A quick story from this week at Camp
A few hours ago we sent home our second batch of campers for the summer. The first group had been elementary school (mine were entering 6th grade); this last group was middle school (mine were entering 8th grade). The intervening two years between my cabins make an unbelievable difference in comprehension and spiritual “readiness,” not to mention basic things like keeping the cabin clean and willingly eating vegetables.
Anyways. I had a camper this week, “John,” we’ll call him, who I could tell was listening intently to the chapel messages and asked some important questions during our cabin discussion times. He seemed to be yearning for God, and at the same time hesitant to come near to God. Similar to way we react to cliffs. A cliff draws us near — an irresistible pull towards the edge; but the edge repulses us, so that we move slowly and consider deeply everything that could go wrong. John was like this about God, which is almost always a sign that something is going to happen. When you strip a person of their apathy, this same two-sided response to the Gospel starts to move around in their heart.
Last night we had an open-mic time with the whole camp, in which campers could share ways they have seen God working in them throughout the week. John, again, was listening in the whole time, fully there. When the time ended, we had some worship music and then walked back to the cabins.
This was the point when John let loose the simple statement, “Ross, I want to accept God into my life right now.” As a camp counselor, and just as a Christian in general, this is a great sentence to get my attention 100% zeroed in on you. I ask him what he means by that. I have seen too many people walk away from the faith who never actually entered it because they were led into some type of flippy-dippy false conversion “sinner’s prayer” without understanding at all what salvation means. So I want to take a statement like John’s as a conversation starter and see what they mean by “accepting God into my life.”
We talk. I won’t summarize everything in the conversation, but briefly put: it became clear after a while that to John, “accepting God into my heart” was a statement of trust in God. The example he gave is Job, who did nothing wrong but still suffered a lot. From some of the personal things happening in John’s life at the time, I could see how he would identify with Job. But this is problematic in an obvious way. Job was a good person whose struggles in life were caused by outside problem. We are sinners whose primary struggle is our sin, which is an “inside” problem. And these two struggles in life require very different kinds of trust in God. The former can be had by anyone — that God will work out good from the midst of bad situations. Jews could have this trust in God with no issue, since, after all, Job is in their scriptures. The later can be had only by a Christian — that God will forgive sins and indwell a person via the Holy Spirit. And John had only wanted to trust God in the first of these ways.
We had a long conversation. We were standing by the beach, looking over it at dark while talking about this. Then we moved up to the village center living room and kept talking. Over the course of the conversation, I asked John about the weight of his sin. About the free gift of God in forgiveness of sins. He had been listening close during our cabin discussions (I had been leading us in some basic conversations about Justification in Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians that week). He got it. And he started talking about the guilt he feels about this sin and that sin, this other sin and that other sin. It was a powerful thing to hear. How numb am I to the significance of my sin — and by extension, to the greatness of my savior — compared to this 8th grader?
He prayed and asked God to forgive him of his sins and give him New Life. Some of the wording he used, I could tell, he had parroted from me. Other things were original and genuine. I don’t think I have ever heard someone pray like John did. I am not sure what about it made it unique. He meant it, that much is for sure. Then, I prayed for him. I prayed that God would sustain this simple trust in John into a real, life-long, fruit-bearing trust.
Then we broke and went back to the cabin, where the rest of my guys were standing in a circle doing Fortnite emote dances.