I would like to say that the summer I just finished up serving as a leader of missions camp was the best summer of my life. I would love to say that it was spiritually enriching and so much good happened for me. But, that’s not how the summer was. Don’t get me wrong, this summer was good on a number of levels, but there were a lot of things that maybe made this summer not as incredible as it could have been.
First, the positives… I met so many incredible kids and adults whose lives were changed and who, in turn, changed my life in the process. I got to see kids and adults get saved practically every week. I got to see kids and adults light up with joy as they served the people around them and were blessed to be blessings. A lot of good did happen over the summer for the community in which I was placed.
But, it was easy for me to think that good was not happening for me. At least, not as much good as was possible. I was steeped in a mass of interpersonal problems, which is not unusual for a guy whose personality is an acquired taste. However, I began to feel like these problems were detracting from my experience this summer. I was constantly nagged by this feeling of “Please your crew, please your employer, please God.” Please everyone around you. Do it yourself. You don’t need help. This is the message we often receive in the world today. This is the message I had etched into my brain from a young age by the US culture in which I was raised.
So, that’s what I tried to do. I tried to please everyone and do it myself. I didn’t need help. After all, I’m an extremely intelligent 21 year old who has had practical life skills since he was in 7th grade. I am more than qualified to do all of this myself…
As I was attempting to make it through the summer alone, I was reading a Tim Keller book, Jesus the King. There was a very thought-provoking portion of one of the chapters about religion vs. the Gospel. It’s simple, really; a core Truth of Christianity… Religion is an attempt to work to please God so that we might be counted as righteous. The Gospel, on the other hand, essentially says this:
“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5, ESV)
Keller goes on to basically say that attempting to please God with your actions makes light of the finished work on the Cross. So, that evening as I sat and heard my unrelenting criticisms for the umpteenth time, I started to think… I am not here to please these people. I’m not even here to please God. I’m here out of the overflow of my love for God.
It was in this moment that I felt a release. No matter what kind of discouragement those around me threw my way, I didn’t care. That’s not why I was there. I honestly did not care how unhappy I was behind-the-scenes so long as I was leading this camp in a way that brought kids to Christ, because that is what Christ deserves and that is how much I love Him.
I realized that I was not using this camp as the opportunity to express my love for God that I could have used it as. In fact, I had largely ignored Him most of the summer. My autonomous-to-a-fault attitude had led me away from any personal time with Jesus over the summer. That depravity of any spiritual connection coupled with the emotional and physical strain I had been under led to a crippling duel with cynicism.
When I came back to my home and went back to my church for the first time, the sermon series on Psalms just so happened to have reached Psalm 46, which reads:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
This is a resounding Truth that I had rested on for the minority of my summer. Once God had jarred me awake into the reality that I had been starving myself, I realized that God is all that I need. I was depending far too much on the relationships I could have had with those around me and not enough on my relationship with God. My cynicism was rooted in the folly of dependence upon depraved human beings… Myself included.
I was so wrapped up in being independent and with being encouraged by those around me that I lost sight of the true source of life: God. Once I came to grips that I don’t need to please anyone, not even God, as He is well-pleased in us through the satisfying work of His Son, I was able to address the fact that I was still shackled to religion. I was still shackled to the American DIY aesthetic. I craved the empty encouragement of those around me because I craved being able to rely upon something other than God. If I rely upon God, then I have to run to some supernatural Being for strength. How weak does that make a person feel? Well, the truth of the matter is that I am weak. We’re all weak. But, I am fortunate enough to be a child of God in whom He is well-pleased through the work of the Christ. Therefore, independence is no longer a goal in my life, because independence doesn’t exist. Everything we do hinges on the will of God. So, the end of this summer is also the end of my striving for independence.
So, while I felt like I wasn’t getting the most out of my summer, I can look back and realize how misguided I was to think such a thing. God is sovereign and providential. I can trust Him fully and depend upon Him for all things. Since He is sovereign and I can trust Him, I can rest assured that I gained the most from this summer as was possible. To be entirely honest, there’s nothing more I would have rather gained this summer…