Jennifer Camp, co-founder of Gather Ministries, and author of Loop, grew up in the middle of an almond orchard in Northern California and now lives in the busy Bay Area with her husband and three kids. A former high school English teacher, she loves to write, but she especially loves to encourage people to seek and live out the truth of their story, their identity in Christ. You can find her writing at her blog, Jennifer J. Camp .You can connect with Jennifer on both Facebook and Twitter. She would love to have you join her there.
The five of us return from Kenya today–a mission trip with a team of twenty-four others people, adults and kids. I scratch out these words on the plane ride home, my thirteen year old son asleep on my right. Two of us in the family are sick now, but they both will tell you the experience was worth it.
When you spend a week with a few hundred orphaned children, ages three to fourteen–and you see how they are loved and how they know they are loved–you can’t help but be forever changed.
The Holy Spirit inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3). And a desperation for God is magnified in rejoicing and in truth and in song. Our team leader, Monte, led us with one main objective–give God our heart, trust Him with it, watch Him lead us, and then love on these kids.
And my heart was broken wide, which surprised me. For I remember, before the trip, thinking, how can something so amazing happen with such a simple promise: “Love these kids, and be forever changed”?
How do we let God make our hearts break?
During our time with the kids there were no construction projects, no Vacation Bible School, no set schedule or plan other than this: be open, listen to God’s whispers, let Him lead, notice what He is showing us–about Himself, about His children, about love. And that is what we did.
We joined the kids at their school each morning at 8 am. We visited their classrooms and supported the teachers in the lessons. We played with the children; we joined in their games. We sat and listened and encouraged the teens telling of their stories. And yes, we fell in love with them.
These orphans own nothing of monetary value–their notebooks, filled with hundreds of pages of notes and instruction, are stuffed in weathered backpacks with broken zippers or disintegrating plastic shopping bags stored on the floor underneath their desks. Many wear uniforms ripped and torn or falling apart. Socks have holes in the heels where the foot rubs the back of the shoe.
All of the students have either no family at all who take care of them, or a mom who is unable, due to the difficulty of women getting jobs, to provide funds for her child to go to school. But there is love in this school, and joy here. The kids and the teachers are a family, and they worship God with a gratitude and a freedom unlike anything else I have ever seen.
The children’s passion for learning–their determination to persevere, their commitment to giving everything their all–comes from a gratitude to God for what He gives.
Oh, they are loved and they know it.
Friday morning the team stuffs itself into one of the classrooms to worship with the kids. The children lead–their voices exuberant and beautiful and loud. It is a cacophony of jubilation–of singing, one song blending into another, and dancing and clapping and jumping and laughing. Here, in that room, we glimpse the kingdom of God. Brothers and sisters basking in the delight of the Father.
Behind me, I feel my husband, Justin, place his hands on my shoulders. We feel the Spirit moving and we can hardly stand for the joy that fills this place.
Justin tells me later he asked God, just for fun, how much He loves this moment–this moment of children and teens singing and dancing and shouting out praise. And that is when Justin, the Spirit rushing over him, almost falls down. The Father is ever-present with us. In His kindness, He helps increase our awareness of Him. He pours out His love on His children who know Him and love Him and adore Him– expressing themselves in praise.
Yes, this is when God’s Spirit comes even more, rushing in.
When we are present to God’s love–open and eager to receive it–we will not be disappointed.
Saturday morning, a few hours before we begin the eight-hour bus ride to Nairobi and the 18 hour plane rides home, we sit and process together what God has been doing in our hearts this trip. We listen for God’s voice, and this is what I hear Him say to me about the children and the Achungo School:
“This is a holy place. I am praised here. I am known here. I hold my children close. These children work hard, and they give Me the glory. They know they are loved. They know they are not forgotten. There is no striving–only gratefulness. They respond–the work of their lives–with gratefulness. So their hearts are protected. . . When they leave the grounds of Achungo, it is important that they take Me with them. For they will feel less protected. They will be distracted.
Remember what is true. For in my truth they will carry themselves, my message, as my light-bearers, all over the world.”
And then I ask God what my role is here, in going forward, after this trip. And this is where it gets personal:
“Be protected with my truth. And walk in my truth. And spread and uphold my truth. And be my light-bearer in the world.
Pesilia [one of the teen girls with whom I connected] called you a mother. Be a light in how you mother. Uphold my truth in how you mother. And work from a heart of gratefulness for what I give you. I uphold my name in your home, and I send my angels to guard your home. Keep my name sacred. Practice Sabbath and keep it holy. Rest in Me–and then work hard, with zeal, knowing that you work from a plce of abundance and not scarcity.
Let yourself be filled by Me. This is your main job–and then you love. And you feel freedom–the joy of your Lord in you.”
I come home sleep-deprived and heart restored. Sometimes it takes stepping out of my ordinary, too-busy-for-distraction life to appreciate a different way to see, a truer way to love.
My heart continues to ponder what God has for me to learn from this visit to Kenya. Those children have changed me, and my heart is heavy. I miss them. What more are you doing, God?
Heading off on an adventure with no script, trusting God to guide us, might help our hearts pay attention to what matters most.
What adventure are you saying yes to? What is God showing you?
The book looks worn already. And I’ve had it just a few weeks. Pages dog-eared and stuck with post-its. Sentences penciled under, words I want to keep close and not forget.
Paul Pastor is an editor and a writer. He is an artist, and a listener. His first book, The Face of the Deep: Exploring the Mysterious Person of the Holy Spirit, reawakens me to the role of the Holy Spirit in my life. And his latest book, The Listening Way: Meditations on the Way, Vol 1, published in April, inspires me to lean in close to God. Come on in. Listen. Come on in.
What can be better than that?
I love how Paul Pastor listens for God’s voice as he edits and writes (fun fact: Paul was my most-amazing editor for Breathing Eden). He is thoughtful and kind, witty and wise. He is a person you want to hang out with and ask the good stuff. And I wanted you to meet him.
I wanted to ask him how he hears God–how he listens for him, how he spends time with Him, how he hears His voice. And I also wanted to give you a chance to win a copy of his newest book, which I know you’ll love.
So, go and grab yourself something delicious to drink. . . . and then come back to read my interview with Paul. After the post, I’ll give you all the details about how to enter the giveaway to win your own copy of The Listening Day! (Paul is being super generous and giving away five copies!)
Here we go:
What a great question. I work to “practice the presence” of God in the middle of my daily life and routine. This means being aware that God is always present with me, and that he invites me to be present with him, here and now. While I love to set time aside specifically for prayer or other connection, I honestly find that my richest times with God are usually the ones where my hands are busy—washing dishes, weeding our rambling garden, driving, chopping firewood—but my mind and heart are at rest.
I’m slowly getting better about this kind of awareness. Living in God’s presence in all of life gets more natural the more I do it, but I can’t say it’s easy for me yet. It’s not.
There are two categories of obstacles for me: external and internal. The external ones are what we typically think of as distractions: the buzzing phone, details about work or money, stress, frustrating events, and so on. Those are the things that can pull my “eye” away from God because something right up in my face is demanding my attention.
But the internal distractions are much more subtle, and harder to fight. They are distractions that I often don’t recognize as distractions—things like personal insecurity, fears about the worth or value of my work or ministry, pride, patterns of sin or unhealthy thinking, routine exhaustion, and so on. Those are what threaten to pull my “heart” away from God. Those are the deep distractors.
How do I pull myself back? I don’t, mostly. He does. Practicing his presence means that he joins me in those places, or perhaps I join him, or perhaps a bit of both. Every so often I snap out of whatever cycle of distraction I’m in to recognize that I am missing an opportunity to be fully with him. But that “snapping out” is usually his work, I just catch up with him eventually, and say “ok.”
I am learning though, that I am much more likely to “snap out” when I am living a life that is trying to bring together my body, mind, and soul into the same time, place, and project. When I live as a unified person, a unified Christian.
Man, we get so scattered and distracted. We dilute our attention, often on purpose. It keeps us from being people of intention, focus, power, and originality. It saps us. Unifying ourselves under Jesus’s blood and the Father’s will is life-changing.
God’s voice is the personal communication of his Spirit to his people. It’s mostly (but not always) a metaphor.
We “hear” his Spirit in four main ways: through the holy writings in the Bible, through the inner voice of the Holy Spirit, through nature (what one old theologian called God’s “eternal law” expressed in the created world), and through the words and actions of other people. Those avenues all complement one another and work together to be avenues for God to speak—really personally speak—to us.
Anyone can hear the voice of God, and I think everyone does, at some point, though most of us are “educated” and trained to ignore it, and have to re-learn what it sounds like.
To simply live in the world the Creator has made is to hear and understand so much of his heart and mind. Each one of us is made in his image—so the voice of God, in one sense, speaks in the native tongue of our souls. But we have forgotten it, and have forgotten that we have forgotten it.
God loves each of his children, has blessed and redeemed us in his son Jesus, and speaks to us constantly. What is hard for us is discerning that we have heard his voice, and then (harder yet) believing and acting upon what we have heard. Often his voice is simpler and more surprising than we would expect. Just read the stories of the Bible—God’s people are usually expecting him to speak in more obvious ways, to say more obvious things, and do all the work of faith for them. But he calls them to trust, relationship, justice, and belief.
Since God’s goal is to grow us in wisdom, love, and maturity in Jesus, he puts the ball in our court, again and again. “I’ve done it all for you,” he seems to say. “Now work out what you are learning. Show me the life of love. Walk like Jesus.”
One marker of a mature and growing person in our generation is self-control. Self-control is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit Paul writes about in Galatians. That means God himself is self-controlled, and he wants us to imitate him in it.
At its root, self-control is the ability to say “enough” to oneself. Not easy to learn in a culture of excess and runaway consumption! Living a self-controlled, upright, and godly life with a background of “reality” tv, the slow-drip drug of comparison via social media, and all the appetites of American consumers is … hard.
I’m pondering these words from Paul these days: “I refuse to be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). I want to live that, so I am trying to master the “noise.” There is no law that states our phones need to be always beside us. There is no law that says we need a phone, or any devices that beep. There is no rule that says the Internet gets to determine how you think, feel, sleep, consume, and behave. We need to live as people in charge of ourselves, not simply reacting to the constant stimulus of our culture.
Christian faith says that anything that exercises control over us must be put in its place so that we may give our lives fully to Christ. I try to do that through giving myself permission to be a bit out of touch with things that do not, in the large picture, matter. I find myself happier, more creative, and more productive when I am self-controlled. And much more able to hear God.
Regarding discerning his voice: anything God says to us will encourage the life of love and the fruit of the Spirit. As well, it will not go against properly-read scripture or God’s moral law. Furthermore—and this is vital—if he speaks to you, he will give you the resources and wisdom to interpret and follow what he said. He might not give you everything all at once, but he won’t leave you more distressed or confused than you were before.
If there is confusion, unhealthy fear, contradiction, or just an “ickiness” about “something ‘God said,’” then I become concerned that the “voice” heard wasn’t God’s, but an unhealthy one to be listening to.
Whew! That’s a big question. God clearly works and speaks through art and imagination—just read the story of Bezalel in Exodus for one example. My craft, profession, and creative calling is writing. It creates a space in which I am not only able to process thoughts and emotions, but communicate them theologically, in relationship to the biblical text.
I wroteThe Listening Day committed to and practicing authenticity. I did this for myself first—not the reader. I listened, I prayed, I spent time in the study of scripture and crafting the best words I could find to represent what God is saying to me in and around those texts.
This was deeply enjoyable and satisfying. Also deeply challenging. It is easier to be inauthentic and postured in faith and creativity than it is to be real. Reality doesn’t box with gloves on, and it will take you down. I feel like I spent as much time on my back in the ring, seeing stars, and laughing uproariously through a mouthful of blood as I did actually throwing many artistic punches. (Just read “Unjustification” or “The Bonesetter” in the book for an example.)
When you write that way, you’re not just making stuff up. You’re interpreting it, through the cracked lens of yourself, and it’s rough and raw, and doesn’t promise not to mess you up as a person or an artist. But the drive and call are there, and what else can you do? You write, and pray, and spit a little blood.
But that feeling of fighting lets me know that what I am doing, creatively and spiritually, is starting to be real.
Music: I’ll just give one recent-ish release, from fellow Portlander and friend-by-extension Liz Vice:There Will Be a Light. It’s theological, gorgeously written, and sounds like soul straight from the 70s. Love it.
Books: Good grief. Where to start? Breathing Eden is a must. Seriously. As is Justin’s new book, Invention. So good. Older books I enjoy? They are nigh infinite. Let’s just go with The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Oh, and all of Jorge Borges’ nonfiction essays, in Collected Nonfictions. Oh again—and Robert Lax’s later minimalist poetry, like Poems, (1962-1997).
Media: Plough QuarterlyandImage Journal—two outstanding places where faith and art and deep Christian thought get all mixed up into something beautiful. Also, I am a HUGE fan of The Bible Project—some good friends from Portland doing brilliant, culture-changing work to animate excellent biblical scholarship and help people fall in love with the Bible.
“The Lark Ascending” – a pastoral orchestral piece by Vaughn Williams
“Feeling Good” by Nina Simone. (That opening vocal…)
“Jesus for the Jugular,” by The Veils
The creek below our kitchen garden—rioting buttercups flowing up from the banks.
In my pickup, windows down, driving home along the Columbia River on a spring evening.
My little studio, “the Fawn Chapel,” in back of our house, looking out on the woods.
Fresh hop flowers on a hot day.
The idea that I have thoughtlessly walked past Jesus countless times, every day of my life, present in every person I have ever met, and that I have hardly ever recognized him.
Thank you, Paul.
ENTER TO WIN ONE OF FIVE COPIES OF THE LISTENING WAY! ENTER THE GIVEAWAY BELOW. YOU HAVE UNTIL FRIDAY TO ENTER!
This post appeared originally at jenniferjcamp.com
Justin Camp is a guy I want you to meet. I kind of like him. I kind of like listening to what he has to say.
Okay, I am totally biased. This is the guy I married. And I like him. . . a lot. But, I promise, even if we weren’t married, and we didn’t work together, and we didn’t love cheering one another on . . I would still want to profile him here. And it’s because his new book can be the gift you absolutely need.
Invention is the resource that will change how you live, and how you experience God.
Justin’s new book, Invention: Think Different; Break Free from the Culture Hell-Bent on Holding You Back, is not just your normal “Christian guy” book. Invention is the much-needed guide for men who want the practical, real-life scoop on how to dig deep with God on who they are, how they’re made, what God has for them to do, and why it matters.
It is a book written for men–and you should absolutely grab a copy for every guy you know. But, as a woman who has read each word of this book–and all of its drafts over the years . . . many times, I have to tell you, it is special. And you just might want to read it, too.
Each chapter begins with a story of an innovator–a regular guy, with not-so-regular dreams, who made choices to do the hard work of paying attention to what he loves to do. That desire, combined with this man’s natural talent and spiritual gifts, resulted in societal changes that have forever impacted the world. And then it’s the reader’s turn.
We are each designed to make that kind of difference–in our lives, and in the lives of others, too. And the book, Invention, shows you why and how.
Early readers have echoed, over and over, these three things about Invention:
Invention allows them to better understand God and how much He loves them.
Invention breathes energy and direction back into their lives.
Invention speaks right to the hearts of men and what men are going through.
An opportunity for true life change? This is too good of an opportunity to miss.
Q & A WITH JUSTIN (FROM THE PUBLISHER)
Q) Invention seems to target a particular type of man. Who is that man? What’s he going through?
A) I think most men, believers or not, fall big-time for the lie that checking life’s boxes—a great job with a great title, a great big house and a great big bank account—will bring purpose and significance, peace and joy. But the truth is, only the Giver of Life can give us those precious things. Only our God and King can bring to our lives that kind of fullness—which we’re all made for, by the way.
Q) The book is full of stories about entrepreneurs and innovators from the great age of invention of the industrial revolution. Why did you decide to feature these in your book?
A) The idea was to use short, relevant “nano-histories” to captivate and engage Christian men—while, at the same time, teaching some really fundamental stuff about God and our identities in Him. I chose these particular men because I found their stories timely, given the current age in which we find ourselves, but also very applicable to the notion of identity. In them we find suffering and success, failure and grit, selfishness and sacrificial love. They’re human, and they are massively fascinating.
Q) Tell me about your story. What got you to where you are now and led to writing this book?
A) Well, I’m a guy who has spent a lot of time in the marketplace. I’ve been out there. I know firsthand what it feels like to push ahead not knowing where to go or what to do, in order to answer these momentous kinds of questions. But God gave me a “Jerry Maguire” moment and began to teach me about His intent for my life—mine specifically. And, I believe His intent involves me writing and being a catalyst for those kinds of moments in the lives of other men.
WHAT FOLKS HAVE BEEN SAYING ABOUT INVENTION:
“a life changing experience”
“Thank you for this!!”
“Invention has revitalized my heart and mind”
“blows the roof off of all the lies we’ve been made to swallow”
“Love this book”
“This book will spark many flames”
“an amazing read”
“I can see this book helping a ton of Christian men out there who, like me, seem to have lost their sense of direction”
Invention is, at last, a clear blueprint for men to discover their God-given identity—their spiritual gifts, calling, and much more. New York Times bestselling author Eric Metaxas called the book “a super, startling, step-by-step guide for Christian men.”
Here’s the big news:
But the publisher, Elevate, has decided to offer the best launch week deal around: 30% Off + Free Shipping. To get this deal, just grab your promo code below, click over to Elevate Publishing (click here), and simply paste the code into the ‘Apply Promo Code’ field when you checkout. But don’t wait.
The code expires on Monday May 22 at 11:59 PM Pacific.
PROMO CODE: FREESHIP30
What do you think? Does this sound like a book to get excited about?
This post appeared originally at jenniferjcamp.com