For many people, an event like the National Youth Gathering is an extreme mountain-top experience. There are no words to adequately describe the power of seeing tens of thousands of youth and adults under the same roof for the same reason, to worship and serve the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Other mountain-top experiences can be servant events or mission trips, or a week at a Christian camp. The emotions associated with these experiences can have a lasting affect for weeks or months. And then comes the all too familiar valley experience. This devotion (which could also be used as a Bible study) will hopefully help you and your youth continue to walk in the presence of the Lord, even in the dark valleys of life. It is simply an outline, written to help guide you in your time with the youth. Please adapt to fit your group so the experience is more genuine for each participant.
Gather in a darkened room with as little light as possible. Say something to the effect of: “The Gathering (or servant event, mission trip, camp, etc.) was hopefully a faith-strengthening week. Some of us came not caring about the faith in our hearts, whether it was alive and well or almost dead. Others were struggling to keep their faith from drowning because of the struggles in this world. Some of us may have even been living our faith without any seemingly real issues, but this was still an amazing, powerful experience in our faith and life. After an event like this, the past often seems like a dark place, one where we really question whether we were walking with Christ and living as God’s child or not. Or we realize that there was more we wanted to work on in our life of faith. We have been given the light of faith and it seems like we can see everything clearly now. We are on this faith-high right now and we never want to lose this feeling, do we?” Continue to bring out real-life experiences on how the event brought them on top of the mountain. Have each youth explain what the experience did for them and how it has made them feel. As they are doing this, light a candle for each youth…or use battery-operated lights.
After each of the youth has had a chance to share, and the candles/lights are lit, make sure each youth has a Bible. Read Ephesians 5:1-14 (either have each person read a section or one person read the entire passage). Emphasize verses 13-14.
Play the David Crowder song, “Come Awake.” After the song, lights can be fully turned on in the room and candles can be extinguished
What is the song trying to tell us? It would seem from the lyrics that the song is about a person who has felt the strong weight of sin in their lives. They are seeing their need for a merciful God, the same God they have just experienced, and have experienced every day of our lives since our baptism. By the end of the song they seem to be on the same mountain-top experience as each of us is now feeling. We know this God. The character in the song knows this God as well, Jesus Christ, and because of this sees that he/she will be a light to shine upon the world.
Share some experiences of your life where you have felt the darkness of being in a valley. Also ask some youth if thy would be willing to share similar experiences. It is very important that youth know they are not the only ones to suffer through times of doubt and sin. They need to see strong members of the faith community who have suffered the same and are still people of strong faith. This does not mean you have to have open disclosure but be willing to share some aspects of your faith.
It is this concept that Paul has brought to the reader’s attention in his letter to the Ephesians. They have been given the gift of faith and forgiveness. They are strong children of God. Many of them were probably on the same mountain-top experience that we are currently going through. They could even look back on their lives of godlessness and know what it was to walk in the dark without God’s light. But Paul also knew what it was to be in the valleys of faith. He knew what it was to search for God in the darkest of times. It is during these times that this passage becomes so valuable! It shows us that no matter where we are–on a mountain top, in a valley, or somewhere in between–God’s light reaches those places. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can walk in that light where ever we are.
We have been called from death to life. Our sins have been forgiven. Just as we die in the death of Christ Jesus, now we live as Christ lives! We have seen the glorious light in Jesus Christ that shines throughout the world. But it also shines in each and every one of us. It is not just during these mountain-top times that God is closest to us. Jesus promised that He would never leave us or forsake us. As He said at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
It is this promise that will get us through this life. We know our salvation is secure in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. We know that we have been given the gift of a new life in Him through our Baptism. Paul exhorts us to live this life in this passage. There will be mountain-top experiences over and over again in life. Hopefully they will all leave a very long-lasting impression on you. But now that you have come awake, and you have seen the bright light of Christ, you are to carry that light throughout your daily walk, whether it is on the highest peak of your life, or the darkest valley where there seems to be no escape. We know our God walks with us, no matter where we are, and therefore, we can “walk as children of the light.” Just because our past may seem dark and without God, we know this simply isn’t true. Christ has always been with us, and will continue to do so. Our baptism brought us into the family of God, even during our times of doubt, and it is this promise that we cling to in our everyday lives.
One part of the mountain-top experience is the adrenaline rush one feels to go and do whatever it is they have just learned. After such experiences, youth can feel led to do mission trips, begin studies for professional church work, or simply strengthen their daily devotional life. Do not stifle these ideas, but support and encourage them. Hopefully, all the students will share with the group how they have seemed to grow in their faith during this mountain top experience.
Take this chance now to see how the youth are going to use the energy gained by this experience to go with that momentum for as long as possible. Have a brainstorming session on things the youth could do, by themselves, with their families, and with the congregation to continue showing the world the light of Christ. Remember, don’t stifle ideas the youth may have. This is a creative time where they can try new ideas for spreading the Gospel of Christ.
Pray that Christ will continue to shine through everyone who has been called awake in His Gospel.