Every year I see youth from churches pack their bags and head off on mission trips. They range from the regional projects where a group goes to inner city Detroit to repaint graffiti and plant shrubs to exotic places in the far recesses of South America where they build churches and share the gospel. People go for a variety of reasons. Some go for adventure. Some go to check it off on their bucket list. But most go to get away from the distractions at home in an attempt to draw closer to God. Twice in my life I’ve participated in one of those mission trips. You live in a tent, eating rice and beans and taking cold showers from a hose. The weeks you spend living as a first hand witness to the poverty you’ve only seen on the evening news changes your life. You see children content to play with a half inflated ball. You see old women, stooped over carrying wood to build fires in order to cook dinner. You are exhausted at the end of every day, but feel a sense of accomplishment unlike any day in the office. You swear to yourself when you get home you won’t watch TV and you’ll eat simply and spend more time reading your Bible. But within a week or two you’re at the cinema, shopping at the mall, and eating at Olive Garden.
We’ve all been there at some point. It doesn’t have to be a mission trip. It could be that week of prayer in high school, or a spiritual retreat at church, or maybe that one sermon that reached into your heart and struck a cord. In that moment you feel you’ve climbed on top of the mountain where you feel God whispering in your ear. Your heart and soul are on fire. You walk away from the moment overwhelmed with the power of God’s love and committed to living a life fully on fire for Him. When you get back to your church you vow to volunteer to do bible studies and never miss an opportunity to witness to the unsaved. You wear your WWJD bracelet and your cross necklace proudly so others are aware of your newfound commitment to living your christianity, not just believing in it. Then life happens.
I’ve experienced this many times. Coming home from a rally or convention, I’m fired up and ready to throw myself headlong into ministry. People around me feel the energy and excitement builds as I lay out elaborate plans for all the great things we will do. But like any fire, it slowly starts to burn out without more fuel to stoke it. I soon find myself struggling to have that energy every time I show up. Is it unfair to expect someone to return to their own life and continue in that spiritual high they experienced while withdrawn from the distractions and monotony of every day life. It’s like giving a team a game winning speech like you’d see in “Rudy” or “Remember the Titans”, but without a game to go running back to. You get the team all charged up at to go home and work out on their own over Christmas break. The moment that speaks to your heart calling you to action is simply the first step. The scary part is what comes next. Stepping back into your world and changing it. Finding ways for that spiritual momentum to get you through to the next pit stop where you can refuel and head out again.
Recently I was reading articles in response to Governor Rick Perry’s prayer rally in Houston. The reviews were mixed. Had it been Billy Graham no one would have cared. But a republican governor who’s a presidential hopeful created controversy right from the beginning. Analyzing the event you don’t know how sincere or political any of it was. And frankly I don’t care about the politics. What I care about are the people who attended, watched, and listened to it who are sincerely distraught about God’s purpose for their country and finding strength in their faith to overcome. Where do they go from here? What are their next steps? And prior to the 2012 elections, who will provide them with guidance? What does calling 30,000 people together to pray actually do to help a nation recover? Do they go out and donate more time to soup kitchens? Do they go out and help others find jobs? Do they help rebuild their communities?
The difficulty in keeping the fire going is finding and applying the fuel yourself. It’s not that you don’t have the ability to, it’s that you need someone who can help you know what kind of fuel is needed. The best rally’s and conventions will help you find ways to maintain your fire, even if it’s just keeping the embers warm until the next time you can stoke it with logs. You’ll have books, blogs, connections, curriculum, etc. They provide directions on who to talk to, how to talk, and the support to step outside your comfort zone to use that fire. As you return home you’ll want to find someone or something that will challenge you to stay on that track. A way to stay accountable for what you’ve committed to doing.
The important part is that you keep trying. Providing you with all the kindling and wood doesn’t do any good if you aren’t willing to build a fire yourself. If you’re not willing to take the energy that the convention gave you and do something, why did you go in the first place? What are you afraid of? What will you do about it today to stoke that fire?