To enjoy it, you have to live it…

A little article I wrote for the Plumstead Christian School Newsletter

I love talking to high school students after they have returned home from short -term missions trips. I especially like asking them how things went even though I pretty much know how the conversation is going to go before it even begins.

It doesn’t really matter who I am talking to, it doesn’t matter where they went or how long they were there, after they bring up stuff like sleeping on the floor and eating strange foods, they almost always start talking about the trip as being one of the best times of their lives.

And you know in spite of the fact that I have had that conversation something like a thousand times, it still makes me stop and think. What is it exactly that brings these students such intense joy? Why are these students who are used to such comfortable American lives so satisfied serving God in what most would think of as fairly miserable living conditions?

I don’t think it is the goat meat. I am pretty sure it’s not taking cold showers or going to the bathroom in an outhouse. Instead I am convinced it is God graciously revealing to these students what has to be one of the best-kept secrets in the civilized world:

True joy doesn’t come from living all out for yourself.

True joy comes from living all out for Jesus Christ.

I tell the students (I actually sort of plead with them) to remember those moments of joy. I want them to make a commitment to remember how they felt on that trip because I know that as they grow older they are going to be tempted to forget it. I know that because I am growing older and I am tempted to forget it. You see, there’s this lie–this unbelievably powerful, persuasive, nothing short of Satanic lie—that if you really are going to enjoy life you have to live all out for yourself and for comfort and for pleasure—for the now.

I mean, isn’t that the American dream?

As one writer has pointed out, “dreams by definition are supposed to be unique and imaginative. Yet the bulk of the population is dreaming the same dream. It’s a dream of wealth, power, fame . . . and exciting recreational opportunities.” The sad reality is that when you make those sorts of things your primary pursuit, you find yourself becoming less and less joyful, satisfied and content. And what makes it all the more tragic is even God’s people often buy into it. The world’s dream becomes their dream and they can’t figure out why that dream is not satisfying and why they are so discontent.

C.S. Lewis once said the problem with most of us is not that our desires are too strong, but too weak. “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink . . . and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

It has to make God’s heart break. The prophet Jeremiah put it like this, “Has a nation changed gods when they were not gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, and shudder, be very desolate, declares the Lord. For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”

What I am trying to say is that the Christian life is not only the right life—it is the best life. It is life the way God designed it. But the only way any one of us experiences the fullness of the Christian life is if we actually live it.

Christianity has to be lived . . . to be enjoyed.

When I look back at some of the amazing things God accomplished in the lives of the students this past year at Plumstead – we’re talking, students with an intense desire for prayer, students getting together on their own to study the Scriptures, students starting small groups because they wanted to promote spiritual growth, standing up in chapel and pleading with their fellow students to follow Christ – I think about the joy on their faces as they shared what God was doing in their lives, the love the senior class showed me by making this jaw-dropping sacrificial effort to put on a surprise missions fund-raiser to help me and my family move to Africa – I think to myself, you know, I think they got it.

I think this is exactly what many of the high school seniors figured out during their trip to the Dominican Republic.

The gospel is too important to spend your life doing anything other than giving everything you have got to see Jesus Christ lifted up. Jesus Christ is too precious to spend your life doing anything other than giving everything you have got to help everyone else see how supremely beautiful He is. God is too great to spend your life doing anything other magnifying Him in everything you do.

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