From Aug 13th-16th, I had the opportunity to serve as leader at a youth church retreat. However, I want to share a story – a story of someone who will be called Mark.
Upon getting on the bus to go to the retreat center, I knew Mark was different. Unlike the other kids who all gave up their phones, he refused to give up his. He also didn’t want anyone to sit next to him, regardless of the bus being full. I eventually forced myself into the seat beside him, exclaiming that by the end of the bus ride we would be best friends. He responded by saying he hated me; I don’t necessarily blame him. I probably freaked the kid out and was extra someway or another.
Quickly, I found out we both shared lots of similarities. We both went to Murchison Middle School, we both watched Naruto, and we both liked sports. And then, he started to share more.
Little did I know that Mark moved from place to place, school to school, difficulty to difficulty. Mark’s step-father was in the army, which caused his family to move often. Instead of going to one elementary school, Mark went to five. He described for 1.5 hours how he struggled with friends, loneliness, and an unstable family life. Later, I found out that Mark’s biological father passed away when Mark was starting elementary school.
That night, we had our first worship service of the retreat. After a couple of songs, I looked to my side and I noticed Mark. I saw Mark on his knees with his hands lifted high. I saw Mark singing praises to Jesus. Despite all the brokenness, the emptiness, the pain Mark had encountered, I saw Mark overwhelmed by Jesus’ bountiful love for him – a love that continues to overcome all struggles, all doubts, all confusion, and all pain.
Mark was known to be a kid who skipped worship regularly on Sundays. However, the Sunday after coming back from the retreat, I heard he went to the front row in the service hall to worship, praise, and learn more about our Father.
But, this story is not unique to just Mark. At the retreat, I heard stories of individuals who struggled with self-worth and loneliness. I heard stories of individuals who struggled with domestic abuse in their family. I heard stories of individuals who had lost a close friend or family member. I heard stories of individuals who lived far away from their parents or witnessed divorce. I heard stories of individuals who lost a parent to cancer.
Yet, the result was the same; every individual found joy in Jesus Christ. Their joy was not just exemplified in singing, but also in jumping, smiling, and dancing to God.
I don’t think any worldly explanation, such as time or being with friends, is suffice. Rather, I believe that the only explanation for this joy is the one story behind all stories.
A story about how God so loved us that He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to die for our sins so we could have eternal life and joy with Him forever in heaven. A story of salvation that is not based on how we behave, or our grades, or our worst acts, or how well we follow religious rules, but is solely based on Jesus’ death and resurrection. A story of adoption in which God calls us beloved sons and daughters with all debts paid and all records of wrongs erased. A story of an infinite God whose love is never exhausted, whose expertise is the impossible, and whose heart is obsessed with you and me.
Only a heart like that can bring broken people to be that joyful.
Only a heart like that can revive dead people to life.
That heart is the heart of Jesus Christ.
Dear Heavenly Father,
God, I just praise you. God, I want to worship you. Lord, how great are your works. How great is your love for us that you would send your one and only send to die for us. Jesus, we can never box you in because you love us more than we can ever imagine.
Thank you for reminding me of how you are a Father and how we are sons and daughters who do not need to perform our way to worthiness. Thank you for rescuing us when we were lost. Thank you for embracing us before we even apologized. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to see the next generation grow to love you, love people, and spread the Gospel.
God we say yes to you.
In His glorious and powerful name,