Thursday night campfires are a tradition at camp. We meet in the picnic area just above the outdoor chapel, gathered around the fire. This is called “testimony time.” It’s a time for people to share what the Lord has done in their lives that week and thank Him for the blessings in their life. We usually sing a song and someone prays before we all go back to the cabins to sleep our last night at camp that week. It’s a very meaningful time. Many life changing, life long lasting decisions have been made at camp.
As a counselor, I usually end up standing up at the campfire time and thanking the Lord for the guys in my cabin. When you’re with your guys for so many hours a day, learning, eating, playing, and goofing off, you can grow pretty close rather fast. I always want to be sure the guys know I really am thankful for them. Then there are some campfire services when I just listen. Silence can be a good thing.
The campfire services are a wonderful time, but there’s also a tragedy that I have often seen during these times. It usually goes like this. Someone stands up and says something like, “Last year at camp the Lord really got a hold of me, and I left here determined to live for Him. I did good for a while, but then school started and I slacked off. I started listening to my friends more than the Lord, and I got into some stuff I shouldn’t have. This week the Lord really convicted me, and I asked Him to forgive me, and this year’s going to be different! I’m determined this time!”
When I hear that I cringe. I’m moved with sorrow, compassion, pity, and a touch of anger all at the same time.
I’m moved with sorrow for the pain their sin has brought them, compassion for their distress and repentance, pity because they just don’t get it yet, and anger for the fact that the enemy has had success in fooling this person. I always want to stand up and scream “NO! You’re gonna fall flat on your face!” That doesn’t seem a very supportive thing to say, does it?
Actually, it is. You see, you and I do not grow in the Lord by shear will power. On my own, my will is never enough. I will always break. I can’t grow into a deeper relationship with the Lord by simply pulling myself up by the bootstraps. They’ll break, or my hands will slip and I’ll knock myself in the jaw. It just doesn’t work.
So how do I grow? How do I become a better Christian?
The typical answers you’ll hear are: read your Bible, pray, go to church, make good Christian friends. When someone says that, you need to hear in your mind a big buzzer sound, “EEEEERRRRRNNNNN!!!” followed by fa ull lunged announcer proclaiming, “Wrong answer!”
Now, before you close this book, throw it in the fire and proclaim me a heretic, hold on a second. You should read your Bible, pray, go to church, and make good Christian friends. But none of these things on their own will make you a better Christian.
I can read the Bible till the words are worn and the pages fall out, but it won’t make me a better Christian. There are plenty of heretics and false teachers that read the Bible.
I can pray till I have calloused knees, but that doesn’t mean I’m a growing Christian. According to James, there are plenty of prayers that are fruitless (James 4:3).
I can go to church every time the doors are open and accomplish nothing but keep the seat warm, and put a higher number on the attendance score.
I can have plenty of Christian friends, but that doesn’t mean I’ll grow. In fact, if I’m not careful, I may grow complacent, relying on the accomplishments of my friends (Gal. 6:3-5).
It doesn’t matter how many songs I sing in the choir or little old ladies I walk across the street. None of these things will make me grow.
Why? Because we grow the same way we started. You and I are saved by faith and we grow by faith (Gal. 3:1-6). That’s one of the big lessons from the book of Galatians.
The Galatians thought that they had to do certain things to grow. It was up to them. The Apostle Paul says, “No.” You were saved by faith, and you’ll grow by faith. Faith is the way you grow into maturity in Christ.
So, what does this look like? I mean, do I just close my eyes tight and think, “I believe I’m a good Christian, I believe I’m a good Christian, I believe I’m a good Christian” and POOF, ALAKAZAM- I’m a good Christian?
No. It works this way.
I believe that God loves me. Because I believe that God loves me, I love Him. Because I love Him, I obey Him.
Obedience comes from love, and love comes from believing that He first loved me (John 14:23-24; I John 4:19).
A growing Christian is one who is growing more and more in love with Jesus every day. That love will manifest itself in good works, but is not caused by them. Instead, that love comes from believing that He first loved me.
It all comes back to faith, back to God. He is the one that saved us. He is the one who grows us.
Now, remember when we talked about reading your Bible, praying, going to church, and having good Christian friends? When you insert faith into the equation it’s a different story. When they become acts of faith, yes, growth happens.
I read my Bible which on every page tells me more and more of the depths of the love God has for me. I believe it, and thus love Him. Because I love Him, I obey. One of the things He tells me to do is to treasure the Word, and so I’m going to read more of it and I continue to learn just how great His love really is, and I believe it. So, I love Him and because I love Him I obey Him. It’s an ongoing cycle.
If I pray, believing that He listens and really cares, I’m moved to think of and believe how much He loves me. This stirs love in me, followed by obedience.
When I go to church, believing what I hear of what God is doing in the lives of these blood- bought people, I am moved by God’s love, and so love Him, and obey Him.
Now when I hang out with my good Christian friends, I believe that they are gifts from God- gifts given because He loves me. Because He loves me, I love Him, and because I love Him, I obey Him.
Do you see the difference faith makes? It makes all the difference in the world, because the God who responds to faith makes all the difference in the world.
We grow the same way we start- by faith. It’s a message I try to drive home to anyone I have the opportunity to teach. It’s so vital, that now when I hear someone give the “boot straps” testimony around the campfire, I usually end up gently reminding everyone of the truth that we grow the same way we start- by faith. That’s part of my testimony. I know it is also a burden on the heart of William, our camp director, as well. Faith- what God chooses to do in my life when I believe- has made all the difference in my walk with the Lord. He does the work in and through me. He has made all the difference. He wants to do the same for you. There’s great comfort in that.