Why Do Spiritual Highs Fade?
Why does rededicating your life do so little in the way of rededicating?
Every year at Christian camps, conferences, and other events, kids, teens, and adults get fired up and often tearfully rededicate their lives, claim victory over pornography, over marital strife or anger, and resolve to give Christ their all. However, within months, weeks, sometimes even days, the resolve weakens and crumbles before the onslaught of the return to everyday life.
This past summer I was a camp counselor to eight boys. Most of them tearfully rededicated their life on a “decision night.” Afterward, I tried to stay in contact with them, asking them how I could pray for them. And I observed how the pattern repeated itself: some fell back into old sins, others hadn’t read their Bible for a month. But thank God, next summer they will be back at camp and get it right this time . . . right?
Why do Christian events have a nearly miraculous ability to apparently free us from sin for a week, and more importantly why does it not last?
What Drives the Highs?
First, why does the atmosphere of Christian events seem to enable us to take steps in our spiritual life? What drives the “camp high”?
There can often be many factors that make these environments particularly impactful on us. Sometimes, it’s simply the highly emotional atmosphere of a conference or retreat, the moving music that’s played, the camaraderie and fellowship with fellow attendees, the prospect of being free from the negative effects of our sin.
But you don’t have to be a Christian to love any of these things. At one point in his ministry, Jesus himself rebuked a massive crowd of his own followers because they were “fired up” for reasons that had nothing to do with seeing his beauty or his glory — they just enjoyed seeing Jesus’s miracles (John 6:25–27).
So, if there is to be any lasting effect from these events and experiences, it must have at the bottom seeing and savoring Jesus Christ — and this is often what camps, conferences, and events provide. Anything of true, durable worth from these experiences comes from seeing God clearly as he really is. This can come from sermons, or discussions, or singing in worship, or late night conversations, prayers, and devotions.
When we see the light of the glory of Christ most clearly, the things of this world seem dim and worthless by comparison. Why have sin, good as it may look, when we can have Christ?
What Causes the Crash?
A house does not fall if its foundation is firm (Matthew 7:25). A tree does not wither when its roots are deep enough to reach water (Psalm 1:1–3). So, when the house of our spiritual life and our war against sin comes crumbling down or withers, we should ask ourselves, “Why?”
The answer is simple: we are not seeing God. If our sight of God and our worship is dependent on the conference center, or the high-energy sermons, or the packed crowd, or the worship band, our spiritual lives will fall apart again when these things are taken away. The house falls because the foundation is destroyed or, more accurately, because the foundation is weak.
Prepare for War
Jesus warns of those who receive the word of God with gladness, but then fall away because they have no root (Mark 4:16–17). This is the danger that we face. After hearing the word with gladness, how do we go on to produce the fruit of righteousness (Mark 4:20)? How do we cultivate joy in Christ at home, away from the training wheels and spiritual crutches of youth camp? The first step is to prepare for war.
Striving to rejoice in the glory of God is an act of rebellion against Satan’s dominion over this world (1 John 5:19), and rebellion against our very own fallen flesh (Romans 3:11). Paul likens us to soldiers in a war, where we are at risk of entangling ourselves in civilian pursuits (2 Timothy 2:4). Therefore, we must put off the false security of an emotionally charged decision, made at the last camp or conference, and realize that there is a war being waged over our souls.
As John Owen writes, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” Allowing ourselves to be lulled into idleness and complacency, because of our confidence in a “rededication,” is like stripping ourselves of our armor mid-battle.
There is a far more intimate connection between our understanding and sight of the truth than most of us realize. Satan’s most insidious method for drawing people away from Christ is blinding them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4). The war in the mind is fought by seeing and rejoicing in the truth. It is fought by putting our mind to the task of knowing the Lord more fully. Our desire is to know him and the power of his resurrection so that we may take up our own cross and follow him (Philippians 3:10).
God himself has given very ordinary ways to provide this grace for us: we sing together (Ephesians 5:19), we come together regularly to worship Jesus and to hear his word preached (2 Timothy 4:2; Hebrews 10:25), to enjoy the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23–26), to pray (Acts 2:42).
Beyond these, there are very practical steps we may take to see more of Jesus. It may mean turning off the television if it clogs our spiritual vision. It may mean taking time to read theology. It may begin with taking time to listen to sermons that further our understanding of the word or taking time to read books that increase our sight of God and taking time to worship and pray and to meditate on the person of Christ.
The bottom line is, do whatever it takes to see Jesus more clearly.
The Effects of Sight
The clearer our vision of a holy God is, the more it drives us to our knees by the sight of our own sin. The clearer our vision of our sin becomes, the deeper is our sight of God’s mercy and grace through Christ. The deeper we understand his mercy and grace, the more we are amazed by the beauty of this God, the Creator of the universe. For “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4).
And as we are amazed by the beauty of God, the more willing we become to take up our cross and lose everything to be with him (Mark 8:34; Philippians 3:8) — troubles and suffering cannot pull us away from the priceless treasure we’ve found (Matthew 13:44–46; Mark 4:17). Therefore, let us “worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness” and press onward to see and to know him in the full array of his majestic beauty (Psalm 96:9; Hosea 6:3).