This blog is an attempt to answer the problem as to why teenagers might feel so far from the Lord after a mountaintop experience at a camp.
If you’ve ever been on a Christian camp, you know that it’s the best week of the year where you get to spend quality time in fellowship with other Christians your age by worshipping God, singing hymns, studying the Bible and hearing sermons you understand.
I was converted whilst on a Christian camp when I was 16, and I will never forget it. Once camp had finished, I remember taking the long bus journey home and I’ll never forget the empty, low and depressing feeling having taken my suitcase into my bedroom, sat on the bed by myself and not knowing what the next step was. Everything was back to normal. A few days would go by when I’d suddenly realise I hadn’t read my Bible or even prayed whereas on camp, praying was really easy because we all did it together as part of the daily routine.
The more I didn’t do anything about this feeling, the more my feeling of guilt grew and felt that I couldn’t pray or read my Bible because I couldn’t motivate myself to do it. Going to church became a chore once again, rather than a blessing. Have you ever felt this way? Maybe you’re feeling this way at the moment.
What is a ‘Spiritual High’?
A spiritual high isn’t a biblical word or phrase but it’s used by Christians to describe an experience where a believer feels especially close to the Lord for a period of time. It’s very common to experience a spiritual high in places like conferences, camps, conventions and church events. There’s constant Bible teaching, hymn singing, questions being answered and we’re meeting new Christians to enjoy fellowship with.
When we are around Christians on camp all day long, discussing the gospel, praying with/for each other, serving God through various means, it becomes a part of a routine. We rightly begin to feel emotional in that we’re rejoicing in our love for Jesus and are in constant fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s a great blessing to be enjoyed. Some might say it’s a little taste of Heaven.
What is ‘Spiritual Depression’?
Spiritual depression is a season or period of time where we feel somewhat distant from God. Praying becomes a strain, reading the Bible becomes difficult and serving God at church seems unrewarding and strenuous. When another Christian asks us how we’re doing or feeling, we often lie with an artificial smile saying something like, “I’m doing great”, or “Yeah fine thanks”, when actually, inside we are spiritually depressed and ridden with guilt. There are lots of reasons for why we feel this way, and there are a lot of examples in the Bible. The Psalms are perhaps the most obvious place where spiritual depression is expressed. Job experienced terrible depression. Jonah’s distress was very much his own fault. The Bible is full of examples.
“Although my joy is greater than most men, my depression is such as few can have an idea of. This week has been in some respects the crowning week of my life, but it closed with a horror of great darkness, of which I will say no more than this: I bless God that at my worst, underneath me I found the everlasting arms”
– Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Camp is one of those places where we may experience a mountain high experience. Day in and day out we hear, learn and speak about God with other people. We either gain encouragement from other believers or feel a sense of particular responsibility in evangelising to non-believers. The whole week on camp is a time devoted primarily to God, and the Holy Spirit is very much present to convict us of sin and to urge us to grow in our faith in Jesus. It’s so much easier to devote ourselves to God on camp than it is in everyday life at school, home or at work. This is a ‘Spiritual High’.
Sadly, the week or so after camp we find ourselves struggling in our walk with God because it is far more difficult to devote ourselves to God when our friends and camp officers aren’t there to help us, encourage us and correct us. This is famously known as the ‘camp blues’. We likely don’t have a structured timetable at home like there is on a camp for a morning prayer meeting, morning worship, afternoon Bible study, evening epilogues and so on. At home, it’s just you, God, and your Bible. If we don’t devote and discipline ourselves to continue to walk with the Lord faithfully, we will likely experience spiritual depression.
Why do I feel this way?
Depression itself is by no means a sin, although at times it may come as a result of our sin. I’m not discussing depression medically in this post – I’m not qualified for that. I am briefly discussing the reason for the occurrence of our spiritual depression which could sometimes affect our bodies, emotions and even our mental health. Spiritual depression can happen for a number of reasons. Trials and suffering can cause us to forget the goodness of God and cause spiritual depression. For example, when a family member dies we will, of course, suffer some degree of depression. Being bullied at school is also something we can’t easily prevent which may cause us distress. However, spiritual depression usually occurs as a result of our sin and I want to suggest that this is the case when we return home from camp.
Camp is a great experience and is an incredible blessing. It truly is a mountaintop experience where we feel a wonderful closeness with the Lord. Tears are shed, testimonies are shared, people are converted, songs are sung, fellowship is experienced, God is worshipped, Christ is exalted and prayer is answered. It really is an incredible week. So where is our sin you may ask?
We sin by trying to sustain a mountaintop experience. This is a common sin among Christians. Instead of enjoying a wonderful experience with God and moving on to the next thing God has for us, we try and re-live the experience and take it home from camp with us. In doing so we reject what God has for us next. We wrongly believe that a Christian’s life should always be a mountaintop experience. It’s not true. Refusing to move on to what the Lord has for you next is a sin of omission where we fail to do what is right. Sometimes we actively do the wrong thing but in this case, we don’t do the right thing. Ultimately, refusing to move on into a life of self-discipline when it comes to walking with the Lord is an act of disobeying God and a demand that he continues to give us this mountaintop experience.
Some teenagers fail miserably to adapt to home life after camp because they think that unless this mountaintop experience continues, they must be doing something wrong. We shouldn’t be addicted to the ‘spiritual high’ God blessed us with at various stages of life. It is to be enjoyed, God is to be praised and we are to continue in our walk with him wherever we are, in whatever we do.
What should I do now?
Compare camp with an experience you’ve had maybe at a fair, or at the cinema or wherever you enjoy going with your friends. At the time, you’re having such fun and a great time, but you know at some point it has to come to an end and you have to go home. Being at home without your friends isn’t as fun as being with your friends at the cinema. But you remain true and faithful to your friends wherever you are, don’t you? You’re not any less of a friend to them at home without them than what you were when you were spending quality time with them at the cinema, are you? Camp is a little bit like this. We feel so close to the Lord and other believers all week but when we return home, we hit a spiritual depression mode and fail to accept what he has for us next. We demand that the experience continues and if it doesn’t, we must be doing something wrong or he isn’t doing something right. The aim should be to remain faithful to God wherever we are, just like we do with our friends.
Camp is to be enjoyed and we are to embrace God’s closeness and praise him for his blessings. We are to thank him for his wonderful grace given to us and should continually pray that he might bless us in the next season of our lives.
God is a friend who remains with us at all times but sometimes we don’t feel as close to him as we’d like. The goal is to stick to the truth of the Bible rather than rely on how we feel. He is with us always whether we feel it or not.
So, the step we need to take is to first recognise our sin, be convicted by the Holy Spirit that we have not done the right thing and repent of that sin. We can pursue him further by moving on with our lives while giving him all the glory through prayer, devotion and by continuing to serve him because of his grace and mercy. It isn’t a sin to want to experience his glory in a magnified way sometime in the future. You look forward to seeing your friends again don’t you? Well, you can long to experience God’s presence powerfully again. He may do so in a different way and in a different place.
Acts 20:24 – ‘But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.’
Written by Pastor Gwydion Emlyn