What was your daily schedule like in the summer as a junior high student? Did you sleep in, eat junk food, goof around with friends for hours at the pool, stay up late playing Monopoly or video games, and try to forget most of what you learned in the last school year?
You wouldn’t be in bad company if that was your summer as a 12-year-old. Some variables change with time, maybe you had softball practice a few times a week and games on weekends, but for the most part, junior highers spend their summers living in a sweet spot between having gained enough freedom to have unsupervised fun and their lives being completely taken over by high school sports and clubs.
Recently, we took two big van loads of junior high students to Kansas City on a trip to serve and learn. While there, schedules looked a little different than most of our students’ standard summer itineraries. Every morning, we woke up early, ate breakfast together, and then studied the Bible. We prayed together and individually, and then we headed out to work as a group. While working, students were challenged to encourage each other. We asked our students to work hard; weeding gardens in the heat, organizing and moving truckloads of donated clothes, and separating thousands of pounds of onions and carrots into bags for distribution and bins for compost. Not only did they consistently rise to the challenge, but over 20 junior high students did it all with incredibly positive attitudes. Then we ate lunch together and worked more. Most days included lectures about the problems being tackled by the organizations we were working with. I watched 12-year-olds listen attentively day after day to things I was not exposed to until college. Learning about how to do charity in a way that affirms dignity in those on the receiving end, how and why the Bible asks us to do the kinds of work we were doing, the plight of refugees, and the ways the church is serving them in Kansas City, the massive numbers of food-insecure people, incarnational ministry, and so much more. Then we feasted together, some days on BBQ, some days on PBJs. In the evenings we had fun; hide and seek, playing in the park, basketball trick shots, drawing competitions, and anything fun that you can imagine without a screen. And as the night ran down, we circled up, journaled about our days, and talked about the things we were learning and the things God was showing us. We prayed and contemplated, then we slept.
If you’ve ever gone from not working out to working out, you can imagine how most of our students felt waking up after a day of this. But workouts a beginner could never complete become easy as an athlete’s body adjusts, and as our students joyfully attacked the next day with the same vigor, a change came over them more quickly than I could have imagined. Suddenly they wanted more. On day one there was a lot of forced rhythm in the schedule: “We are going to pray now” and “Let’s give it another 10 minutes before we take a break”. As quickly as the end of day two, students were the ones saying “We should pray for this” and “Give us another 10 minutes to finish our jobs”.
It amazes me how quickly the rhythms of offering up our bodies to God as an act of worship get their hooks into us. When we stop planning our schedules around gratifying our own desires and instead use our days to worship God by loving him and others, we change so quickly. On the fourth day of the trip, we pulled up to a garden in downtown Kansas City, ready to work. As we arrived, we got word that the person who was going to let us in and direct us for the day had canceled. So we walked to the locked garden gate, talked to the students about the effects of 40,000 residents of the county lacking access to a grocery store, and told the students we weren’t going to be able to do any work. A student raised his hand and said, “We can still pray, right?” and so we did. That suggestion is the words of a person whose day is an act of worship. They were wise words, unexpected to me as I was worrying about schedules and van rides and how to fill unscheduled free time, but the young man who suggested we pray was simply singing the next note in the song all of our students had been learning that week. We were here to serve others, how could we do that if we couldn’t get in? By praying, of course.
Eugene Peterson once wrote:
Worship does not satisfy our hunger for God-it whets our appetite. Our need for God is not taken care of by engaging in worship-it deepens.
This week forced me to ask the question, “Are my days acts of worshiping God, or am I filling my schedule to worship my own comforts”? Because what we worship forms us, drives us deeper, and leaves us wanting more and it does so quickly. We get to choose if our schedules are going to be formed to look like Jesus or if we are going to be formed to look like the world.