Will it Last?
This is a 1999 story from my first book, Stories from the Creekbank. I’ve been thinking about an important word: repentance. It simply means to change directions. Turn around. It’s a good word. One’s life must be full of repentance is it is to be full and forgiven.
It’s a full house in the tabernacle tonight. Our Back to school youth camp always is an exciting week. Campers and adults just show up expecting God to work. And He has worked in a mighty way this week.
Because of the many campers and the large number of guests, we’ve moved chairs into the Tabernacle. Tonight I’m sitting on the front row- a place I seldom sit.
The camp pastor, Troy Terrell, begins his message. All eyes and ears are on him as he paces the stage sharing a passionate story about obedience and commitment to Jesus. About twenty minutes into the message a young man get up from the middle section of the Tabernacle. He catches my eye just as he gets to the front.
Let me describe this camper. He looks to be about seventeen. He is a big ol’ boy- about 5’10” and a good 240. He doesn’t hurry as he comes forward- he just sort of ambles. Looking at him I know he is country and I mean that as a compliment. He just looks solid . . . and I’m not just talking about his physique.
I think to myself, “He’s coming up to pray at the altar.” But he bypasses the pews that serve as our prayer area. He slowly comes up to the steps in the middle of the stage. All eyes are on him . . . even Bro. Troy has stopped in mid-sentence.
My next thought is, “He is going to hit the preacher!” But the slight smile on big boy’s face tells me differently. Then the thought hits me that he is going to share an impromptu testimony.
But he ambles by Troy and the microphone to the edge of the stage. Into a white trash bag on the stage he puts an object from his hand. The bag has been on stage all week. During the week, teens have placed items that they wanted out of their lives. I had peeked into earlier and saw shattered musical C.D.’s, magazines, even a wadded pack of cigarettes.
I have a pretty good idea of what he had in his hand, but I won’t tell you because the object doesn’t matter- the act of his heart does. Just as slowly as big boy came, he returns to his seat. As he passes Troy, he simply nods his head in the way country men do as a sign of respect.
I breathe a sigh of relief that he didn’t sock Troy or disrupt the service. Then I realize what a beautiful act of obedience we’d witnessed. We adults may feel led to give up something in repentance, but few of us would go up front during the middle of a service. We’d wait until the Tabernacle was empty and discreetly go to the white bag.
But that’s what I love about young people. They passionately act on their feelings toward God. They practice something we can all learn from- Instant obedience. Instant obedience is something all of us so-called mature Christians should learn about. If God lays something on your heart, do it and do it now.
Bro. Troy now gets his second wind and is preaching full speed ahead. But my mind is still on the sermon I’ve just seen. Then the thought creeps into my mind: I just wonder if he’ll be keeping his commitment two months from now at school. In other words, “Will it last?”
Quickly I feel Holy Spirit conviction on my attitude. I recall where I’ve been reading in Luke about the lost sheep. In Luke 15 Jesus says,
“And there will be greater rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine other righteous men who need no repentance.
The thought hits me: There’s no one in Heaven right now saying “Will it last?” They are just rejoicing. And if they are rejoicing, so should we.
And then I think back to a young man in this same building in 1972. During the youth service God has spoken to many young people. Some have come forward to be saved. Others just like our big boy this summer have stepped forward to get some junk out of their lives. Others have come just with a desire to follow Jesus closer.
During this service nearly thirty years ago, one young man simply comes to the front to pray. The desire of his teen age heart is be surrendered completely to do whatever vocationally God wants Him to do. There is nothing sensational or even emotional about his decision. He is simply offering a blank check to God to be filled in as He wishes.
I’m sure someone thought, “I wonder if it’ll last?” Because of God’s faithfulness, that decision has stuck. Here’s how I know that- I was that young sixteen year old boy.
I’ve not always been what I should be but as I’ve sought God’s will each step of the way, God has graciously led me step by step. Never in my wildest imagination did I dream that my prayer at the front of the Tabernacle would lead me to leading this camp one day.
I hope in future times as I have the continued privilege of watching God work in young lives I will not become calloused or cynical of seeing young people make commitments. Our encouragement and support are what teens need as they make decisions to follow Jesus in a full way. What a privilege we have to be there for them.