Spiritual Highs Have an Expiration Date
Sometime after John Wesley’s encounter with the Moravians who displayed great passion for their faith, he felt uncertainty and doubts. On the evening of May 24, 1738, he walked with a heavy heart along Aldersgate Street in London.
He heard someone read Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans and found the answer to his doubts. John Wesley wrote: “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."
John Wesley’s words describe the way we often feel during a camp, a retreat, or even during a spiritual conversation with a friend or a mentor. We feel our “hearts strangely warmed.”
After the spiritual experience, we go back to our homes and to our local churches with a sense of commitment to Christ, ready to be a disciple for the transformation of the world.
And the days pass . . . and the weeks . . . and the months . . . the commitment we made and the spiritual high we felt fades and seems to slide toward oblivion.
After one Christmas Institute (CI)* in the Philippines, I had a conversation with a District Superintendent, Rev. Francis. A lot of young people usually have “spiritual highs” through this event and make a commitment to follow Christ.
But Rev. Francis told me the spiritual high of the young people from the CI has an expiry date: February 12. We burst out laughing. He was joking, of course, but there’s also truth to what he said.
The CI is usually held on Dec 26-30. Local churches send young people to this event so they can have a great spiritual experience. When they go back to their local churches, some of these young people will be active in the church for a few weeks, or a few months after the CI. But generally, before February ends, a lot them will be “back to normal”. Some will occasionally miss church and some may even stop attending church for quite some time.
By attending a CI, retreat or a camp, young people have this “strangely warmed” experience, and a spark has been ignited within and they feel the warmth of that spark radiating from the center of their being. It’s also like a matchstick. Strike it and all of a sudden, the flame comes to life. It will burn brightly, but only for a while. If the flame from a matchstick is not transferred to a candle, it will sputter and die.
Spiritual experiences are a good thing. If young people make a commitment to Christ, they need a community to help them nurture that commitment. Without such a community, it’s easy for such a commitment to slide and be forgotten.
So when young people catch the flame of the spirit, the church rejoices. But it should not stop there. We need to find ways to nurture their faith so they will grow and keep the fire burning. That also means creating space for them to lead and use their talents and gifts for the church.
What are the ways that your church is nurturing the commitment of young people? What needs to happen in your church to enable them to live out their commitment?
*A Christmas Institute (CI) is a big event for youth in the Philippines where they gather for 5 days for worship, fellowship, and learning about our faith. A lot of young people have made a commitment to Christ during these Institutes and they have become pastors, deaconesses, and church workers. Christmas Institutes also happen in communities living in the USA.