As promised, here are a few short thoughts about how to respond to your teenager after teen camp, especially in regards to their spiritual decisions.
Begin with the long-term perspective—Our view of spiritual decisions is often just too short. Every good decision of life begins with short-term challenges, but also bears long-term results at a “core-values” level. Even if a teen struggles with a decision in the few weeks after camp, that doesn’t negate the fact that a long-term value was established. The key is, encourage your teen to take the long-term view that they might not get discouraged with short-term struggles. For example, let’s say a teenager decided to start walking with God personally. We all know that teen will struggle with keeping that decision every single day. But the long-term value of walking with God has been established. If that teen can take the long view, and not get discouraged when a day or two is missed, he might still be walking with God twenty years from now. 2 Peter 3:18 says, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Growth is always a long-term proposition.
Recognize what real spiritual victory looks like—With many of our spiritual struggles, the victory is in the battle—it’s in staying in the fight. For example, just because I decide to have a good spirit towards my parents doesn’t mean I won’t ever have a struggle with them again. It means that I’ve decided to engage in the fight to maintain a good spirit or to restore one when I fail. Staying in the fight is the most important part of long-term victory. Many Christians give up too soon. It is for this reason that 1 Timothy 6:12 says, “Fight the good fight of faith” and Ephesians 6:13-14 says, “…having done all, to stand. Stand therefore…” Spiritual victory in this life involves staying in the fight no matter what.
Make decisions public and share with family—If you haven’t already, carve out some time to sit down and ask your teenager what God is doing in his life. Too often, parents are convicted by their teen’s decisions and actually criticize them or belittle them. Phrases like, “Well, we’ll see how long that lasts…” or “We’ll see if you really mean it” are discouraging. Sometimes within moments of getting back from a camp or retreat, family members start tearing down what God did in the heart. Hebrews 10:24 teaches us, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:” Be thankful if your teenager is taking a higher road than you’re taking. In fact, join them on the journey. You really won’t miss your bad music, rotten TV shows, or bad spirit. Usually teen camp decisions are good for the whole family.
Encourage each other in godly decisions—To make a spiritual decision is to step onto a battlefield. Nobody wants to go to war alone. If someone you love has chosen to fight a spiritual battle, fight with them. Pray, encourage, strengthen, and support them. 1 Peter 1:22 teaches us that we need fervent love in fighting the battle for purity, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:”
Renew decisions when you fail—It’s easy to spot failure. Within days of making a decision, often the devil has succeeded at getting us to fail. His ultimate goal is that we might give up. We really only lose when we quit fighting altogether. For this reason, remember the importance of getting back up. Any decision worth making is worth fighting for and worth getting back up for after failure. Proverbs 24:16 challenges us, “For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again…”
I started going to camp when I was 9 years old. For the past 31 years, I’ve been to camp nearly every year. Every year I’ve made decisions. And every year I’ve struggled to keep them. Over three decades, my life is much different than it would have been. The decisions held more than short-term value. The weeks of camp were more than just short-term spiritual pep rallies. They shaped me. They formed my future. They instilled passion. They infused courage to embrace big, direction-setting values. The short-term struggles of whether I kept a decision for a week or two is massively overshadowed by the collective value of deciding many times over to continue doing right and living for God. Each decision was another choice to stay in the fight.
Don’t be discouraged if you struggle to keep spiritual decisions. Just keep making them. Keep fighting the battle. You can never go wrong making a spiritual decision—even if you make it many times over! Teen camp results should really be measured in decades, not weeks. Maybe you’ve already struggled with a recent decision and the devil has started discouraging you. Now would be a great time to get back up and stay in the fight!