In Part 1 of this series, I mentioned my own spiritual roller coaster during adolescence as various retreats and missions trips got me fired up for Jesus only to settle back into ‘reality’ after a few shorts days or weeks. Working for YouthWorks, I see much of the same as carefully crafted missions trip experiences incite spiritual highs in many teenagers; whether or not those spiritual highs last after they leave our care is speculation, though there is plenty of evidence to say that they won’t.
So what do we do about these spiritual highs? Can we make them last? Do they lead to life change? Possibly. If we put the right structures in place and consciously ask difficult questions.
In Part 1 I offered 3 questions to ask in the wake of a spiritual high:
- Is this just based on emotion?
- Do I have real, godly grief about my sins, or am I just upset about the consequence of my sin?
- Am I anticipating temptation?
These are 3 questions everyone should ask when they are ‘on fire’ for Jesus. Let me offer 2 others.
4. Do I have a support system?
Doing spiritual formation on your own is a poor choice. Faith was never meant to be done in isolation. To make the most of our spiritual high, we need someone to walk with us and tease out what our experiences mean and what our passion are. We need people you can challenge us and keep us accountable. The Bible makes it clear that we need others. Proverbs 27:17 says “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” We make each other sharper. Likewise, Paul calls us to watch carefully those who are mature in the faith, to learn by their example (Philippians 3:17). Find accountability. Find discipleship.
5. Am I stoking my spiritual fire?
Everyone has a spark of a spiritual life. Going on a mission trip, to a convention, to a retreat, etc, is like pour gasoline on that spark. Your fire for God burst and you are ready to do God’s bidding. Unfortunately, the routine of life can easily rain that spark, if not submerge is completely. Suffice it to say, staying passionate and excited about ministry takes work. Any fire will burn out with time; a fire must be stoked.
Likewise, we must stoke our spiritual fire, lest it burn out. Paul even admonishes the Thessalonians, stating “Do not quench the spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) But how do we do that?
Examine yourself. 1 Thessalonains 5:21 calls us to “examining all things,” which ought to include examining ourselves. Though not exhaustive, refer to the first three questions posed as a good place to start examining yourself.
Repent. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 call us to “hold fast to what is good. Stay away from every form of evil.“ At its core, this is repentance–turning from what is evil, and turning to what is good. One without the other will stunt us spiritually and leave us stagnant in our walk with God.
Supplement your faith. 2 Peter 1:5-8 says “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”
Serve. We often treat service as though it were just something we do on mission trips. But called has called us to serve continually. Paul tell us that we are uniquely gifted (1 Corinthians 12) and that we are not to neglect our gifts (1 Timothy 4:14). It seems ludicrous to see our passions ignited on a mission trip but to abstain from serving in your home community. Why neglect something which blessed us to such extent?
Most people have problem heard some variation of the points above, but we often fail to enact many of these principles. Many people come down from a spiritual high because they were never that committed in the first place. If they can’t take the necessary steps to grow in faith even when they are “on fire for God,” then they’ll never be committed in the routine of life. Their faith is simply based on emotion. They are not upset about there sins. They are doing little to anticipation temptation. They are not asking others for help. They aren’t doing anything to strengthen their faith.
Maybe that is why I appreciate YouthWorks philosophy about missions trips. They say:
“You see, we’ve never thought of mission trips as a youth group’s “big event” where students finally get to live out their faith. The “big event” of students’ faith happens every day as teenagers find opportunity to love and serve the people God puts in their path. Instead, mission trips are a launch pad… a drawing back of the bow… a wind-up for the pitch. Mission trips equip and encourage students to go home and love the communities they travel into every day when they roll out of bed.”
If a spiritual high is the big event in our faith, where we finally get to live out our faith, then our faith will wane just as quickly as the experience itself. But if a spiritual high, a conference, a retreat, or a mission trip is a learning experience and a launching pad, then the experience will change us. If we are willing to earnestly examine ourselves and use this experience as a catalyst for changes in our lives, then the experience will have been worthwhile.