I was a lanky 13-year-old boy with hair past my shoulders. You would have thought I hung around skate parks and played old Metallica covers on my electric guitar. Except I couldn’t skate or play an instrument, and didn’t have any friends who would watch if I could.
All my life I heard Dad preach about Jesus on Sunday mornings, but something about being at my first youth conference forced me to realize for the first time that He was real. My heart leapt as I thought about how powerful he really was, trying to figure out how I had missed this all along.
“Nothing will ever be the same.” I thought.
Except a few weeks later it was.
The next 3 years of camps the same thing happened. My life with Jesus had changed internally—no doubt—but nobody around me would have noticed anything different.
During that week each summer, Jesus was real and personal and good. Capable of miracles and communicating with me individually.
The rest of the year? He was distant. Preoccupied with everything else happening in the world, I supposed. Less powerful than he was in that shaggy conference center in Daytona Beach.
During college summers I was a camp counselor and the same pattern continued. God moved through me and my friends in incredible ways during the summer, but when I returned to school he decided to hibernate.
Insecurity and pride convinced me to trade in a real relationship with Him for being good at Christian culture. Knowing the right music. Memorizing the right verses. Raising my hands at exactly the right time.
Nowadays I spend my whole year working with camp counselors. I watch as they walk that familiar path. In the summer they’re pumped up about what God is doing. Their enthusiasm is contagious and exciting and childlike.
A few months later it’s like they don’t believe it all anymore. They talk about the things he did last summer in the past tense, not feeling too confident that he’s moving the same today. And I’m left asking, why?
Why do we do this?
Why do we act as if God operates as some distant alter ego 9 months out of the year? Like he’s on vacation until the next camp, conference, retreat, or mission trip? Only showing up when face paint and campfires and matching t-shirts are involved?
Life doesn’t have to be that way, and it wasn’t until last year that I realized it.
There was nothing remarkable about the moment.
I wasn’t in a conference center or fancy auditorium. I wasn’t listening to a famous pastor’s podcast. It wasn’t like I sponsored an entire village of Compassion children and the scales suddenly fell off my eyes.
It was winter.
I had the flu.
And I laid in my bed for hours.
I had the flu.
And I laid in my bed for hours.
As an extrovert’s extrovert, this was my own personal hell.
For a few days, all I did was journal, read, and watch a few movies.
I journaled without any direction and realized passions and frustrations I couldn’t have articulated before.
And I watched a few movies about people who discovered that new, better lives awaited those brave enough to sacrifice their old, comfortable lives.
These simple experiences knocked my pedestal of mediocrity and lackluster relationship to the ground. What I thought I knew about Jesus was crushed. All that was left was something better than I ever had before.
In those days, Jesus became my friend.
“I can’t explain exactly what’s changing, but I know it’s for the better,” I told somebody.
It was then I learned God is not more or less present throughout the year. He is not close to you at summer camp and far away the rest of the year. He doesn’t play hide and seek with you. He doesn’t delight in confusing you.
He’s too good for that.
God is not less present with you when you feel distant from him.
You are less present with God.
He is always with you.
The question is whether you’ll choose to be present with him. Whether you’ll discover his friendship, and resolve to make space for the Spirit to interact with your soul however he chooses.
You can have an intimate relationship with Jesus every day of the year.
He can feel close always.
You just have to choose to be close with Him.
When you restructure your life around being present with Jesus—choosing to be with him over all the distractions vying for your attention—then you will know him as a friend. The kind of person you spend time with simply because you like each other.
Stop acting like God is only with you a few weeks a year. Quit holding onto the notion that you must shrivel back into cheap religion when you don’t feel him nearby. Don’t think for a second that God doesn’t move today just like he did in the stories you read in the Bible.
It’s the same guy.
And he is with you.
Yesterday, Today and Forever.