June 11, 2008

Empty Energy?

2008 1516 page29 caphe words poured from my lips and resonated in the large mountain chapel:
     “Never underestimate my Jesus
     You’re telling me that there’s no hope
                    I’m telling you you’re wrong
                   Never underestimate my Jesus
                   For when the world around you crumbles
                   He will be strong.”
My friend from Minnesota strummed his Martin guitar to my right; behind me I heard my buddy from Kansas plucking the bass. We’d never performed together—we’d hardly practiced. But at this moment it didn’t matter; at least not to me. As I squeaked out the final line of the Reliant K song, and felt the embrace of a standing ovation from 300 of my new best friends, I knew it didn’t matter to them either.
This four-day retreat, high in the Rockies at Glacier View Ranch, was literally a mountaintop experience. As I walked through the halls of the lodge, I was energized as I saw kids from different schools pray with each other. I felt a power surge through my bones as I sang praise songs with 300 high school students and couldn’t hear my own voice. The name Youth-4-Youth seemed fitting: we were one for all and all for one. Here in this spiritual utopia, my problems seemed as far away as the plains of Nebraska.
2008 1516 page29As the festivities came to a close, the 12 of us from Platte Valley Academy vowed that we would bring this spirit and excitement back to PVA. What could be so hard about that?
As I led out in a song service back at school the next Friday night, I came to realize what is so hard about that. We sang the same songs and played the same instruments, but gone were the smiles and resonating voices; replaced with closed lips and bored, blank stares. As I heard the echo of my own voice, I began to change . . . and lower my tune.
Sharpening Our Focus
By definition a retreat is a trip away from reality. It’s when we step aside from our problems and the daily grind to refocus, reshape, and refine who we are and where we want to go. But in that moment, emotion tends to override practicality. The danger of these megaspiritual bashes is the mixing of emotion and spirituality—the belief that they are one in the same.
Spirituality comes easily when wonderful emotions seep in. It’s a lot more fun to sing when you can’t hear your own voice. It’s cool to pray when you’re one of many. It’s a much shorter trip to the altar with a crowd. And it’s much easier to stand for God when sitting is outside the norm. But when reality sets back in and the same old problems permeate our lives, God can feel rather far away. And that’s how the mountain leads to the valley, because the feelings aren’t there and we don’t know any way to get them back.
It’s time to sharpen our focus and realize that consistency, not excitement, is the key to the Christian walk. Youth conferences are great, but only when they lead to permanent, not momentary, changes. It’s time to make it happen.
• As your children, students, or youth group members ready themselves for their big getaway, encourage them to have fun. But advise them to also take advantage of the opportunity to find practical tidbits that can help them in the long haul.
• As a coordinator of a prayer or Bible conference don’t allow your retreat to be like cotton candy—all flavor and little substance. As you contact speakers and plan activities, be sure to incorporate activities that will help improve lives long after the excitement wears off.
• Don’t temper their enthusiasm, but as your kids come back in a spirit of enthusiasm, help them find specific, practical, and attainable ways to have an impact on their world. If it’s not applied systematically, their exuberance will soon fade.
Jesus was intensely practical and amazingly consistent. In a world built out of fads and momentary pleasure, it’s important to follow His example as we give guidance and direction to young people in our world. Because when their world crumbles, He’s the one who will be strong.
Jimmy Phillips recently graduated from Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, with a degree in communications.