March 25, 2021
For the past few days, we’ve experienced déja vu, most especially for those who are in the “bubble” of NCR+. It’s been a little more than a year of being stuck at home.
To be honest, routine chores and activities in the corners of our home do not seem very spiritual. The things we consider to be spiritual—our devotional time, remote small group meetings, online worship services—which God gives to bring life to us, no longer seem appealing to our senses.
Reading the Bible is like staring at a class module. We start to wonder, “Does prayer even change anything?” Online youth services seem to offer nothing different. Why even bother attending small group meetings when you can’t laugh or cry together and exchange hugs? We grumble and cry, “Lord, can we just go back to the way it was? Can we have something new that would bring pleasure to our senses?” We look for goosebump moments from our online worship experience in order for us to feel that God is moving in our lives.
Nothing is wrong with wanting and experiencing goosebump moments. In fact, the social media hashtags were invented precisely because of those mountaintop experiences–life-changing moments worthy of celebration.
This is why we look back fondly on campus conferences, youth services, and youth camps. I personally experienced the reality of God’s glory as I sang and jumped my heart out along with hundreds of other students. I was overwhelmed with God’s love and power. That experience changed the way I saw God, and it was something I carried with me back to my boarding house that night. I went to look for a Bible so I could find the words to describe my feelings and to keep knowing who this God is. Before I went to sleep, I was humming the melody of the song that the crowd sang in unison that night.
That was a hashtag moment for me. I resolved that the next week I would be joining that crowd again. I wanted to celebrate God again, with the expectation that I would experience the same feelings. But then, summer vacation came. I found myself at home, separated from the people I worshipped God with.
A few days into my vacation, I found myself falling back into the same pattern of sin I was used to with the old crowd of people I was surrounded with. I felt like I was alone at home with nothing to celebrate and lots to complain about. Was my experience of God real or was it merely an illusion?
What I didn’t know at that time was that I cannot build my life on momentary celebrations, even on mountaintop experiences of God.
The Bible tells the story of the nation of Israel, a people God delivered from slavery in Egypt and promised to bring into a land of milk and honey. Prior to this great act of deliverance, God showed Himself mighty and powerful through a series of miracles, signs, and wonders before Pharaoh.
If social media had already existed and hashtags were popular, every encounter between Pharaoh and God’s miraculous powers could have been a series of hashtags: #NileRiverTurnsIntoBlood #IWalkedOnDryRedSea #ISurvivedTenPlagues. Those were high moments!
But it took just six weeks for the Israelites to change their anthem of praise to a chorus of complaints after seeing a great deliverance from God.
In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
Exodus 16:2–3 (NIV)
The miracles they experienced were not enough to sustain their hearts to cross the desert to the Promised Land. Their old patterns of thinking were not transformed by goosebumps and hashtag moments. Their daily walk in the desert revealed that they still desired the small pleasures of Egypt that cost them their freedom and bound them in slavery. Their hearts and their lives were not fully oriented towards God and His purposes.
Later on, God pointed out that their entire desert experience revealed their true hearts’ desires, leading them to understand that following Him and experiencing a changed life does not consist of temporary highs but of a consistent encounter with His word.
He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Deuteronomy 8:3 (NIV)
When I got back to school after summer break, one of the guys I met from the youth service I went to ran after me. He invited me to talk about God and His word, and I agreed. Our meetings were always quiet because we were in the library. There was no shouting, no jumping. We simply unpacked God’s word consistently, and I knew God was working deep in my heart. I learned to memorize by heart those same words God spoke to the Israelites, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
I learned to trust God’s word on a day-to-day basis, whether I felt like it is true or not, whether circumstances are favorable or not. I learned to set my hope on His kingdom and His purposes. I learned to walk with Him in the ever-changing seasons of life.
High emotional moments are good, but they are not our destination. Transformation happens as we choose to follow God’s presence every single day, even in the desert.
Don’t put your hope in the spike of your emotional moments. Rather, let those moments spark a desire in you to consistently do the things which reorient your heart and habits toward God’s kingdom and purposes.