Each year during Christmas break, our high school juniors and seniors go on a mission trip. It’s a push-them-outside-their-box evangelistic trip that brings together all the things we love about mission trips. It’s hard, exhausting, Spirit-filled, eye-opening, and full of laughter. We’ve done this trip for quite a few years so I know what’s coming, at least as much as I can, so all year I keep my eyes open for ideas, inspiration, and guidance on how to lead them spiritually while they serve Jesus.
Every other night while we are there, we have an intense time of worship and sharing. The others are spent playing cards and games, practical jokes, and in small quiet conversations. The last intense night, which seems to hit right around New Year’s Eve, is all about surrender. We are tired, emotional, elated, and connected so now is the time to “go for the heart”. If you’ve been in ministry for any amount of time, you know about those heart moments. They are those amazing times when students and leaders’ hearts are vulnerable, ready, and open to whatever God may have for them. It’s up to us to lead well in that moment.
What amazes me is that after 17 years of this trip, as I lead our group to that heart moment, I discover that I still have things to surrender. Really? Seriously? 17 times and there’s still more? Yup. Each year I feel like this is it, the last piece of the luggage, yet God shows me something more. When Shrek tells Donkey “Ogres are like onions” meaning that you have to peel back the layers, he was absolutely right. And, like an onion, the inner layers are tighter, closer to the heart of the onion, and in many ways thicker. Can you relate? How many times have you lead a lesson only to realize it was meant for you?
The past couple of years, I’ve used the following story to set up our surrender night. Mark Batterson takes this perspective in The Circle Maker and as I read it I realized it was what we needed for our night in Mexico and maybe you need to remember this today.
You know the story of Moses. Hebrew to Prince of Egypt, murderer to family man and shepherd. When he’s 80, God moves. Moses stands before the burning bush and God asks him to throw down his staff.
Then the Lord asked him, “What is that in your hand?”
“A shepherd’s staff,” Moses replied.
“Throw it down on the ground,” the Lord told him. Ex. 4:2-3a
Seems simple, yet this small question is the critical moment in the life of Moses. God asks, what’s in your hand? Not because he doesn’t know, but because of what it represents. This is really so much more than a stick. That staff represents Moses; his job, his family, his escape, his identity. God is telling him, give me all that you are. I’m going to redefine you. I need you to surrender your plan for mine. I need you to drop what you are holding onto so tightly. I ask students to define what’s in their hands? Moses drops the staff, we need to drop ours.
The bush is burning, shoes are off, and a voice is speaking – and it’s God! For Moses, it’s a moment of surrender, of holiness. In the story, Moses’ staff turns into a snake and God asks him to pick it back up. I think this is important. When we surrender our family, our ministry, our finances, or whatever it is for you God doesn’t always make them go away. He changes them, shows his power in them, and empowers us to walk in them. We just need to remember who owns the staff. Yet, this isn’t the end for the growth for Moses. He isn’t done. Over the years of leading the Israelites, we see the onion layers of Moses’ surrender continue to peel back as he stands before Pharaoh, walks through the Red Sea, and deals with leadership.
What are you holding tightly to?
What do you need to throw down?
What’s defining you, confining you, or distracting you?
Leaders learn. Leaders grow. As you begin this New Year, may you continue to discover the wonder of surrender as you see God at work, walk through ministry, and deal with leadership. You have layers, but maybe they’re more like cake than onions. May you surrender over and over as you discover new layers that need to be His.
Image attribution: Aksenovko / Thinkstock