Monthly Archives: April 2017

Spiritual High – what do I make of this?

Reflections on spiritual or ‘camp’ high

Spiritual high

I want to talk about a phenomenon known as a “spiritual high”.

Last weekend, I went away to a quiet, bushy place called Yarramundi, along with a hundred or so high schoolers from North Sydney Girls & Boys. This was the annual camp run by the Christian group, called ISCF. We spent a weekend hearing talks from the Bible, playing crazy high-energy games, chatting in discussion groups, learning from workshops, eating mediocre camp food, hanging and having late night chats, and just having a great time. Maybe you’ve been on some sort of Christian camp or conference before, or maybe, if you are reading this, you were even at camp with me last week.

Now, camp is one of the things in the ISCF calendar that everyone looks forward to. For many people, it is a highlight of their year. I know it was definitely a highlight for me back in high school. Around April each year, NSGB ISCF is “keen for camp”, and if you’re really super excited, a “keen bean”.

I think there is a trend here.

Christians (and non-Christians too) absolutely love their camps and conferences. It excites us. There is something about camp which thrills us, which stirs us – something that is so deeply enjoyable and satisfying about going on camp. You might know the feeling, friend. You spend a few days constantly talking about particular things, doing particular activities, around particular people. You are saturated with teaching which bears words of truth that have an eternal and infinite significance, which convict us and makes our hearts soar, and remind us of a good, great, cosmic reality. You are surrounded by your brothers and sisters, a community which so unconditionally loves, a community which shares its joys and burdens with such unity – and it is really a safe, and warm, and loving place to be. Camp is an awesome place to be.

And by the end of you camp, you feel like you are on fire. You have tasted the sweetness of God. You have experienced the reality of true and loving community. You want to love Jesus with all your heart, soul, strength and mind – you want to live for Him. You are so encouraged, and so warmed, and you are on fire for God.

This feeling, my friends, we sometimes call a “spiritual high”. Some of you might call it a “camp high”. And it feels really great.

It’s funny – I was hearing from my sister that on the first week back to school, the entire population of year 10 girls who came to camp (an astounding 20-30 people) all came to lunchtime ISCF that week! The group has never been that big at lunch, and wow – the leaders needed to quickly reshuffle things so that they could fit everyone into a group. This really shows that camp does set us “on fire”. We are excited and so moved.

But…

No matter how great it feels, the spiritual high inevitably comes to an end sooner or later. You might have experienced this yourself before. The daily rhythm and hustle-bustle kicks back in – things get busy, perhaps you have exams and assignments, friendships to enjoy and deal with, things to do and think about… and the spiritual rush you had from camp slowly wears off. God isn’t on your mind anymore. He doesn’t excite you… or at least, you don’t think too much about it. Maybe you stop going to church, ISCF, youth, or whatever it might be. There are other things to do now. You’ve lost that “rush” that you felt at camp.

What do we make of this?

Am I less of a Christian now? Why aren’t I feeling excited? Why is God so distant now?

I often thought about this, particularly when I first started growing as a Christian. I would ask the question “how do I keep this spiritual high up?”. Maybe you are asking this question too. I tried and fought really hard to keep this passion, to keep being “on fire”, to keep up the passion and excitement I had for God.

But… there would always come a point where it died down.

And this is perfectly OK.

I would like to share with you a really nice illustration, inspired by C. S. Lewis, which helps me think through this issue. [1]

Picture in your head a newly married couple. Can you imagine the story behind this? The two people meet, they fall in love, start dating, and then they get engaged, and then bam, they get married. And now they are on their honeymoon, maybe somewhere fancy on some tropical island or somewhere cool like Europe or America. Imagine what they are feeling. They are completely in love – the emotions overflow, and they are so, so excited, and very ready to spend the rest of their lives together. Maybe you can relate – at least, with the feeling of “being in love”. Can you imagine that rush of emotions? Of affection? Of love and adoration for the other person?

But we all know that no marriage stays in the honeymoon stage forever. Maybe in a few months, or a few years down the track, life completely settles and it becomes… “normal”. There’s no rush of emotions, or any of that “being in love” feeling anymore. But here’s the question – does this mean that they no longer love one another?

Absolutely not! Whilst “being in love” is what might start a marriage, it isn’t what a marriage is built on. Marriage is built on a promise (that’s what they do at a wedding, hey) – to love and cherish one another, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, til death do us part. This first thrill of “being in love” is replaced by a more steadfast, lasting kind of love. The husband and wife love each other, no matter what happens, even if they don’t feel it. And there’s something really genuine and real about this kind of love – it’s more than just an emotional feeling. Rather, their love is an unwavering, joyful commitment to one another.

I think our spiritual lives are often like this. Our spiritual high is a bit like being spiritually in love. It’s a rush of feelings and emotions. It’s not a bad thing – no, enjoy it! It’s a good gift to be enjoyed. But we know that this first thrill won’t last. Rather, it transforms and becomes a more steadfast and lasting kind of love. It becomes an unwavering, joyful commitment. This is what we call faithful Christian living. So, friend, know that it is OK that your spiritual high will eventually wear off.

My encouragement to you is this: in your spiritual high, make the “promises” needed to give you that steadfast and lasting kind of love. In the good times, make habits that will last through the bad times. Right now, when you are pumped up and on fire for God, make a commitment to keep seeking God.

What does that look like?

Keep going to ISCF, or church, or youth – and commit to this. There’s nothing better than getting a steady diet of God’s truth along with your brothers and sisters. Go even when you are busy and have heaps of exams and assignments. Go even when you don’t feel like it. It’s easy to go when you are pumped up right now. But what about later? Make it a commitment, and a habit right now, so that it will last when aren’t on fire. This is what faithful Christian living is like.

Keep reading God’s word – and commit to this. Find a time and a place that works for you each day. Maybe it’s in the morning when you wake up. Maybe it’s on the train to school. Before you sleep. When you get home from school. Wherever. And let yourself keep it up even when you aren’t on fire. This is what faithful Christian is like.

Surround yourself with Christian brothers and sisters – and commit to them. Encourage them, and let them encourage you. Continue to love them, and continue to encourage one another to seek God, even when you aren’t on fire. This is what faithful Christian living is like.

When the spiritual high fades away, you will still have God’s truth and promises, and you will still have your brothers and sisters. These are the things that will not fade. And it is beautiful, steadfast, lasting. =)

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:23-25


[1] Check out C.S. Lewis’ book “Mere Christianity” – in particular, the chapter on “Christian Marriage” (Book 3, Ch. 6).

Advertisements

Heaven, Hearts, Home | ISCF CAMP 2017

Reflections on ISCF Camp 2017

ISCF Camp

There really is nothing like being home again – sleeping in the stillness of your own room and your own bed. Funny, because the topic for NSGB ISCF camp was “Heaven – the Home for our Hearts”. And yes, whilst I didn’t get a whole lot of good sleep during camp this year, camp was a reminder of where our home and hearts should truly lie. It was my fifth ISCF camp, going back for the second time as an ex-leader now, and still, it never ceases to warm my heart and stir my spirit. ISCF has always had a special place in my heart – yet somehow, being back this year was especially heart-warming. Coming to camp as a weary uni-student, I was shocked, absolutely astounded, and refreshed by how God so faithfully works.

One of the most encouraging things I witnessed was seeing my little brothers and sisters who I led in year 7 and 8 grow up – and oh how they’ve changed, grown and matured! It makes me so, so happy. I remember how the little rascals I led in year 7 scripture which would make me lose my voice every Tuesday afternoon, as I tried to contain them from running around the room to no avail. I remember the tiny kids who came to ISCF because their friends did and because it was the cool thing to do, and then shyly huddle in their little group during the bible study. And I remember getting little year 8 Geoffrey to do the bible reading every Friday lunch because it was so cute and entertaining HAHAHA.

But man… now I see them eagerly questioning and seeking God with all their hearts and minds. Now I see them thirsting for life-giving gospel truth. Now I see them bring their friends along because they really want them to know Jesus. Now, I even see some of my little brothers and sisters lead from the front. I am so moved, and I am so proud :’) But in actual fact, it is a testament to how God works so faithfully time after time. It has been several years since I’ve left high school, and yet God is still working in the hearts of ISCF, still growing his people, still leading his flock, still maturing the saints, still bringing his glorious and good kingdom. Coming back and seeing these guys in the flesh… it brings me so much joy to see how they’ve grown, and I really am excited to see how God will continue to work in them.  There is something so genuine and so beautiful about the way God’s word has changed these guys’ lives.

Another really awesome thing which warmed my heart was seeing all the ex-leaders again. These guys were my family back in high school, and now, I don’t really get to see them much at all. But being back together with them over this weekend, and more than that, serving together and building God’s kingdom – man, it’s a feeling that’s difficult to describe with words. It was almost like old times in high school, yes, but now there’s also the knowledge that we have all grown and matured since. There is just so much joy in the kingdom of God, an unquenchable blood-bought unity, knowing that we are working for something that will never fade nor perish. I loved how we could pray together and look out for one another as we went about the task of growing God’s kingdom here at ISCF camp.

Camp this year was also a humbling lesson in learning to rely on God. I won’t lie, or be subtle about it, but camp certainly was one of the most exhausting things I’ve done. Surviving the first day on three hours of very low quality sleep was a challenge (I’m blaming year 11 boiz HAHA). I think at times, I was bummed out that I couldn’t have as many conversations or catch up with as many kids as I wanted – I was just feeling sluggish and low-energy, and wasn’t able to do as much as I would have liked. At times, I looked at some of the other ex-leaders during free time and saw how hard they were working, and I remember thinking ‘dang I wish I could be as helpful and servant-hearted as these guys’. But it was indeed a humbling and reassuring reminder that the task of growing God’s kingdom wasn’t on my shoulders. God has this in His hands. And we can carry one another’s burdens as the body of Christ. I needed to remember that it was OK to not be able to do everything I wanted, and it was OK to receive God’s grace of rest. God is faithful, and He continues to grow his people regardless. 😊

ISCF camps were always a highlight back in my high school days, and hey, I think nothing has changed. I know I’ve said this ten million times, but again, it’s just such a powerful testament to how God is working faithfully in His children. Camp is a little glimpse into heaven. We long for heaven; for the eternal and good rule of God to be established. Yet, at the same time, heaven begins now. In the way we are transformed by the spirit, and in the way we live our lives centred around God – heaven is breaking into earth this very moment.

It is a good day.

Reflections on Good Friday.

Cross

On this day, two thousand and so years ago, our Lord was crucified. It was a good day. And today, it is still a good day.

It is a good day, because it is a restful day. Yes, restful, because it is a public holiday and we have a little more time to sleep and rest. But more than that, it is restful because on this day, eternal rest was secured. On the cross for which good Friday is so well known, it wasn’t just Jesus that was crucified. All our brokenness – everything inadequate and unsettling and disgusting about us was crucified there with him. The nagging debt which all of us owe was paid that day. And the blood which flowed and dripped off that cross washed us so that we were white as snow. No longer were we at unrest with the God of the universe. No longer did we need to work to be right with Him. We received the truest rest that we could ever receive – the rest from self-justification. With one last breath, Jesus said “It is finished.” His work was done. Our work was done. There is now rest. And the king, hanging broken on that cross, invites us to join in his rest. It is a good rest. It is a good day.

It is a good day, because Jesus is declared king. Pilate nailed an inscription onto the cross, declaring that Jesus was the King of the Jews. Yet, little did he know that this act of mockery proclaimed the most glorious and important truth, the identity of the man Jesus: King. The Jewish authorities asked Pilate to take the sign down – but he refused, for his word was final. On this day, the earthly authorities had declared the kingship of Jesus. Not just king of the Jews, nor the Roman Empire, but of the whole creation. Of the rocks which bore the metal for the nails, and the trees which bore the wood for the cross. Of the executioners who flogged and killed him, of the crowd – you and me – who wanted blood and shouted, “crucify him!” This is our king. Though we killed him, by his blood we are cleansed. He invites us to be a part of his kingdom. He is a good king. It is a good day.

It is a good day, because we are no longer thirsty. But at what cost? On the cross, Jesus knew that all things were now drawing to an end – and he said, “I thirst.” Jesus once said that he was the source of living water. Whoever drank this living water would never be thirsty again. Yet, Jesus was the one who thirsted. The second person of the triune God thirsted – so that we don’t have to thirst. He was needy, that we might be full. As his blood flows and washes us clean, so does his grace flow into our cups, overflowing and overflowing – whilst his body was broken, hanging dry on the cross. He gives us living water that our thirsts might be eternally quenched. It is a sorrowful day, yes – he is the man of sorrows. Are we to mourn? His sorrow secures for us joy. We are satisfied for good. It is a good day.