and drift wherever culture takes us. It happens when we decide obeying our feelings trumps obeying our God-given callings. And it all starts right now when we’re young: in our minds, in our bedrooms, and in our habits.
So what can we do to stop it? How can we pursue godly manhood while we’re young? What seeds can we plant right now that will grow into trees producing the fruit we want? What steps do we have to take to become the men we admire, not the ones we disdain?
There’s a lot to becoming a man and it can easily feel overwhelming! But the first few seeds are actually really easy to plant and that’s what I want to share with you here.
We become men as we learn to…
1. Endure the battle
Believe it or not, God has given each man strength. He gave us strength because he knew we’d need it to fulfill our calling. Each of the following points in this list will involve a spiritual battle that God has called us to fight. The good news is whether or not we feel it, God has given us the strength to endure each one.
Some of the battles we’ll recognize immediately–like resisting the urge to look at your classmate’s answers or fighting the temptation to lust. Other battles aren’t as visible to us. Like the battle to lead out in conversation when you’re nervous, or the battle to spend time with God when you’d rather surf YouTube, or the battle to respond kindly when your sister gets upset at you.
Whether we’re resisting the urge to cheat or struggling to wrestle ourselves out of bed, remember this: God has given us the strength to do it! So let’s do it!
2. Step up to the plate
Men have the unique (and terrifying) responsibility to step up and be leaders. One of the biggest lies we can tell ourselves as young men is that “I’m just not a natural leader.” This is absolutely not true!
Sure, we might not dominate a crowd, but we’re still leaders. Sometimes this means leading out with positive words when everyone else is grumbling. Sometimes it’s as simple as initiating a game or activity when everyone else is sitting around just talking about how bored they are. Eventually, one day it will mean leading our families into vibrant relationships with Christ–but that starts by building habits of stepping up right now.
There’s also another side to “stepping up to the plate” which doesn’t actually involve “taking charge.” I’ve watched teams where two or three very different but very capable leaders are trying to tell everyone else what to do. The project either makes no progress, explodes in frustration, or gets lost in confusion. Nothing dismantles progress like a team that won’t follow their leader.
Let’s say you’re playing pick-up football with some friends and there are three guys capable of leading your team to victory. Obviously not all of them can give out orders. Sure, they can all give their opinions, but two of them eventually need to listen to the third. Leadership isn’t about being in charge. It’s about bringing a team together and moving them toward a goal.
There will be times when we feel like we know better how to lead a group than whoever happens to be “in charge.” This may be in our churches, at our jobs, or on a hiking trip in the Rockies. If you disagree with your leader or have ideas on how to do it better, by all means speak up and share your mind with confidence. However, if it’s not a matter of sin but of preference, at the end of the day, let the leader lead and support him where he chooses to go.
We should always be willing to step up and do what needs to be done. Sometimes that means forging the way, other times it means stepping up and following someone else who is forging the way.
3. Empty the trash
The only person who can make us move is ourselves (by God’s grace). At some point, we need to decide we’re not going to keep sitting around waiting for mom and dad to tell us what to do next.
When I was thirteen, my parents asked my older brother Marcel to keep me accountable for a list of responsibilities. I don’t remember everything on the list, but I do remember one of my tasks was to empty the trash can and keep it looking nice whenever I saw it overflowing or messy.
At first I protested. Why me? Why did I have to do this? The task seemed dull and simple. Why couldn’t mom do it?
But what seemed like a silly little task taught me an important lesson about being a man. Men are constantly asking themselves “Is there anything I could do to make this situation better and more pleasant?” Once they’ve identified what it is, they do it.
However, it involves more than just wiping pizza sauce off of the trash can. It ultimately comes down to one of the core things God has called men to do:
Accomplish great things for His glory.
God has given you gifts and talents to offer the world and as a man, he’s placed a deep seeded need in your heart to actually contribute those gifts and talents. The world needs what you have to offer and for your own sanity, you need to offer it.
Imagine your talents as a set of tools no one else in the world owns. For you to sit back and leave your tools unsharpened and unused robs everyone else from getting the job done in the best way possible. And it robs you the satisfaction of participating in something greater than yourself.
Look around you: What can you do to make the situation better for your family, church, or community?
It starts as simple as emptying the trash.
4. Live as guardians
God gave us strength, called us to step up, and equipped us to accomplish great things so we could guard and defend what is precious and sacred.
If you’re like me, this can be abstract and theoretical. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the idea of being a “guardian.” What does it actually mean to be a guardian?
Think about it. Guards keep bad guys in prison (defending society), thieves out of bank vaults (protecting what’s valuable), and infinity stones away from Thanos (protecting what’s precious), right? This is what guards do.
As men, we were created to protect and defend the precious and sacred things God has given us.
Take beauty, for example. Beauty is good. It delights and comforts the soul. It reflects and glorifies God. It’s both precious (extremely valuable) and sacred (holy).
A forest full of green trees and purple flowers and wild beasts is beautiful. A young family laughing, playing, and committed to each other is beautiful. A church caring for the needs of the poor or a Samaritan who loves his enemy and forgives him is beautiful. A passionate young woman carefree and bringing Christ’s joy to those around her is beautiful.
But beauty is often vulnerable and taken advantage of. A fire can wipe out an entire forest; immorality can devastate a family; corruption and greed can rip a church to shreds; bitterness can pit brother against brother. And a heart filled with lust, deceit, and dishonor can abuse the trust, passion, and joy of a young woman.
That’s why God put us here on Earth. He created us to protect and defend what is pure, holy, and beautiful. Being a guardian means defending beauty as simple as a flower, as vast as the Church, or as sacred as your sister in Christ.
Protecting beauty takes incredible strength. Unfortunately, strength is often stuffed into a stereotype of Schwarzenegger muscles, violence, and the attention of dazzling girls.
This is not strength.
Guardians use their strength to honor and cherish beauty, not abuse it for their own pleasure.
That’s why we set up nature preserves and enforce fire bans during droughts. It’s why we shun greed and always put others first. And it’s why we turn our hearts from lust and devote ourselves to pure thoughts and entertainment.
Let’s be the men we were created to be. Let’s protect women by nailing lust to the Cross; let’s protect our relationships by surrendering any harshness or anger to the healing of Christ; let’s fight for the beauty of nature by restraining our own greed for convenience.
And for heaven’s sake, let’s rescue that man who is drowning!
This is what guardians do. This is who we are.
To be a man is to be a guardian. And surprisingly, you don’t even have to be a space pirate to be a guardian.
5. Care for a woman’s heart
The world desperately needs men who know how to care for a woman’s heart.
Now, I know some of us are thinking, “Oh, brother! Here comes the mushy-gushy stuff. I wanna learn how to be a man!” Hang with me! That’s what we’re doing.
Being a guardian takes much more than brute strength and strong leadership. It also takes tenderness and sensitivity to those around us, especially the women in our lives. We can learn this when we’re forty and married for fifteen years or we can start figuring that out now.
What does it mean to “care for a woman’s heart?” First, ask your mom or sisters. Seriously. That’s the first step. Plus, they can tell you better than I can.
If they do tell you, I imagine they will say something like this:
“Make a safe place (for our hearts).” Be trustworthy in character. Stick to your word and commitments. Don’t make fun of the women in your life. Listen to what they have to say! And let them cry on your shoulder if they need to.
“Take an interest in our lives.” When you get home from school and all your words are used up, put down your phone and squeeze out just a few more: “How was your day? Did you talk to [insert name]? What was the best part.” And listen to their answers.
“Clean up after yourself…please.” Guys, let’s be honest. We’re not always naturally inclined to create a clean space. But we need to learn how to do it. If we want to care for the women around us, a few simple steps will go a long way: clean up your clothes, put games, tools, and food back where they belong (even if you didn’t get them out!), and always make your bed. If you start building these habits now, you’ll be set to go! (They don’t just magically come when you turn twenty-one.)
Learning how to be strong but gentle is one of the most important traits we can develop. Man is the pinnacle of creation and woman is the glory of man (Genesis 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 11:7). So you could say women are the pinnacle of all God’s creation. In fact, when God called Eve Adam’s “helper” he used a word that means “lifesaver” which in most of Scripture, refers almost exclusively to God.
In other words, Eve is very, very important. They’re the queens, we’re the guards. Let’s take the job seriously.
6. Accept rebuke
Let’s face it: we can really screw things up sometimes. However, the thing that makes a man great and sets him apart from the crowd is not his perfection, but his ability to graciously accept rebuke.
As someone who’s bold and talkative and tends to say a lot of stupid stuff without thinking it through (or posts it on Facebook for the whole world to see), I’ve received my share of criticism and even rebuke.
Unfortunately, I haven’t always responded with grace, but too often with cutting sarcasm or downright stubbornness. I’ve even doubled down on arguments I knew were ridiculous simply because I didn’t want to admit I was wrong and face the correction.
Proverbs calls me stupid. Seriously, I looked it up in nearly a dozen translations hoping for a softer word. Nope. They all say stupid, except one, which actually says “whoever hates correction is a dumb animal” (Proverbs 12:1, GOD’S WORD Translation).
And it’s not just me. You see it all the time with politicians, celebrities, big corporations, and even people in our own churches. Instead of considering their mistakes, they double down and plow through until they’re forced to “apologize” kicking and screaming.
Here’s the thing about correction, though: you can’t lose by listening to it. If someone rebukes you, you can only benefit from it. Even if they’re completely wrong, there’s still a nugget of truth you can learn.
So pick your chin up, leave the immature scowl at home, and thank them for the input.
7. Know how to laugh at ourselves
The world is really funny. Have you ever thought about it? From the sedentary sloth to the screaming goat, God has filled the world with both spectacular and very hilarious creatures.
As men, we know how to enjoy ourselves and the companions God has given us. We know where true joy lies (in Jesus). We take life seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We know we make mistakes and sometimes they’re downright funny.
Next time you hit your thumb with a hammer, don’t scream at the pain or scold yourself for messing up. Laugh at the fact that you completely missed the nail. It’s actually pretty funny if you think about it.
8. Strategize for success
It shouldn’t surprise us that God created us for more than just wandering around with nothing more to look forward to than a nice BMW and a beachside house. We know deep down inside we have a high calling to follow, people to love, adventures to enjoy, and battles to endure. Anything else is a distraction.
We are soldiers on a mission. Athletes preparing for the olympics. We know what we want and we’re strategizing how to get there.
Great accomplishments don’t happen by accident. It takes intentionality and planning. Even God used strategy to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth–it wasn’t haphazard!
Bucket lists can be a great way to start strategizing. What is it that you would like to do before you die? If you want to go deeper, list everything you’re passionate about. What are your top five dream jobs? What would it take to get there?
9. Live like we’re radically dependent on Christ
Because we are.
Yes, we are strong. Yes, we take initiative and step up. Yes, we have a plan to follow.
Yet, we’re also keenly aware we can do nothing on our own. Everything we do, depends on God. Our orders come from God. Our power comes from God. Our success is for God’s glory. We are absolutely nothing without God.
We listen to His voice and we drink from His Fountain of Life. We hear our orders and we strategize, but we let Him guide every step. We take initiative but submit to His authority.
We do this by seeking His face daily and applying ourselves to the Spiritual disciplines, reading His Word, praying, and worshiping because without Him, we are nothing.
We’re so committed that if Christ won’t go with us, we won’t go either.
10. Love God above everything else
God is ultimate in our lives and we renounce anything in our hearts or minds that would usurp His position as ultimate. We’ll remove even good things from our lives if they hinder our relationship with Christ because He’s true satisfaction. He’s the one that really matters. If we lose everything just to praise Him day and night, our lives will be worth it.
This is what it looks like to be a man when we’re young. It’s what I hope and pray teen guys everywhere become. And it’s what I’m striving to become right now.
So, just to recap, we can start being men right now as teenagers as we…
- Endure the battle with our God given strength.
- Step up to the plate as the leaders God created us to be.
- Embrace responsibility (like emptying the trash).
- Protect what is precious and sacred (because we’re guardians).
- Learn how to care for a woman’s heart.
- Accept rebuke with humility.
- Laugh at ourselves.
- Strategize for success.
- Live like we’re radically dependant on Christ because we are.
- Love God above everything else, because He’s most important.
Let’s not wait till it’s too late to become men! Let’s stand up and show ourselves as men. It’s who God created us to be!
What about you? Are you ready to step up and become a man? Which of these traits sticks out to you the most? Which one gets you the most excited about being a man while you’re young? Leave a comment below because I’d love to hear your thoughts!