Ben Peeler, Bob Jones Seminary Student
I do not know what mental image or emotions come to your mind when you think about summer camp. Maybe you are like me and would be homesick Monday afternoon, 5 minutes after you arrive. My friends never seemed to suffer from “homesickness” like I did. For many of them, camp was not just the highlight of the summer, but it fueled memories and jokes for the remainder of the year. But regardless of how nervous I was or how much I really did not want to be there Monday afternoon, Saturday morning rolled around—I would have to say goodbye to my counsellor and cabin mates whom I did not want to leave. There is something special about any camp that takes children and teens out of their normal schedule and gives them the opportunity to experience unique things, meet new people, and get away from life’s distractions. There is something even more special about a Christian camp. I was a frequent attender of summer camps during my junior high and high school years. I had the opportunity to work at three separate summer camps during my college years. I now have the opportunity to attend summer camp as a youth sponsor and am so excited!
I want to offer three reasons why as a college student, you should commit to working at least one summer at a Christian camp.
Serving becomes a lifestyle
Jesus explained to His disciples in the book of Mark, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45) College is a very selfish time. Students are consumed with their homework, their schedules, their jobs, their friends, and their futures. Those are not inherently bad but can become consuming if not kept in check. Serving at a summer camp makes it obvious, quickly, that life is no longer about you. Your energy, time, and resources are spent serving campers who often use and abuse your good efforts.
While that goes against your nature, fed by college, eventually you adjust and even find serving others to be rewarding and fulfilling. Fellow counsellors struggle alongside you, encourage you, and work with you to accomplish one goal: pointing campers to Jesus. Then the summer ends, and you return to school, but you do not return unchanged. Rather, you carry with you that heart for service. You begin noticing the needs of your roommates, teachers, and friends, and try to help where you can. A life spent serving is never a life wasted.
Christ becomes your main motivation
I can remember meeting my camper who was able to attend camp because someone had paid his way. After about 3 minutes of talking with him, I realized that if someone had not paid his way, there was no way he would have chosen to come to camp. His language was foul, his jokes were crude, and his personality was abrasive. By Wednesday I was ready for him to get back on his bus and go home, because he was corrupting the other campers in my cabin. But I continued to pray that the preaching and personal time in the Word would change his heart. I had tears streaming down my cheeks as I sat with him Friday night and heard him cry out to God asking for forgiveness for his sins. What motivates someone to persevere and continue to pour into the life of a teenager? When you strip away all other motivations, the only thing that remains is Christ. Loving and serving others find their strength in the cross. You stop loving people because it makes you feel good. When you are running on little sleep and every part of your body aches, it no longer feels good. You stop serving people because it is easy, or it is the “cool” thing to do. You serve and love people because Jesus Christ perfectly demonstrated love and self-sacrifice by His death on the cross. Summer camp places a college student in positions to show the grace of God to those who are, like us, underserving.
The Gospel becomes real
This is not to say that a college student cannot experience the gospel in a secular job, but summer camp offers a unique opportunity. As the college student is submerged into a culture of constant spiritual warfare, the gospel ceases to be a nice thought, and it becomes one’s sole life-source. Every part of camp--from carrying a camper's luggage to playing a meaningless game for the hundredth time--immediately takes on more meaning. Steps are intentionally taken to break down walls so that the gospel can take hold of their hearts. As the college student returns to school in the fall, they cease to view the Dining Common as just a place to eat. They stop seeing societies as just a time to make friends and memories. These everyday experiences can and must be leveraged for the sake of the gospel. When they are, lives are changed. One final unique aspect of camp is that the college student has to verbalize their faith. One camp I worked at offered thirty minutes a day for a cabin discussion. I took each day and walked through a different aspect of the Christian Faith. We discussed the origin of sin, the narrative of the entire Bible, the life of the Apostle Paul, and why the Bible must be treasured. Through those seemingly large topics, I was able to meet my campers where they were at spiritually and proclaim the gospel in 4 unique ways every day. But for me to speak and teach, I had to study and confirm what I believed about the gospel. I remember coming back to school that Fall, and because those 4 topics were in my head every day for the previous 12 weeks, I could not help but share it with my roommates and friends who needed to hear. I have seen many summer camp workers return to school, and their passion for the gospel burns so brightly that they make an immediate impact. The gospel is not merely for the unbelieving, but it is truly for everyone. The good news of Jesus Christ never loses its power, and working at a summer camp positions you to be captivated by it all the more.
As I conclude, I wanted to make something clear. Jesus died on the cross and rose again, giving power to His church: the body of believers, fitly joint together. Jesus did not die for “summer camps.” He also did not die so that we could waste our lives going through the motions of “cultural Christianity.” All para-church organizations exist to encourage the church. Summer camps are an invaluable training ground for a young Christian. You will never regret committing a few weeks of your life growing, serving, and loving others as you stretch yourself and train for a life of ministry to Christ and His church.
Dr. Layton Talbert, Seminary Professor
The Westminster Catechism created what has become one of the most well-known definitions of prayer: Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies. It is simple, memorable, succinct, portable, and covers most of our praying.
My only quibble with this is that it seems to overlook the very dimension of prayer I’m specifically focusing on in this post. Indeed, this definition does not seem to include prayer passages like these: Psalms 8, 15, 23 (vv. 4-5), 32, 42, 45 (vv. 6-7), 48, 63, 65, 66, 67, 73, 76, 77, 92, 93, 94, 104, 131, 145. Every one of these passages are prayers. Many of these psalms are occupied purely with praise; some are psalms of complaint, or questioning, or resolve. But none of them offer up any requests to God at all; and yet they are clearly prayers, conversations with God—some of them being extended conversations which occupy the entire psalm. That’s an awful lot of biblical praying for a definition of prayer to leave out.
But there is another historic definition of prayer. Though not nearly so old, it nevertheless comes from a long-time classic, 19th-century Bible dictionary by Matthew George Easton. And it provides a broader framework for the more specific catechism definition: Prayer is converse with God; the intercourse of the soul with God, not in contemplation or meditation, but in direct address to him—whatever the nature of that address may be.
The definition is clearly drawn from an older conception of the conversational nature of prayer that shows up much earlier in the literature. In fact, it even shows up in Charles Hodge’s 1865 Systematic Theology. That’s significant because Hodge adhered loyally to the Westminster Catechism. And yet, he begins his discussion of prayer not with the Catechism’s definition, but with this one: “prayer is converse with God.”
Granted, the language is a little bit dated; we’d say it more like this: Prayer is conversation with God, the communion of the soul with God…in direct address to him. It’s this conversational nature of prayer that I’m focusing on here. And by “conversational” I don’t mean laidback or irreverent or casual. But I do mean familiar, relational, personal communication that covers all the same kinds of conversations we have with people we see and hear every day.
One way to go about identifying “kinds” of prayer would be to explore the various words for prayer used in the Bible. But using vocabulary words as an organizational rubric for discussing kinds of prayer is prone to leave too much out. There are lots of prayers in the Bible where a specific technical term for prayer doesn’t even occur.
So I want to propose another organizational approach by building on the basic premise that prayer is conversation with God. Based on the kinds of conversations we can have with other people (who are, themselves, in the image of God), some prayers are supplication (asking)—including confession (asking forgiveness), petition (asking for some divine favor for ourselves), and intercession (asking on behalf of others). Some praying focuses on worship—including both adoration (for God’s glory) and thanksgiving (for God’s gifts). But there is a third category of praying that I will call simply communion—simply fellowshipping with God. About what? About anything and everything you care to talk to God about: fears, questions, uncertainties, joys, experiences.
It is the concept of prayer as communion or fellowship that I especially want to commend as a means of increasing our intimacy with God in prayer. John writes that the apostles have declared what they themselves saw and heard so that we might share in their fellowship with the Father and with the Son (1 Jn 1:1-3). Fellowship is more than conversation; but there is no meaningful “fellowship” where there is no conversation.
In the prayers of those who pray most and best, petitions proper, I venture to say, occupy only an inconsiderable place. Much of prayer expresses the fullness of the soul rather than its emptiness.… Prayer at its best is … conversation with God, the confidential talk of a child who tells everything to his father…. (James Stalker, “Christ at Prayer” in Imago Christi: The Example of Christ).
Stalker notes the example in the Confessions of St. Augustine, written “in the form of a prayer, from beginning to end; yet it narrates its author’s history and expounds his most important opinions. Evidently the good man had got into the habit of doing all his deepest thinking in the form of conversation with God.”
One of my favorite prayer quotes underscores this dimension of prayer as conversation:
Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one’s heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell Him your troubles, that He may comfort you, tell Him your joys, that He may sober them; tell Him your longings, that He may purify them; tell him your dislikes, that He may help you conquer them; talk to Him of your temptations, that He may shield you from them; show Him the wounds of your heart, that He may heal them; lay bare your indifference to good, your depraved tastes for evil, your instability. Tell Him how self-love makes you unjust to others, how vanity tempts you to be insincere, how pride disguises you to yourself and others. If you thus pour out all your weaknesses, needs, troubles, there will be no lack of what to say. You will never exhaust the subject. It is continually being renewed. People who have no secrets from each other never want for subjects of conversation…. Blessed are they who attain to such familiar, unreserved intercourse with God.
This widely quoted appeal is attributed to a 17th century French Catholic mystic named Francois Fénelon who, interestingly, had a profound influence on A. W. Tozer. Why, you might ask, would I quote a Catholic on prayer? One simple reason: because I haven’t found a Baptist who says this, or says it this well. Fénelon’s theology was probably defective on important points (though to his credit he was condemned by the Pope for some of his writings:). But when it comes to articulating this biblical philosophy of prayer as conversation, he’s spot on. It is profoundly scriptural counsel. The psalmists themselves model this kind of praying. It is a kind of praying that can transform a duty (and prayer is a duty) into a delight, a rite into a genuine relationship.
Matthew Bohin, Seminary Student
We often look at successful people and wonder how they’ve achieved their notoriety, influence, or wealth. We devour their blogs, books, and articles to get a glimpse into their “secret” of success.
In the Christian world, Paul was arguably the greatest Apostle. Paul authored at least thirteen books of the New Testament, established many churches, journeyed throughout Asia and Europe as the Apostle to the Gentiles, and even encountered the risen Christ. Yet, these accolades paled in comparison to his main desire: to know Christ and to be like him.
Paul describes the one driving principle of his life this way: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8, 13-14). Here, Paul states that all his accomplishments, both the spiritual accolades he once possessed in Judaism along with his accomplishments in service for Christ, weren’t of the same value as knowing and being like Christ. To Paul, knowing Christ held “surpassing worth.” Having a deep, close, and personal walk with Jesus, even after he had seen the risen Christ, was of utmost importance to Paul. Moreover, he saw Christlikeness as a “prize” to be obtained. The phrase, “upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” refers to a believer’s glorification. However, Paul knew that while on earth, he was daily to strive to be like Christ.
Paul therefore viewed knowing God as having the utmost worth, while being like Christ as a prize to be cherished.
Making Paul’s Desire Our Own
How then did Paul come to this mindset? What value did Paul see in knowing Christ and being like him? He understood three essential truths about knowing God and being like him.
But This Takes Work…
Like any relationship, knowing God takes work. I’ve been married about five months. For those of you who don’t know yet, marriage takes work. Yes, marriage is wonderful, but the blessings of marriage don’t come without putting in effort.
Likewise, we want to think that a relationship with God comes easily. We would love to think that God just instantly makes us know him. Think with me again about marriage, however. If, while we were dating, my wife put in time, effort, and energy into our relationship, yet I didn’t make an effort to take her on dates, call her when we were separated, or buy her gifts, she would eventually stop pouring into the relationship. Now, this illustration does break down eventually. Theologically speaking God does pursue believers even when we don’t naturally desire him. However, Scripture is clear that God reveals himself to those who diligently seek him (Deuteronomy 4:29, Hebrews 11:6).
Does your Bible smell like the gym? Does it smell of hard work or sweat? Is it soiled with tears, highlights, or crinkles due to the use it’s received? Knowing God takes work.
… And a Soft Heart
At the same time, knowing God also demands a soft heart. God reveals himself not only to those who diligently seek him, but to those who come submitted to him. In James 4:6, James exhorts us that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Earlier in the same book, he states that God indeed does give wisdom liberally, but only to those who are of a mind totally committed to him (James 1:5-8).
God pours himself out to those who diligently pursue him and approach him with a humble, submissive spirit.
Let’s Get Practical
By now I hope you’ve all come to understand that knowing God is the reason why we’re saved. God has called us into a relationship with him. This relationship then drives us to become more like Christ. Even as Christians we don’t naturally have a relationship with God or a Christlike disposition. As stated above, it takes work along with a soft heart. I would like to provide for you some practical ways of putting in the hard work of pursuing God through Scripture.
Just like any job you undertake, you need the right tools for Bible study. These include having the right resources, the right plan, and the right questions.
A Final Reminder
I hope these brief words of wisdom have helped to create in you a desire to be in Scripture this new year. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention one thing. In all of our Bible study, we are dependent upon the Spirit for help. None of us naturally understands the things of God. Without the guidance of the Spirit, all of our efforts to know God would be in vain (1 Corinthians 2:12-16).
This year, pursue God with everything you have. He wants to be known, and he is waiting to reveal himself to you.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.