We may have all sorts of ways of combatting writer’s block in the classroom, but when the stakes are high and we’re working in the real world, all these devices fall short. The ultimate solution to writer’s block (or speaker’s block) is crying out to the Giver of the message of life. And when God chooses the topic, He underscores it and drives it home in ways far beyond our own feeble efforts, as I found out last month at camp.
I hit command-S to save the last PowerPoint presentation. After a month of fairly intense preparation, I finally had an outline for the nine Bible hours I had agreed to share at girls’ camp. But even as I shut the computer, I had an uncomfortable feeling that my outline was not yet the outline that God had in mind for me.
I had been assigned a topic: “After God’s Heart.” My initial attempts at content centered on the word heart. But that hadn’t felt right. I jettisoned the idea after Beth shared with me her vision for Bible hour. “Use Bible stories,” she encouraged me. “Merv talked to some of the guys who came to camp years ago. They said the one thing they remembered was the Bible stories they heard.” So I nixed the heart-topic idea and began digging into the life of David, looking for ways to center the week on stories.
Of course the most famous David story is his fight with the giant. As I meditated on the powerful truths revealed in that epic tale, a seed of a new idea began to form in my mind. What if I made a huge cardboard giant and had all the girls write on the cardboard giant all the giants they faced? The theme could be conquering the giants. Not just the giants we think of like fear and anxiety, but the big giants the Bible talks about: the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Over the next weeks a new set of PowerPoints began to fill my “Camp2015” folder: sessions about the giants taking over the world, about Jesus the great Giant Killer, and about His offer to free us from our giants. But as I finished this series, I knew something was still wrong. “The emphasis is too much on the giants,” I mused. “Somehow that can’t be the emphasis of camp.”
I continued to pray and to request prayer when I had opportunities. One week before the actual camp kickoff, I still had no outline to give the directors and counselors. But I did have a new phrase that was fermenting in my mind: “The key to killing giants is found in the Secret Place.” I didn’t quite know how that phrase would flesh out, but I sensed I was getting closer to the message God wanted the girls to hear.
At our camp orientation, I sat down at a big conference table with the twenty counselors and various support staff who would be in the trenches at camp. In front of me, printed on orange cardstock, was the Bible memory passage that had been chosen for the week. I picked it up and began to read:
The Lord is my light and my salvation, so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?
“We don’t need to fear the giants,” I paraphrased to myself. I kept reading. The last verse on the card said:
My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming.’
I felt the thrill that accompanies the realization that God is speaking. The giants will fall—if we’re meeting God in the Secret Place. I left orientation encouraged that I was on the right track, but still praying for revelation.
The next day I was cleaning out my paintbrush after a long day of work when I had a sudden strong impression that I should attend the Gateway equipping service that evening. I had often heard of the service, but never attended. As I cleaned up and ate supper, the impression was so heavy that I felt it would have been blatant disobedience to stay at home. So I jumped in my minivan and drove to Ephrata.
I arrived a little before the start of the message. Luke Weaver began by saying that he would be speaking on spiritual authority in prayer for the next few weeks. That particular evening he would focus on the source of authority: our relationship with God. I listened intently as he took us to many different Scriptures, but you can imagine how Matthew 6 jumped out at me. “Pray to your Father in the Secret Place,” his translation read. “Authority to kill giants comes from the Secret Place,” I mused. I left Gateway that evening with a strong conviction that I knew what God wanted me to share.
A few days later on the way down to camp I stopped at a house of some some friends and they helped me strap a huge bundle of bamboo on my minivan roof. Besides pieces of my massive cardboard giant, my trunk held a framed picture of a little girl resting her head on Jesus’ shoulder. The giant would not be the focal point of this week at camp.
When I arrived at camp one of the directors helped me nail up the 10-foot glowering giant. He stood off to the side of the chapel. But front and center on the stage we built a little bamboo sanctuary. We added a few lace curtains, a kneeling bench, the picture of Jesus with the little girl, and a chalkboard that said “Lovers love to be alone.” There was a giant to slay—and a Secret Place in which to meet the Source of giant-slaying power.
As the week unfolded, I shared the story of David defeating the giant. I told the girls it was David’s relationship with God that made the victory possible, and that the relationship was nurtured by many hours alone with only God and the sheep. I shared about the relationship God created us for, the separation brought on by the fall, and the restoration of the relationship made possible by Jesus’ death. Then I shared a modified wedding vow, telling the girls that in order to enter relationship with Jesus they must forsake all others and keep themselves for Him alone. Finally I shared the need to cultivate intimacy with God through daily disciplines and obedience and God’s willingness to receive us back into relationship even when we have been wayward. (I used David and Bathsheba.) Friday I ended up with a call to leave the Secret Place to defeat our giants and to share the Good News.
That was Bible hour. But God was busy underscoring the theme in many other ways. Tuesday evening we played our traditional night game, but this year the directors added a twist. All the soldiers in the game were told they were not allowed to arrest any girl within five feet of her counselor. The girls and counselors, however, were not given this information. All they were told was that the counselors could not be arrested.
The woods were soon filled with shrieking girls. Whenever the guards roared in, girls scattered everywhere, and the prison was soon filled. My role in the game was to be a missionary. After the game had gone on for a bit, I began approaching some of the younger campers. “Did you know your counselor cannot be arrested?” I would ask.
“Yes,” they would reply.
“What do you think would happen if you held your counselor’s hand next time the guards came?” I would suggest.
It didn’t take long for all the campers to figure out the strategy. Suddenly when the guards appeared no one scattered. Instead the girls formed tight little clumps around their counselors. As the game neared its end, the guards were pacing about in frustration. “We can’t do anything,” they complained.
My heart rejoiced. The key to overcoming the giants (or the guards) was hanging tight to Jesus in the Secret Place. Only God could have orchestrated such beautiful imagery for the theme He was revealing to us.
But God wasn’t finished. Wednesday evening we had a special speaker scheduled to come in, but she was sick and couldn’t make it. So impromptu someone else consented to come, and she chose to share the way that she began to feel God in her heart rather than just knowing Him in her head. She said that as she allowed Him to be part of every day and every emotion she felt the big things in her life didn’t seem so big. Although she didn’t say it in so many ways, she was describing how her giants fell as she cultivated her relationship with God.
And then Thursday night at the campfire a couple girls shared testimonies of God’s work in their lives. One of the counselors shared a powerful story of how the giant of bitterness fell in her life when she began to accept God’s offer to be her Father. The key to killing the giants was in the Secret Place.
As the girls and counselors memorized their Bible memory they were awarded T-shirts as prizes. The shirt had been designed by Camp Andrews with no input from our directors, but on the back of the shirt was Psalm 23:4: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” The key to killing the giants was relationship—relationship flowing from the Secret Place.
I left the week of camp in utter awe of a God who orchestrates His message for His children in ways we never could. I had not been the originator of this message: only the carrier. And in the carrying I myself had heard from God. I left camp with a renewed desire to live free of giants—and to cultivate the relationship with God that would make that possible.