First, let me start by saying this: I was very wrong about Saturday’s playoff match-ups. The Ravens beat the Broncos and Peyton Manning in a thrilling double-overtime win, which I watched instead of writing a paper, while the Packers fell to Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers in a pretty disappointing game. I feel bad for switching out the Ravens defense for the Packers since both teams surprised me but I don’t feel too bad about it because I’ve decided that WHEN the Patriots make it to the AFC championship game, they will beat the Ravens so I didn’t miss out on much.
In other news: It’s been a crazy night with a few surprises and that’s always interesting. But I’m not going to write about that now. Instead, I want to talk about a talk I heard Friday night at PFA that reminded me of something that I’ve been meaning to post for a while.
Last night, the topic was the reliability of the Bible. Much like a regular season football schedule*, PFA has a certain amount of topics that they talk about every year and one of those is whether or not the Bible is inerrant. Seasoned PFAers quickly tire of talks like these since they usually put forth the same evidence and make the same point. I know they do it more for newcomers/underclassmen so I usually don’t expect much from the subject.
This time was different though. This time, the speaker, a pastor and professor at Westminster Seminary, approached the topic from a completely different perspective. And I would love to talk about that here, but I won’t because I wouldn’t do it justice and that’s actually still not the point of this post.
As he was making his point, using 2 Peter 1:12-21 as his guide, he said something that really resonated with me. He said that Peter, in his letter, made a point to his readers that a relationship with God was not simply about mountaintop experiences. This is especially telling since Peter had the ultimate mountaintop experience, having been present on the Mount of Transfiguration. And this got me thinking about PFA and retreats and stuff I had been thinking about before.
Whenever I went on a youth retreat, there would be the night toward the end where everyone was crying and singing and praying out loud and basically having an intense worship experience. After a few years of youth retreats, I came to expect it. And since I can be a bit contrarian, I grew to question it. I saw the ways these kids would act before and after these intense nights and I just felt like everyone was putting on a show**.
When I came to Princeton and joined PFA, it was different. Maybe it was because I was in a more open-minded place or maybe it was because the people actually were different but either way, after my first Ski Safari, I began to welcome those intense nights and even hope for them. This was true of my first few PFA retreats.
Yet as time dragged on, I became more accustomed to these moments and again I was skeptical. I figured, since I didn’t feel anything, since I wasn’t touched, the atmosphere had changed. PFA was doing something wrong and there was just nothing I could do about it. I just had to live with these lackluster conferences.
Of course, that wasn’t completely true. Something indeed had changed, but it wasn’t the atmosphere and it wasn’t PFA, it was my attitude. Whereas first, I approached the retreat with an open heart and mind, as time went on I began expecting God to make cool things happen. I wanted God to spoon-feed me miracles. And when that didn’t happen, I just assumed something was wrong with PFA.
Much like I talked about before, my relationship with God and these retreats was almost exclusively about what I could get. And of course, that worked for a while, because for a while I wasn’t in a place to bring much to the table. But eventually I couldn’t operate that way anymore. Eventually I needed to come to the retreat with something. I couldn’t just wing it. I had to actually be relating to God. I had to give him something to work with.
I don’t say this to sound arrogant (so apologies if I do) I just want to say that we have a responsibility to step into the life to which God has called us. It was easier for me to bring nothing to God and then wonder why I left with the same thing I brought. But much like the parable of the talents, when we do reach certain levels of maturity in our faith, we’re called to do something with that.
So basically, instead of complaining that this year’s Ski trip isn’t this enough, or has too much that, or this is too long, but why was that so short, I want to come with fresh, non-critical eyes. Obviously there will be things wrong with/at the retreat. But I’m not going to dwell on that. I want to come in on a mountaintop so I don’t spend the entire week trying and failing to climb one.
*That made a bunch of sense in my mind (probably because I’m in football mode right now) but if you didn’t get the connection: teams play in certain divisions and every team in a division has to play the three other teams in their division once at home and once away. So basically, before a season starts there are already 6 guaranteed games on a team’s schedule. It’s the same with PFA and weekly topics.
**Now my opinion about these things, and retreats in general, has changed, for better or worse. But that’s another post.