. You should totally be jealous.
But even better than all of the fun games and girl talk and being silly, we got to learn about and worship God together. It was awesome to witness the spiritual growth of so many kids. Several of my girls said that this was the first time they truly felt God's presence and some of them were even moved to tears. I told them that it was my prayer for them to reflect on everything they had heard and learned and ask God to show them how to apply it all to their daily lives. I've been doing the same thing.
The theme of this retreat was HE must increase but i must decrease (John 3:30). We were reminded about how God uses unlikely people. All throughout the bible we see this. Paul, who once tortured and murdered Christians, went on to be one of God's most faithful servants. It's so easy to think that we are too ordinary or unequipped to be used by God, but He just wants us to be available and to be obedient. He takes care of the rest. The speaker used an illustration that really resonated with me. He referenced the scripture about the potter and the clay (Isaiah 64:8). I don't know about you, but I often lose sight of the fact that I am not my own potter. I have my own ideas of the person I want to be and the things I want to do and I forget that GOD is the one who designs my personality and my life and He is the most beautiful artist that ever was and is and is to be.
He not only uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things, but He is also at work in even the most unlikely areas of our lives. He meets us in every moment of every day. Even the boring or ugly or trivial ones. He is present in our struggles and grief. The speaker used Paul's suffering as an example. He was called spread the gospel. He was obedient to this calling but at a huge cost. He was beaten, imprisoned, and eventually killed for his beliefs. But while he was in prison he was able to share the gospel over 2,900 times to elite guards with a lot of influence and power. Many of these guards became believers and began sharing with others. Had he not been in prison he wouldn't have had this opportunity. God took a very unlikely place for hope and did great things. He promises that in all things He works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), even when we don't understand. The "good" might not seem so "good" to us in the moment (or ever) and we may not understand why we have hurt and pain in this life. But the point is that we shouldn't be focusing on this life. We should trust God's promises and by shifting our focus toward Him and off of our circumstances, He increases and we decrease.
Finally, we were reminded that as believers we are called to be a light for Jesus in the darkness around us. That our actions of our life should scream His name. Jesus encourages us in the Sermon on the Mount to go against the grain -- to do things others might not consider normal -- to be unique in a way that may have never been done before and respond in unlikely ways. So that we are living out the gospel in our daily lives where our actions seem refreshing and point others to God. Do I turn the other cheek when I'm hurt by someone? Do I love my enemies? Do I fill-in-the-blank-with-other-Godly-character-traits? Being humble and having a servant's heart does not always come naturally to me (okay, rarely comes naturally to me!). But the steps to growing our faith through the sanctification process is not difficult.
2) Read your bible.
That's it! Those two steps, when done consistently and faithfully, are all we need to stay focused on God. The speaker had a good tip that I think I'm going to use. He suggested putting your bible on the threshold of your bedroom door at night so that each morning you physically have to step over it as you leave your room. He said it's his way of holding himself accountable to reading before he starts his day. He also suggested putting a rock in your pillowcase if you're more of a night-time reader. As you go to lie down at night you'll feel the rock and remember to pick up your bible. Because it's hard to not feel convicted as you think I just don't have time for you right now, God. Ha. But that really is what we are saying to Him when he gets shuffled to the back burner. I know I am extremely guilty of doing that.
Very thankful for this weekend retreat. And also very thankful for a God who pours his love and mercy and grace on us because I definitely need it!