After a busy month in California this past June, I ventured up into Michigan where I served at a camp. My job included leading a group of cabins, or an area, in lessons and helping manage the schedule for my staff. I was in a sense a caretaker for four to six camp counselors and their campers. Last summer I had served at this same camp as a camp counselor, so I was excited to return to try a different job.
Of all the situations I was challenged with while at this camp for a whopping four weeks, I think the thing I gained the most insight on was the issue of a camp “Spiritual High”. Many of the campers talked about how they return to camp year after year to regain the camp high that they got while they were there last.
This is something I am no stranger to. I have been on countless youth group trips to conferences and I myself was once a camper who experienced the camp high. If you are unfamiliar with the term “camp high” or “mountaintop experience” let me try to describe it the best I can. It is when you are emotionally hyped up and feeling a stronger-than-normal connection to God and the people around you. Unfortunately because this is an emotional experience, it doesn’t last long. A lot of campers I worked with have told me they can make this high last for about a month before they don’t feel it anymore.
Here is the thing. There is no way to keep this faith “high” for a long time, mostly because it is based on emotion and not on truth. Am I saying what was felt was fake? No. But the experience is based upon a feeling and not a solid thing. How do you keep a spiritual experience going? Do not pursue the emotions that bring you close to the Lord, but instead pursue the Lord directly. In those mountain top experiences, the presence of the Lord feels more intense than in our everyday life. However, His presence is not more intense, we are just more aware of it. So what would happen if we pursued His presence with that same awareness when we step off the mountain? What would happen if we took the chance to learn something about God in the uplifting experience and take that and apply it to our everyday life? If God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, won’t He be the same in the good times as He will in the bland?
God doesn’t change, and He never gets farther away from us. But our perception of Him changes. We drift away from Him. In those emotional moments we are open to whatever the Spirit has. We open up the doors to our hearts. But afterward, when we walk back down into the valley, we shut the doors and lock the windows. Our “everyday life” mode kicks back in and we become less aware of God’s presence. We fall back into routine and shut down our thinking, or awareness of the quiet whisper that is trying to break apart our mundane. If we pursue the feeling of the Spirit’s presence, we will need the specific places and experiences that have given us those feelings in the past. Our God experience will be dependent upon unsustainable, earthly things. But when we focus on the God behind the feeling, our Spirit-experiences will be dependent upon Christ. When we are aware of who provides the experiences rather than where those experiences occur, we will realize that we can connect deeply with God no matter where we are.
Dear campers, please remember this: Will you pursue the feelings of connectedness? Or will you pursue the Connector?
“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved [perfection], but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13-14
No I have not achieved a perfect connection to the Holy Spirit, it takes work and intentionality. But I focus on running the race, keeping my eyes on the Lord, allowing my faith to be founded upon Him rather than whatever kind of emotional experience comes my way. I recognize that pursuit is an action, not a feeling, and I must focus outwardly on Christ and not gauge the journey on the emotions it reveals.
Emotions are not bad or unnecessary, for they definitely have their place. However, we cannot judge the value of an experience or lesson on the emotions it brought, but rather how that event taught us something new about the Creator. An emotional pursuit falls flat as fast as emotions change, but a pursuit of the unchanging nature of God will never fail nor fall flat. For no matter how I feel about God or life, He is right here waiting for me to become aware of His awesome presence.