They began arriving at camp in the late afternoon, each carrying not only the baggage required for a weekend retreat, but also the heavy load of burdens from their busy lives. The one hour drive out of the city had acted as a filter for some of their worries and concerns but mostly life's issues still clung tightly to their hearts. Many of these demands weighed more heavily than the suitcases and sleeping bags in the trunks of their cars. In making time in their busy schedules for this weekend it had been easier to mark the date on their calendars than the reality of life had allowed.
One by one they arrived. Their hosts worked diligently at getting them settled into the bunkhouses that would serve as their homes for the next two days. Conversations sprung up on issues of work and family. Everyone was brought up-to-date on each crisis and challenge. Illnesses, heartbreaks, celebrations, and achievements were shared with this group of friends that had grown close over the years.
This was a choir that had been brought together by their love of Christ and music. It was a choir that had reliably and diligently led worship services for their church for several years. They had been together for a long time, intimately growing to know one another's struggles and joys.
But it also was a choir that had grown weary of the work that seemed to lie endlessly before them. The purpose of the retreat was to give them an opportunity to rehearse the music that would be used in the coming Advent and Christmas season. No one seemed ready to begin yet another Christmas pageant. The threat of rehearsal schedules squeezed into the busy holiday season loomed heavier than most were ready to admit. The rehearsals were a necessary burden but many wondered if all the work was truly worth it.
With suitcases stored and everyone fed, the group gathered to meet as one for the first time. A few familiar songs were sung and then a devotional was presented by a non-choir member. In that talk they were reminded of the impact on lives their ministry held. A testimony of a heart turned to Christ by their dedicated spirit eased some of the burdens and lightened a few of the loads. Joy and laughter began replacing stories of worry and concern. Light-hearted teasing supplanted fatigue.
With the evening coming to a close and the new music heartedly approved, the campers found their way through the dark pathways to their cabins and prepared for rest with a remnant of worries and concerns still being voiced. A myriad of stars lit the way and the quiet of the forest calmed their minds. Unfamiliar beds were made, lights dimmed, and sleep settled in bringing with it an unexpected peace.
And then a new day dawned.
Slowly, as the sun's beams pierced the forest canopy, the campers arose. The crisp morning air filled their lungs with the cleansing smell of pine. The quiet of the mountain night gave way to the chatter of birds, crunching of gravel under hiker's feet, and clanging of a bell calling all to breakfast. As the day progressed conversations were more about the camp, the deer, and the trees then about the lives left behind in the city an hour away. They worked hard and laughed loudly. Joy returned and a glimmer of what the approaching season could bring opened their hearts and erased their reluctance.
All too quickly the camping experience drew to a close. Eyes turned back towards the issues waiting at home as the cars, one by one, made their way out of the camp. It was a short time together but the refreshing of their spirits was only surpassed by the renewal of purpose that filled their hearts. They knew that the task would be difficult and the hours long but assurance had come. It may be hard work but the joy of building God's kingdom and bringing the light of His love into the world for all to see and hear would be well worth it.
Glorious Father in Heaven: We sing songs of praise for you and you alone. Often times in life, our burdens begin to weigh us down to the point that we just want to give up. We are diligent and persistent in the ministries you have called us to perform and yet, as time passes, we often wonder if we are making any true difference in the world. We have worked hard and are deserving of some time off. Our thoughts turn inward and our desires to step aside and let your ministry drop to the side of the road grow. But then we are reminded who we are and what you have done for us. When we feel like giving up, Lord, send your Spirit into our hearts to strengthen our resolve and to reveal, once again, the glory you offer to the world. Show us that whatever you have called us to do it is a task worth our best efforts because it is by our endurance and perseverance where salvation becomes a reality. Thank you for your love. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior we pray, Amen.
1A Word That Sets Free, Mark Ellingsen, CSS Publishing Company, 2000, 0-7880-1725-X