By Pepper Pratt, Ph.D.
On their first day, many of the boys who are new admissions to Youth Town believe with all of their heart that it is the worst day of their life. Sometimes, their mamas feel the same way. What they often forget is that there was usually a prayer that was sent up in the middle of a moment when a boy was being loaded into a police car or when a mama was in the middle of the fourth hour of not knowing of her son’s whereabouts. “Lord, please help…if you’ll get me out of this, I’ll do….”
Truth is, we want to work it out ourselves. When we are hurting, we just want the pain to end. However, the help that sometimes comes from the Lord is in the form of discipline and structure. There is a purpose, though. We often hear the following Scripture quoted: those I love I discipline, so be earnest and repent. Unfortunately, we mistakenly allow a misinformed image of a mean-old-man-god just looking for an opportunity to take wayward humans to a celestial woodshed. We associate this kind of discipline with punishment. God’s discipline is His way of providing an environment for us to receive His love. Hebrews tells us that we don’t like God’s structure when He brings it, but is it for our good and His glory!
What is the result? Well, the verse- those i love I discipline, so be earnest and repent actually comes from Revelation 3:19. It was a few years ago I realized a connection between two verses I often heard quoted, but not together. Yes! God disciplines those He loves, but look at what comes next in Revelation 3:20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person and they with me.
Did you catch that? God structures us so he can have intimate fellowship with us! It’s no wonder that the structure of residential treatment ploughs up the ground for the seeds of the gospel to be planted. The wildness of substance abuse and chemical dependency must be addressed, lassoed and brought under control. When this begins, God begins to speak softly to Youth Town boys and families, reminding them of His unconditional, matchless, amazing love!
So, in the past six years, we have seen hundreds of boys believe that their first day at Youth Town was the worst day of their lives. (Youth Town has been here since 1962, but we have tracked spiritual decision more closely in the past six years.) Once adjusting to the new structure of their lives, over 500 boys have given their hearts to Christ, followed in baptism and have enjoyed a new fellowship with the God who made them and saved them and called them according to His purpose. Upon discharge, many more of our boys see that the first day at Youth Town was indeed one of the best days of their lives.
Pepper Pratt, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Youth Town of Tennessee, husband of Karen and dad to two boys who are both chasing after God.