Austin Leeviraphan


We all carry our own burdens.  This activity will help students process those burdens and how their faith can help lift the load they are carrying.

For this activity you can use either use smooth river stones from a craft store, or you can use slips of paper (rocks are better for the illustration of our burdens being heavy). Give everyone a rock or two, and have them write down something they carry that weighs them down e.g., shame, hatred, feelings of inferiority, etc. Once they finish, they will come and place their stones in a bag.

Once everyone has placed their stone in the bag, ask students if they’d like to share what it was that they put in the bag. After they share, invite them to pick up the bag. Explain how one rock doesn’t seem like all that much to carry, but when we start to pile on all the rocks the weight can start to become unbearable and even immobilizing.

The same is true for our burdens. Looking at them separately we start to think we can handle it on our own without the help of the God who keeps us. But once we pile every burden on our shoulders, we get crushed by the weight. Tell your students that they don’t need to carry the baggage. We have a God who has come to take it all away with what Jesus has done on the cross.

50 min

Helping students consider what is important in their own lives can help them discover priorities and celebrate the things they love . This icebreaker will spark some fun discussion by helping them do just that.

Divide people into teams of at least 3 and give them a large piece of paper and some markers. Have them draw or write words of 20 things they would want in a time capsule that would show people in the future what was important to them and made them happy.

Once they are finished invite each group to tape their paper on the wall and share with the group what they wrote and why they wrote it.  Keep them up as a visual reminder throughout the lesson.  When appropriate you may be able to reference the papers as an illustration or application question.

A family loses their precious child, a friend is killed by a drunk driver, cancer takes away your father, a child who is constantly ostracized by her peers and is bullied to no end decides that life isn’t worth it anymore.
Sometimes life leaves us feeling like we’ve been sucker punched with the wind knocked clean out of our lungs, and while we struggle to get a grip we ponder those three letters, “Why”. Why did my son die? Why is there cancer? Why did she take her life? Why the heartache? Why the pain?

I am one of those people who loves to have an answer or a solution to all problems. Math was always one of my favorite classes, because no matter how difficult the algorithm was, there was always a solution. The problem could be frustratingly difficult and seem impossible, but I found hope and motivation that there WAS in fact an answer. My professor in calculus 3 would tell us before every assignment and test, “Show your work”. Most students would groan in protest, but I honestly didn’t mind. Showing my work was a way to show proof that I was confident and sure of my answer.

If you would have asked me back then questions like “Why is the world so full of pain?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?” “Why did my father die of a brain tumor?” “Why can’t I shake this depression that consumes me?” I would have squirmed in my discomfort of not having an answer and probably responded with something like, “I’m not sure… but let me tell you about partial derivatives! OH BOY!”

The truth is that I still have no answer to these questions. I hear students’ prayer requests of pain, heartache, and suffering week in and week out. My love for these students causes my heart to ache with theirs, and most of the time I struggle alongside them with the “why”. I find no definitive answer to the “why.” I can’t show my work like I could in math class, and it can be extremely frustrating to be honest.

So what is to come from sorrow? There must be something, right? There has to be hope that the pain will cease, that the tear ducts will run dry at some point, that our broken hearts will be mended and made whole once again, that something will overcome this hurting world…

Like I said before, I can’t “show my work” to give an answer to sorrow, but I know someone who can. Jesus offers a solution… and the answer is that sorrow will turn into joy. In John chapter 16, Jesus speaks to his disciple of his passing from this world. He tells them in verse 22, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” Joy and peace that is beyond comprehension is promised to follow the sorrows, grief, and struggle of this life. The pain will cease. There will be no more tears to wipe away, and the broken hearts will be made whole… forever.

At the end of chapter 16 in John, Jesus says to his disciples “Take heart, I have overcome the world”.

Jesus is the solution, and He “shows his work” in the form of an empty tomb. Share this with those who endure the heartache and pain of this life, and let’s work to build the Kingdom of Heaven here on this earth.

Life can be both easy and hard, but the Bible returns again and again to a call to be thankful in all situations.  This study walks through the reality of thankfulness in all situations as we explore several inserting moments in the Bible.


What are you most thankful for in your life?

How often do you express your thankfulness to others?

Why do you sometimes take for granted the things you should be thankful for?

What are some circumstances in life that you think it would be hard to be thankful during?

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Scripture constantly tells us (like it does here in 1 Thessalonians that we need to rejoice and be thankful in all circumstances and in all situations. We are going to take a moment and look at some circumstances in the Bible and ask a couple questions.  Read these scriptures and answer the two questions below about each one: Acts 16:15-25, Philippians 1:3-8 (remember Paul is in Prison while writing these letters), Mark 14:32-36, and Luke 22:17-22

  • What was the circumstance?
  • How do you think the person chose to be thankful and joyful in that circumstance.”

Being thankful doesn’t always come easily. What are some common things that can get in the way of us feeling thankful and joyful?

Why do you think those things didn’t get in the way of Paul or Jesus and their feelings of thankfulness and joy in the scriptures we just read?

Sometimes we think that it’s only appropriate to be thankful when things go our way, but Paul and Jesus show us that true thankfulness and our source of Joy comes from things going God’s way, even when it directly goes against our plans. Why should we be more thankful when things go God’s way instead of our way?

Share one of two stories:

  • A time when things went your way, but afterwards you weren’t very thankful that they had.
  • A time when things didn’t go your way, but afterwards you were thankful they had gone the way they did.

Let’s Reread Jesus’s prayer from the garden of Gethsemane right before his arrest in Mark 14:35-36.

Jesus was very scared to die, he was deeply grieved by his coming death. He was praying for another way, a path that didn’t lead to his torture and death. This is one of Jesus’s most human moments, we can relate with Jesus and His fear. In the midst of His deep sorrow and fear though, He finishes his prayer by saying, “but not my will God, but Yours”. And Jesus would go on to willingly take the cross in our place, He even took it thankfully. Why was Jesus thankful to embrace God’s will and God’s plan instead of His own plan?

Sometimes things just don’t work out.  You try hard, and you fail.  The Bible is full of stories like that and exploring those with teens will help them know how to live through the moments of failure in their own life.

When was a time in your life that you think you failed at something?

Why does “failure” seem like such a scary thing?

Should we be scared to fail? Why or why not?

Peter often gets a reputation of being a zealous1 and “gung-ho” kind of disciple, let’s read a story about Peter’s zeal for the Lord!

Read Matthew 14:22-34

  • Think about the story from the point of view of Jesus, Peter, and the other disciples.
  • Who failed the most in this story?
  • Being a Christian means that we have a lot to do for the Kingdom of God while we are here on this earth. What are somethings you are afraid of failing at as a Christian?
  • Why do we sometimes feel like we have to stop failing before God can use us?
  • What is something that you have gotten better at because you practiced it over-and-over again?

When you practiced those things that you shared with us you probably failed a couple of times along the way, but that doesn’t mean that you are a failure, because through your practice and learning from your mistakes you got better! The only true failure is when we fail to try, when we are like the 11 disciples in the boat that fail to step out in faith on the waters where Jesus is.


Make a circle on the ground with your group. Share prayer request and close in prayer.

I, or anyone else for that matter, would never have thought myself to grow up to be someone who would minister to youth. That seems to be the way God’s design usually works though, separate and not dependent on our own plan or ambition. My plan was to go to OU and get my degree in mechanical engineering. I even completed a year of college in that degree field until something changed.

You know that feeling you get when you discover your passion, when you feel like you have found your purpose? There is truly something intimate and divinely romantic in discovering the call the Lord of creation has placed on your life. Discovering and discerning my call into ministry started with less than sincere intentions.

My freshman year of college I had a crush on a girl who was very involved and enthusiastic about the youth group she had been raised in, and it just happened to be the same church that I had “grown up” in. I say “grown up” because church was never something I was enthusiastic about, and my only memories of youth group was during my 8th grade year when I was forcibly put through confirmation. The youth minister at the time was always so welcoming when he saw me and would text and write me, encouraging me to be involved. I appreciated the invitations, but I just didn’t see what I could tangibly get out of being involved in a church youth group.

Back to that girl I had a crush on, we’ll call her “Sally” for namesake. Sally would have been considered super involved in the church. Sally attended every mission trip, was on the leadership team for the youth group, led Sunday evening worship, and was an officer in the youth choir. In a poor attempt to impress Sally I told her that I was interested in volunteering in the middle school ministry at our church. I never expected that statement to ever materialize into anything.

That is until I got a text the morning of October 12th, 2012 at 10:49am. It was from my old youth director, the one who was relentless in his pursuit of getting to know me and minister to me. The text read “What’s up brother!? How are you? I heard you are wanting to help out with youth stuff.” Uggghhhh, what had I gotten myself into this time.

Little did I know, this was one of those moments in that seemed completely insignificant in the grand scheme of my life, but the impact it would have on the course of my life is nothing other than divine intervention. I was caught between a rock and hard place on this one, I could have told him I couldn’t help and go against what I told Sally, or I could say yes even though it didn’t sound all that appealing to me at the time… I said yes.

Little did I know that saying yes would significantly alter the trajectory of my life. I started off with just volunteering for Wednesday night small groups and was planning on dropping it after the semester was over, if I could make it that long. Something happened though that caught me completely off guard, I found myself prioritizing Wednesday nights in my life. And then instead of dropping volunteering at the end of the semester, I started volunteering for more. Soon enough I was going to student bible breakfasts on Thursday and Friday mornings, helping out in Sunday School, and I even helped lead a mission trip that summer.

One night on that mission trip I was talking with a distraught student about the pain and suffering she had seen in the community we were working in. I prayed with her and afterward she asked me, “Austin, what do you want to do with your life?” I remember at that moment I questioned everything I thought I knew about my future. I was good at math and science, but those were by no means my passion. It hit me like a ton of bricks, being here with these students, pouring out into their lives with the love of Christ, seeing them wrestle with their faith and moving from “knowing about Jesus” to “knowing Jesus”, this was my passion! The Lord was speaking through that student that night, and the next morning I talked with the youth director and senior pastor of our church about wanting to pursue the calling of Youth Ministry in my life.

There are many reasons that I truly love my job as a youth minister, talking with students about our Lord Jesus and how he can change their lives just like he changed mine. I love leading groups of students to places both abroad and nearby on mission trips. I love being a person a student can come to with hard questions and heavy burdens, but most of all I love following the Lord’s call in my life.

I thought I knew what I was supposed to do with my life, but ever since I found out what God’s plan was for my life I couldn’t imagine a day in my life doing something else. God was working in my life with that text message that Friday morning of October 12th. Prevenient Grace is when God’s grace is working in our lives before we even know it. I always had a hard time understanding that concept. But now after being in youth ministry for almost 3 years I am just now seeing the work that God was doing 5 years ago in my life. God is at work in your life right now and you might not even know it, or like me you might
be pretty unreceptive of it. But maybe saying yes to that text, that invitation, or that nudge you feel in
your heart just might lead you to the passionate life God has designed you for.

Originally:  Bearded theologians