As a teen and young adult I was all about summer camp. It’s an experience unlike anything else—becoming wrapped up in a ministry you believe in is a great feeling. And being a small part of someone’s faith story, or introducing him or her to Christ is an unbelievable experience I hope everyone has the chance to have.
When you work at a summer camp you feel like you have to be “on” 24/7. Week one you’re excited, you’re an example, and you give your all. By week seven you’re spent.
Over a summer at camp the kids I met had a wide range of experience with God, Christianity, and church. Sometimes the stories I heard would break my heart, other times they encouraged me. And sometimes I couldn’t wait for the week to end. Each summer was the same—I felt compelled to pour myself into each and every child until I had nothing left.
For many years this was my pattern but then things changed. During staff training, the camp director gave a message that changed my summer, my ministry, and my life. He said something like, “You all have an incredible gift to show love to these kids, but how can you find the stamina to show Christ if you’re not taking time to be fed by God? The kids will ask for every second of your time. I will warn you now: Be selfish with your personal time with God. If you are not fed, nourished, and encouraged, you will have nothing of substance to give to the kids who you meet. Sure, they’ll still have a good time at camp, but we want them to go home changed; strong in their faith, with a personal and real relationship with God.”
The word, “selfish” caught my attention. Why would I want to be selfish? It’s so negative.
Each night after the final lights out, I’d read my Bible by porch light. I had heard once that I should read until something struck me, and reflect on it. This is the way I was reading the night I read Psalm 62:5. “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him” (NIV).
As I thought about the words I wondered if I was running on my own strength. Of course I was. So what if I stopped—what if I became selfish about my time with God? I realized I needed to depend on God so He would sustain me. It would be Him who got me through the summer, not my stamina and sheer will. By leaning on Him, He’d give me not only the words to say to the kids but the love and energy to pour into them. But could I trust Him to come through for me?
I asked God to show me how to both spend time doing my job, and find ways to rest in Him and He showed me Matthew 14. The story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people found in Matthew 14:13-21 is an amazing and miraculous story, which I had loved for years. But what I noticed this time is it all started by Jesus trying to spend time alone after learning of John the Baptist’s death. A large crowd followed, and He had compassion on them and ministered to them. After the day, Jesus dismissed the crowd, sent the disciples away, and went up on a mountainside to pray. Alone. Jesus was intentional about spending time alone with God, but also compassionate and sensitive to people’s needs.
What I saw missing from my ministry was balance. While it was important for me to be there when someone needed me, it was also important to spend time alone with God because I needed Him. I spent the rest of the summer searching for the balance, which developed into a habit I try to practice to this day, years after summer camp. I am selfish about my personal time with God so I can be selfless towards those I meet.