A month ago, I did something that was in some ways new to me and in some ways very familiar. I volunteered to go with my church’s high school ministry to a conference for a week in Daytona Beach. I am not new to youth ministry trips, having been in middle school ministry for 7 years now, including 4 years of leading it, but this was my first trip with high school ministry, actually my first significant experience at all in high school ministry. I knew they had been short a few leaders the previous year and I knew some of the rising freshman and sophomores from my work in middle school ministry, I could get the time off work, and the need was there, so I volunteered.
There are a few interesting stories to share, and those may come later, but after all the experiences, one statement had been echoing in my mind, which came from Brooklyn Lindsey, a youth pastor from Florida, who spoke at the event (read her blog here). That statement was “God is a fan of little things”. She used this in the context of a girl in her youth group that had sewn together little birds and sold them, and taken the proceeds and given them to support the building of wells in Africa through Active Water (see Birds of Hope), who had been able to make a difference through doing a little thing.
I think it stuck out originally because I wasn’t sure I believed it completely, or maybe because I thought maybe that if God is a fan of little things, that he is not also a fan of big things? This idea rattled around in my head for a few days, as I continued to hear messages, as I participated in awesome worship, and continued to hang out with the high school kids during their social time. Once we loaded in the buses and were headed back to North Carolina, I had some time to think about the week, and I realized that maybe I was just thinking about it a little wrong. As I talked to students about their experiences (or watching what they posted to social media afterward), I felt as if each person got something a little bit different out of the week, some of which I have listed below. I am not sure if I can agree with “God is a fan of little things”, but I will tell you that “God is IN the little things”, that he works out moments in our lives, seeming inconsequential at the time or just “coincidence”, but when compiled together in the summary of your experience, that they teach us something, they help reveal His plan for our lives, or help us realized that we need Him.
Some of the “little things” that were learned that week:
- Never assume someone’s relationship with God – yes, even on a Christian youth trip, there are students struggling with or unsure of their faith, or sometimes even those who are on the trip because their parents made them and they are putting on an act so they can “go along to get along” and have absolutely no relationship with God and no desire to pursue one
- People are desperate for someone who is sincerely interested in listening to them – I thought I understood this before, but I had a new experience – within 20 minutes of meeting me (I literally hadn’t even gotten the kid’s name yet), a student opened up about his struggles with same sex attraction
- You have no standing to judge someone else’s behavior – somewhat related to not knowing someone’s standing with God, each person has their own journey in their relationship with God and is walking that out in their own time. Their commitments, their choices, and their behavior stem from that relationship, and your relationship with God is different than theirs – this phrase has been floating around the last few months, not sure of the source, but it is “don’t judge someone because they sin differently than you”
- God is real and present in our lives – a student told me “God is so much more real for me now” – I am fairly certain this student literally felt the Holy Spirit move during worship for the first time in his life
- What people do and what people say or believe are very often in conflict with each other – even though they don’t intend it that way, some people fail to act based on what they believe or they say something and do another thing – this is particularly difficult when people say one thing that they have convinced themselves is true, yet do something else because what they said is not actually what they believe
- A message sent is not necessarily a message received – and I am not just talking about text messages – just because words come out of your mouth in a certain order and with a certain meaning doesn’t mean then enter another persons ears that way
- Small actions can have large consequences – both good and bad – whether it be from a momentary lapse in judgement, boredom, or just plain stupidity, consequences are very rarely in proportion to the amount of time it takes you to make a mistake, in fact I believe that may be an inverse relationship
- Being authentic is sometimes more important than having all the answers – sometimes “I don’t know” or “I have the same question” IS the correct answer, because someone needs to know that they aren’t the only one thinking that
- God can reward even small acts of courage, boldness, or obedience – God can do amazing things with seemingly small actions
- You may have to give or sacrifice without receiving anything in return – your definition of sacrifice may end up not producing the results you thought – if that’s the case, is it still worth the sacrifice?