Making sense of the post-camp high
The journey up a mountain is always filled with anticipation. In 2012, I travelled up Mount Hotham in Victoria, Australia, with a group of friends; we were going to spend a few days at a ski resort. As we drove higher up the mountain, the temperature outside dropped lower. At the first sight of snow on the roadside, we collectively let out squeals of excitement. We were all looking forward to a marvellous time on the ski slopes.
Similarly, in Biblical times, when pilgrims made their way up to Jerusalem for the annual Passover, they used the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120–134) as a way of voicing their expectation of meeting God and celebrating with fellow Israelites. On the journey up towards the temple — negotiating past steep slopes and crossing many valleys — they sang about God’s goodness towards them.
With something to look forward to, it will always be exciting traversing up hills and knolls. The hope at the journey’s end makes all the travelling worth it no matter how arduous it might be. Yet after all the fun and festivities, it would be time to go back down, and it is usually not as highly-anticipated as the journey up. Descending from a ski resort could only mean a return to urban life and its mundane trappings. Leaving Jerusalem meant that the Passover celebration was over. It made me wonder, “Why weren’t there any Songs of Descent in the Bible? Do they not celebrate the journey home?”
These physical journeys up and down mountains mirror our spiritual walk closely. Before major events — like church camps, Christian conferences, or a term in Bible school — it is easy to be enthusiastic about what is to come. We fast and pray earnestly to set ourselves apart and consecrate the time ahead for God. We ask for God to encounter us deeply. During the event, the atmosphere is often charged with faith and expectation because everyone has gathered for the sole purpose of seeking and encountering God. As God speaks to us through His Spirit or the preaching, our minds are renewed and our lives are changed. Yet after the event, many of us are faced with the question: What now? Many of us don’t have the privilege of worshipping corporately or listening to a revitalising sermon on a daily basis.
Having attended many camps and conferences myself, I find that the hardest time to remain devoted to God is immediately after the event. Encountering God and His ministry during the event can be described as a “mountain-top experience.” But descending that mountain and going back to “normal” life, I still come face-to-face with the same issues at school, work, or home. If my life has really been transformed by God, how I live has to change.
The people in Hezekiah’s time were inspirational in changing their lifestyle after a deep encounter with God. Immediately after he ascended the throne, Hezekiah cleansed the then-debilitated temple and restored orderly worship according to God’s commands. He gathered all of Israel and Judah to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Such celebrations had not happened for about 200 years ever since the time of King Solomon (2 Chronicles 30:26) In fact, they were so joyous that they extended the celebrations by a week!
When all the celebrations were over, the Israelites went to all the towns and “smashed all the sacred pillars, cut down the Asherah poles, and removed the pagan shrines and altars” (2 Chronicles 31:1 NLT). When Hezekiah ordered that the people tithed to the temple, they did with so much generosity that new storerooms had to be prepared to contain all of them. Furthermore, “(in) all that he did in the service of the Temple of God and in his efforts to follow God’s laws and commands, Hezekiah sought his God wholeheartedly” (2 Chronicles 31:21 NLT).
Reflecting on this account of Hezekiah’s reforms, two lessons can be drawn.
1. Destroy idols in our lives
The Israelites ferociously destroyed all the pagan idols in their land. This represented true repentance of turning away from these idols and returning to trust in God.
After attending a conference last year, God convicted me of my love for money. I was going to start a new job and I had placed my security in receiving a monthly paycheck. When I imagined parting with my “hard-earned money” through tithing, I found it extremely challenging. Yet God challenged the Israelites, saying, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse… Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (Malachi 3:10 NIV). Even before getting my first paycheck, I determined in my heart to tithe faithfully; this meant apportioning out the appropriate amount at the start of every month and transferring it to my local church.
It hasn’t been easy. There have been months when I was enticed to scrimp on my tithe. But in order to destroy the love of money in my life, I had to resolve in my heart to tithe faithfully even though it felt painful.
2. Seek God wholeheartedly
After a “God high,” it can be tempting to ride on the residual “wave of godliness.” We might think that since we had already encountered God that this encounter would be enough to last for quite some time.
During a Onething conference earlier this year, Corey Russell said, “When God reveals a portion of His character to you, don’t move on! Sell everything and buy that field.” Through every encounter, we know a little bit more of God’s character. Corey’s exhortation is for us hold onto that aspect of God which has been revealed to us. We can deepen our understanding of God through seeking Him wholeheartedly. This involves filling our minds with the Word of God.
Every year after my church camp, I would take one or two passages from the Bible that really stood out to me during that camp and read and ponder over them. I believe that as God’s Word goes through our minds, we are changed from the inside — our values and motivations are transformed to be more aligned with Christ’s. More often than not, this refinement is gradual — year by year, encounter by encounter, God slowly purifies each of us to be more like Him.
“Mountain-top experiences” do not necessarily have to result in reverting to life-as-usual once you descend. Like the Israelites in Hezekiah’s time, we have to decisively strike down our idols and to seek God wholeheartedly.
At a church camp two weeks ago, God impressed on my heart very strongly the need to trust Him in the area of finance. While this has yet to be tested through trying circumstances, I am actively watching my heart lest money becomes an idol in my life again. In seeking His heart through reading the Word, I am increasingly assured that God is My provider for all my needs. He is a Father who knows what I need before I even ask him (Matthew 6:8).
If you have been to a camp or conference recently, may I encourage you to reflect upon the encounters you’ve had with God and to continue engaging in the place of prayer. Eugene Peterson summarises Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as such, “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace” (Matthew 6:6 MSG).