When I mention school camps, what comes to mind?
It is a surprisingly polarizing question. For many, the question elicits fond memories of friendship and fun. For others, the idea of forced camping with their school peers brings forth anxiety-inducing flashbacks of bad food, smelly cabins, and being ‘pushed outside their comfort zones’.
It’s no different for educators. Most teachers dread school camps with a passion usually reserved for European football fans. While others, like myself, revel in the idea of ripping a bunch of teenagers away from their smartphones, chucking them in the bush, and making them solve physical puzzles together. Seeing the change that can happen in a well-run, three-day camp program, has to be seen to be believed. And for a guy like myself, who lives to see people grow and achieve more than they thought they could, it is like Christmas morning.
If you experience enough camps though, you start to see a pattern. Regardless of the group size, age, or individual personalities, school camps generally take the same path. On the first day the teenagers, many of whom are already in screen-withdrawal and were forced to attend the camp against their will, spend the activities bickering about nothing.
They spend their time and energy fighting each other, rather than focusing on the task at hand. I remember one camp where a young lady refused to help her team finish a task because she didn’t want to hold the hand of another young lady because three years earlier, they had a fight about something that neither of them can remember. From the outside it was a meaningless distraction, but for the girls involved, it was all-consuming. Predictably, by the end of the first day, everyone is tired and frustrated.
The second day, however, is where the magic happens. Like clockwork, the teenagers shift gear. Reflecting on the disaster of the day before, and too tired to waste energy, the individual young people begin to focus on the task at hand. The more they focus on the object of the activity, the less they fight, the more they look out for each other, and the more success they obtain. There is less pettiness, selfishness, and immaturity. Students, who a day earlier wouldn’t make the slightest effort to help their peers, are now their biggest champions.
By the third day, teachers and instructors notice giant leaps in maturity and character. For some teenagers, the experience is day-and-night. For many, the camp becomes a touchstone in their development and growth as young adults. Without realizing it, they have learnt the power of Stephen Covey’s famous quote, “keep the main thing the main thing”.
These young people can teach us a thing or two. It’s sad to think how many times in my walk with God where I’ve been distracted by the same pettiness, selfishness, and immaturity that I so haughtily look down on my students for reveling in. So many times, I’ve wasted time and energy on trivial matters, on issues and distractions that ultimately do not matter. Why? Because I failed to keep the main thing the main thing.
As a Christian the main thing is simple
Jesus commands us to…“Love God with all your Heart, Mind, and Soul… and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). Just like school camp where the instructors set tasks for the students grow, Jesus gives us these commandments for our benefit and for His glory. When we pour our time, energy, and resource into the main thing, we don’t have anything left for the petty, the selfish, and the immature things of life. The things that ultimately lead to our death and destruction.
When we follow the words of Jesus, and keep the main thing the main thing, we become more fruitful, and ultimately, more like Him. When we are more like Him (and filled with His spirit) we are able to fight against the tendency to wander down the rabbit holes of the enemy's distraction. Jesus becomes our desire.
So, you may ask, how do we keep the main thing the main thing? How do we stay focused on loving God and loving people, so that we don’t follow the distractions of the world? Life isn’t a simple camp activity, and everyone’s walk with God is unique, but there are some habits that you can incorporate into your day-to-day to stay aligned with the call of Christ.
1. Read His Word
It might sound cliché, but the best way to stay focused on Christ, is to get to know him. The best way to get to know someone is to spend time with them. Reading the Bible is the equivalent of sitting with Jesus over a cold-one (or a coffee for the Baptists) and listening to Him talk about life. The Word will always refresh you and keep you focused on Him, because as you read, He pours Himself into you.
This is your opportunity to talk with Jesus. Starting the day with prayer, usually while walking the dog or driving to work, is a habit I’m trying to keep. It’s in this time where I thank God for the day before and ask him to give me what I need for the day ahead. It’s when I specifically ask Him to keep me focused on keeping the main thing the main thing. You’ll be amazed at how often God answers prayers that align with what He has already called you to do. During the day I am constantly praying for God’s help or thanking Him for a win. As someone who works in education, prayer isn’t optional, it is a necessity.
3. Look for Opportunities
Essentially the main thing is to Love God and Love people. Both of those commandments are actions, things for us to do, not just things to think about doing. We need to look for opportunities to put these commandments into action. We need to be vigilant for ways we can love others. They don’t have to be large, extravagant gestures like Oprah giving away cars, its the small acts of kindness like an encouraging text message or mowing the neighbor’s lawn that make others feel loved.
4. Join a Church
When we surround ourselves with other Christians, all striving to keep the main thing the main thing, our ability to stay focused improves dramatically. As Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another”. When we join a team of other Christians, we find encouragement, advice, strength, and motivation to stay the course. Any Christian who thinks they can stay the course without the help of a team of Christians is kidding themselves. If you’re not currently part of a church, not just attend but planted in a church, then find one quick.
Just like our young campers, its easy to fall into the distractions of the world. Spending our time and energy on petty issues, selfish desires, and immature ideas.
But when we focus our all on the task in front of us, on keeping the main thing the main thing, the small-mindedness blows away like chaff in the wind. Be encouraged, none of us have this down pat, but allow an Olympic theme verse to bolster you “… let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…” Hebrews 12:1-2.
Jason Gay is an Educational Leader in regional Queensland. Loving husband and father of four, Jason is passionate about seeing all generations equipped with everything they need for a successful and fulfilling life. He writes about politics, theology, and the big ideas of life.