/ James Faris

The Ordinary and the Extraordinary: How God works in summer camps and conferences

It’s the season for summer church camps and conferences. Our presbytery will host its conference soon. God’s word will be proclaimed in a setting unique from the rest of life. Christians will retreat from their regular callings to spend a block of time worshiping together, hearing and discussing God’s work, and enjoying fellowship together over meals and between the lines on fields or courts of play. Young people’s hearts will be drawn-out in counseling group discussions. They will be challenged to commit themselves to the Lord in response to his word, especially at the end of the week.

We must not abuse the setting to evoke emotionally derived responses, but we should also recognize that the Lord does work though these extended meetings to settle our hearts and minds for a few days, to immerse us in his word, and to change us.

The Lord stirred my heart afresh at one particular conference when I was in high school. I vividly remember how the Lord met me there through his word and by his Spirit. The change that came in me was evident in the months that followed and still is to this day.

So, recently, I was fascinated to stumble across my journal from that year. What I wondered as I flipped through the pages was “what was I thinking in the weeks and months before that conference?” I had no recollection of any substantial spiritual vitality before the conference from a distance of two and half decades. The journal revealed otherwise. I had noted my Bible reading, summaries of sermons, basic things God taught me, and matters for prayer in the months leading up to the transformative conference. It was existent spirituality, if not exciting spirituality.

It reminded me that God uses means. Kids don’t often go to camps or conferences and get “zapped” into entirely new mindsets with entirely new habits all at once (though obviously conversion does move a person from death to life in an utterly unique way). In my case, as with many, the Lord blessed the training of my parents, pastors, and teachers and chose to work at one particular point in time at a conference to stir me afresh and radically change me. So, as we enter the season of camps and conferences, we should pray that God would bless not only the special events, but also the mundane events in which we train children to walk with God.

In redemptive history, he did something similar in the plains of Moab as Moses preached Deuteronomy to Israel. At the end of forty years of wandering, a new generation had succeeded their faithless parents who had disbelieved at Kadesh-barnea. Regular worship and the proclamation of the word had been established in the community and they had heard the word through their lives. They gathered just to the east of the Jordan River before Moses’ death. It is easy to envision that special season of proclamation; Moses likely preached the contents of the book over the course of a few days. He proclaimed the Lord’s character, his deliverance, his requirements, and his blessings and curses. The covenant was renewed in a unique way in redemptive history there as they faced the immediate task of conquering the Promised Land. As Moses brought the “conference” to a close, he called God’s people to commit themselves afresh to their Lord, saying,

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them. - Deuteronomy 30:19-20
By God’s grace, that generation did respond to his call. They served the Lord with a whole heart in a way uncommon in Israel’s history. This summer, may the Lord bless the faithful labors of parents, elders, teachers, and mentors who are daily and weekly leading young people to Jesus. And may he bless camps and conferences so that many would choose life by responding to the call of God and embracing the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.

James Faris

James Faris

Child of God. Husband to Elizabeth. Father of six. Pastor of Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ordained as a pastor in 2003.

Read More