When you were a teenager, did you ever consider that Jesus could actually be walking alongside you? Like right that very moment—even though you couldn’t see him. How would knowing that have changed your life? Maybe those questions about your younger years have you thinking about your life now as an adult. Do you think about Jesus walking beside you today? Because you can’t see or hear Jesus with your physical eyes and ears, walking with him takes a different kind of seeing and hearing.
Through a month of meditations in Alongside Jesus: Devotions for Teenagers, Drew Hill (author of the award-winning Alongside: Loving Teenagers with the Gospel) invites young people to look for Jesus with the eyes of their heart and learn to hear his voice. When you encounter Jesus, you will begin to see yourself through his eyes. And as you learn to walk with him, your faith will grow and your life will never be the same.
In this interview, we talk to Drew about his devotional.
Q: What, or more specifically, who inspired you to write Alongside Jesus?
My heart breaks for teenagers. In my roles in youth ministry and education and as a parent of a teenager, I have a front-row seat watching adolescents wrestle with the deep questions of belonging and identity. I wanted teenagers to have a devotional that could be a daily reminder that Jesus is WITH them and that they are not alone. I wanted them to have a devo that wasn’t boring and made them feel known.
Q: The devotions are longer than a typical five-minute devo for teens. What elements make up each day’s devotion?
There are five main elements:
- A question: one they’ve likely been wondering about.
- A story: something engaging and relatable to their life.
- A Scripture: helping bring the historical biblical account to life and allow readers to picture themselves in the story with Jesus.
- An Alongside Practice: something they can practically do to help them encounter Jesus in their everyday life.
- A song suggestion: because music is such an important part of teenagers lives, this element can help bring the message of the devo to their mind throughout the day as they are playing that song over and over in their head.
Q: Alongside Jesus is a month-long devotional, but will teenagers really be disciplined enough to do a devotional every day of the week?
I wanted them to feel like they could actually do this devotional without the guilt of getting behind if they missed a day, so each week has four days of devos and a weekend conversation guide, so they can miss a day here or there without feeling behind.
Q: Why do you ask the teenager to find and “Alongsider” to go through the book with them?
Almost every teenager I know often experiences feelings of loneliness. Going through an experiential devotional like this could be powerfully transformative for kids, but that experience is magnified when it happens alongside others. This is a great resource to do with a small group Bible study, or just a parent and a child, or a youth leader and a couple students. Imagine going to a sporting event and watching it alone. You have no one to high five when your team scores. No one to complain to when the referee makes a bad call. Imagine running in a race by yourself vs pacing alongside someone else. We have greater joy and greater endurance when we don’t run alone.
Q: What are some ways that adults can be a welcoming space for teenagers to feel safe enough to open up and share with them?
The key is to listen more than to lecture. We so often want to share our wisdom and experiences with those younger than us, but more often, they just need someone to listen. That’s hard for adults, but it actually gives more space for kids to start learning to recognize the voice of Jesus and to listen to him more than to us.
Q: What kinds of conversations do you suggest teens have with their Alongsider?
The weekend conversation guide offers everything from easy and lighthearted questions to deeper questions. Depending upon the setting and the relationship between the adult and the teenager, you can pick which questions feel more appropriate. One of my favorite questions to ask teenagers is “Can you tell me more about that?” Often a teenager will give you a one-word answer, but if you ask a follow-up question like that, you’ll sometimes get a deeper answer.
Q: Each day has an Alongside Practice that’s sometimes a little bit of a challenge for the teen. Can you give a few examples of the practices from the book?
It’s everything from taking a walk, to asking an adult to share their testimony with them, to beginning the day with Scripture instead of a screen, writing their own personalized version of the Lord’s Prayer, or watching a suggested YouTube clip. It’s a wide variety of ways that can help bring the main concept home.
Q: You ask your readers to use their imagination as you talk about walking with Jesus. Imagination is usually connected to things that are not real, but how does using their imagination help teens relate with truth in this case?
Teenagers imagine all kinds of things—hitting a game winning shot, what kind of car they want to drive, who they’ll marry one day, what they would look like with a different haircut. Imagination is a powerful tool that can be used for good or for evil. We can watch a scary movie and then have a hard time sleeping because we’re afraid that the bad guy is going to break into our house. In a similar way, we can also imagine what is actually true, that Jesus is present with us right now.
Q: Throughout the book you tell stories about walks you have taken and encourage readers to take the time to go on walks. What’s so special about taking a walk?
God designed our bodies in a way that when we walk, a different part of our brains actually opens up. Levels of anxiety and stress are actually decreased, and we have more freedom to emotionally connect. It’s wild, but it seems like God created us in a way where physically walking helps us connect with him and others.
Q: We often see ourselves in our worst light. How do we begin to see ourselves the way God sees us?
Instead of looking at ourselves in the mirrors of the screens in our pockets, we need to give more of our attention to what God says about us. This requires a re-forming of our affections. Whenever I have taken a break from working out, it’s always hardest to just get started back in that rhythm. Once I get going into that rhythm, it’s much easier. The beginning stages of learning to carve out space to pay attention to the voice of Jesus is often the most difficult, but once it becomes a daily practice, we actually begin craving it and enjoying being with the Lord. It’s kind of like playing an instrument; the more we practice, the more fun it is to make music. It’s similar with learning to see ourselves through the eyes of God instead of the eyes of the world.
Q: How do our lives change when we start living like Jesus is walking beside us every moment of every day?
If we believe that Jesus’s posture towards us is one of delight, it changes everything. If we believe it’s one of condemnation, it makes life even heavier. The reality is that the times we see Jesus condemning people in Scripture is typically associated with people thinking they are good enough without Jesus and that they don’t need him. If we come to him needy and broken, he meets us right there with such joy and delight.
Q: Alongside Jesus is the first in the Devotions for Teenagers series. Can you tell us about what devotionals are to come?
We have a lot of devotionals coming out in the future. The next two I’m writing are called Alongside the Father and Alongside the Spirit. Other authors are also contributing to the series, and the next book is Social Media Pressure: Finding Peace Alongside Jesus by John Perritt, releasing May 15, 2023.
Alongside Jesus: Devotions for teens
Have you ever considered that Jesus could actually be walking alongside you? Like right now, in this very moment—even though you can’t see him. If you knew that for sure, how would it change your day? Your life? Because you can’t see or hear Jesus with your physical eyes and ears, walking with him takes a different kind of seeing and hearing.