"And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6 (NLT)
“I can’t believe I already blew it!” Can you relate to these words? They are the words spoken by countless students who have attended a youth retreat or summer camp and have experienced the spiritual and emotional highs that accompany such a focused time with Jesus and other Followers. God’s presence was felt, commitments were made, promises believed, and hearts ignited. But when the event ends and we come back home (to reality) a fade begins to set in. It is the fade of emotions and the fade of belief. In just hours or days after students return, the above phrase can be heard from the lips of many frustrated students. In fact this happens to all of us (even leaders) in one way or another, it’s just that after many years of experiencing these special moments, I have learned about the fade and how to avoid its snare.
Let’s Start With The Irony
I find it ironic that we tend to treat Christian camps and retreats differently than we do non-Christian camps and retreats we might attend for sports, music, or other interests. When I was growing up and would attend a sports camp, I never expected to come back a totally different soccer player or wrestler. I knew going in, I would most likely learn some new things and receive some specialized instruction to simply make me better or give me an edge. If I went in a Division III prospect, I wasn't going to come out a Division I prospect.
Somehow, in Christianity, we have adopted the notion that we will come back totally changed never to see unwanted aspects of ourselves again. This may be true for some, especially those who go to camp as unbelievers, and this may also be true for believers who experience some miraculous deliverance (and this definitely happens), but this is not the reality for most. For most, it is the continuation of a process. The process of growing up spiritually.
Like anything else, this does not happen overnight, but happens over time - a long time. Sorry if that isn’t exciting, but it just isn’t. There aren’t a lot of emotions connected to it and it can be a bore sometimes, but growth is slow. It is the accumulation of time, learning experiences, daily devotions, daily prayer, hardship, shared time with other believers, and so much more that make up our lives of growth in following Jesus. Spiritual growth happens when we don’t quit meeting with Jesus and other believers regularly, and this definitely includes retreats and camps. When we don't quit gathering, we won't stop growing (See Hebrews 10:25).
The Fade & Its Power
The fade finds its strength in feelings. Even though feelings from camp or another event have faded and changed (which is natural), the facts of what you experienced and what Jesus did do not. The Bible says, “Be still and KNOW…” that He is God, not be still and FEEL. Our feelings are real, but they are not truth. They can deceive us and make us believe something is true when it is not. We all know this, we just forget that this happens. If you have ever worried about a failing grade, or getting in trouble, only to find out that you passed and you weren’t to blame, then you know feelings are real, just not true. Feelings are not what we use to guide us in our walk with Jesus - TRUTH IS. Jesus is the TRUTH by the way. He has the final say about what is real and what is not. And what happened at camp or retreat was real, regardless of how you feel.
The Enemy Knows About The Fade
Satan is well aware of the fade, and he can’t wait to discourage you with his lies. These may sound familiar:
“See that wasn’t real.”
“You blew it already.”
“You might as well give up.”
“You’re not even saved.”
“It wasn’t worth it, don’t go next time.”
“Jesus is disappointed and angry now.”
So what do you do when these thoughts come in and cause you to feel depressed and like a failure? Admit that even though those thoughts and the feelings that follow are real, they aren't True! Remind the enemy that Jesus has the final say, and what you experienced was real and that Jesus is faithful and true. Remind yourself growing spiritually is a process and takes time. You did learn, you did grow, and you did change, just not as fast as you would like. Every spiritual experience, like camps and retreats, bring us closer to Jesus, which is the goal by the way.
Jesus Won’t Quit On You, Don’t Quit Either
In Philippians 1:6, the Apostle Paul teaches that Jesus began a work in us and that He won't give up on that work. Our responsibility is to simply not quit letting Him continue the work of maturity by putting ourselves in position, like attending camps and retreats, to allow Jesus to do as He wills in us and through us. You won’t regret it. I have never (but there is always someone) heard a student say, “I can’t believe I went to that camp, my life is so messed up now, I didn’t grow at all, I actually went backward in my spiritual maturity.” Just saying.
The Fade Is Real, Just Not True
So when feelings of doubt rush in and lies from the enemy taunt you when you sin, don't listen. REMEMBER who Jesus is, what He did and is continuing to do. The work He began in you (at camp, etc...) he will continue to finish until the day he returns. Don't let your feelings determine what is true. Know Jesus hasn't stopped pursuing you, loving you and working in you no matter what you feel, experience, or do. Don't be fooled by the FADE.