For a number of years, "summer camp" became a focal point in my young life. It’s not an understatement to say that I have countless joyful memories of the moments I spent on that little campus in Pennsylvania. To this day, my life feels blessed by those experiences. There’s something particularly special to be said about a Christian summer camp. When faith is intertwined with fun, adolescents begin to realize that Christianity can be so much more than a religion. Every song, discussion and activity seemed to spark a fire in our young hearts, but there was one event that undoubtedly trumped the rest. It was greater than "exciting." It was (dare I say) transcendent. It left an impression like no other. No... I mean it LITERALLY left an impression. Taking a ball to the side of your face will do that. Still, campers (young and old) looked forward every year to playing tetherball. From the moment we arrived, signed ourselves in and dropped off our bags, every camper in those woods made their way to the tetherball court. It wasn’t much- nothing more than a patch of dirt, a metal pole, a rope tied to the top and a thick, yellow, leathery ball hanging from the other end. The goal? To hit the ball around the pole in your direction while your opponent attempts to do the same. When the rope wraps completely (in one direction or the other) the game is over. It’s quite simple, but incredibly intense, and every camper was “baptized” by the tetherball, walking away with sore hands, a ball mark on their face or some rope burns on their wrists. Still, we invested hours in the game- laughing and screaming- fighting like gladiators in a (very safe and slightly lame) backyard battle. For that one week out of every summer, we were passionate lovers of tetherball. We poured ourselves into it. We couldn’t get enough. It was the first thing we did after breakfast and the last thing we did until the sun went down. I’m sure that many campers went home at the end of the week and begged their parents to invest in a tetherball of their own, but for the most part, the dream always faded and tetherball became just another summer activity to lose its luster.
How is it so common to “burn” for something one day and grow cold toward it the next? It happens all the time. For example, we favor a style of clothing for a brief period just to stuff it all in the back of our closet or give it to a thrift shop when it goes out of fashion. Our mouths water for a particular meal so we consume it regularly until it no longer satisfies and we can’t even stand the smell of it anymore. We’re willing to watch the same television show or movie repetitively until we can recite every word and then we never want to see it again. We play a popular song on repeat until our feet stop tapping and we’ve lost interest in singing along. We invest money in our "collections" until one day, it all sits on the yard sale table for a nickel. Over time, our “toys” get more extravagant, but the habits of desire never change; whether it’s children buying baseball cards or adults purchasing brand new cars. We run to the store every time a new sneaker or cell phone model is released. We focus on whatever “trend” steals the limelight from fashion to food. We download the next great “app” on our smart phones until everyone is using it and then no one remembers it. We call ourselves “original” by being just like everyone else. Styles, genres, brands; all based on popularity. "In one day and out the next,” as they say. Maybe we should ask ourselves if we ever truly care about these “things” in the first place. If something really matters, it’s value shouldn't change in the face of shifting times or high acclaim.
It’s an unfortunate truth, but we have the tendency to treat our faith like another fad. For a period of time, we'll run to the Lord with determination and zeal. During these “highs” we burn with a passion to live, wholly for Him. We see value in the investment and we pick up on the contagious faith of others, so we pour ourselves into the Christian “scene” like we just can’t get enough. We hear God’s call, so we change the way we carry ourselves. We make adjustments to our lifestyle; reshaping our relationships, our life goals and things we find enjoyment in. We wipe the dust off our Bibles and even run out to the bookstore to buy a new daily devotional. Just like my tetherball experience, we invest blood, sweat and tears in the activity of living for faith, but as you know, life finds a way of creeping in- the glitter can fade, living on faith can get difficult and we can find ourselves right back where we started- living in this very common “Christian” state we call a “lukewarm” faith.
We know our hearts fight to justify it. “Well, Lord. This happens. I can’t help it. I’m just not that into you right now, but I’m sure I’ll come around.” Do we really think God is alright with this? It’s just fragments of truth mixed in a pot of lies. Say the same thing to a friend, a significant other or a boss and you’ll be ditched, dumped or fired. What gives us the right to treat the Creator of the universe any differently? Every “low” in your life is caused by something. It can all be traced to a trigger. Perhaps it’s not easy to find it yourself, so ask the Lord to help you. Stagnant water, hot or cold, will always turn room temperature if it’s left long enough. It isn’t happenstance that has tampered with your faith. It isn’t life that has robbed your passion. Your faith has sat too long. You’re hoping for a blaze without stoking a spark. You're hoping to "want" the Lord again without making any changes to your habits. Lukewarm water has little value. It doesn’t fully quench and it never truly satisfies. It’s a taste and a consistency undesirable to most and our walk with the Father is no different.
“I know everything you have done, and you are not cold or hot. I wish you were either one or the other. But since you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3: 15-16 (NIV)
Wow! I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to hear God ever say this to me. I want to burn for Him, yearn for Him, live a life with purpose for Him. I can’t let His value in my life be changed by shifting times, acclaim or popularity. I won’t let myself get “bored” of living for the kingdom. Still, things happen. The pains and patterns of life interfere. So, what can we do when reality creeps in?
“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13: 7-8 (NIV)
I know what the valleys can feel like. I know complacency well. I know the triggers for my fears, the causes of my doubts and the looming feelings of discontentment and distance from the Almighty. I know the ease of burning one day and cooling off the next. I know the stale feelings of life’s repetitions. I know the void of losing joy, longing for purpose and finding ourselves “lukewarm” to just about everything. I understand when life leaves us feeling like a hamster on a wheel. I simply don’t want to feel that way anymore. God is too good, too perfect and too loving. God is too deserving of my worship for me to say, “I’m just not that into you right now.” Don’t give up, my friend. Don’t settle on a “lukewarm” faith. Pick yourself up and stoke the flame and be willing to do whatever it takes to find your joy in Christ again. Faith is more than a fleeting, momentary trend, it's eternal.
“Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord. Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying.” Romans 12: 11-12 (CEV)