After the kind of winter we had and now the relatively cold spring we are experiencing, there is a lot of anticipation in the Chippewa Valley for the warmth of summer. We are tired of watching snow pile up and chilling rain falling. We want to be outside … on our decks and patios, at the park, on the water or a bike trail, at a resort or lake home, and on vacation. And especially for all us who find being out in his creation is one of the important ways that we experience God, we need to get outside and enjoy the divine beauty of summer.
What this has meant in practical terms for many Wisconsinites is that they take the summer off from God. Folks are gone more weekends away from their home church. On beautiful Sunday mornings, they’d rather be doing just about anything outside rather than be inside any building. So summer worship attendance falls off significantly at most churches (except those in the northwoods) and people figure that they’ll reengage with God and church in the fall.
There are at least two major flaws in this thinking. The first is that you can take a season off from God and remain healthy. For me this is the spiritual equivalent of deciding not to eat for a season and then wondering why your body is wasting away. We need Jesus the Bread of Life during the summer as much as the rest of the year. Life with Jesus is never a static thing … we either move toward or away from him. In the words of the Apostle Paul, we are either pressing on “to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” or we are moving away from the riches of Christ’s truth, beauty, and goodness.
The second flaw is thinking that the only real way we can satisfy that spiritual hunger is by going to a worship service in a church building somewhere. Now I’m a pastor. I certainly believe that gathering together around Word and Sacrament with other Christians is of great benefit to lives of faith. So if you are home on Sunday mornings, please do join us for worship at Peace. But it is simply wrong to think that this is the only way (or arguably even the primary way) that you can engage with Jesus. For corporate worship is at most churches a once a week thing. But your time with Jesus can (and must?!) be a daily thing.
Which is why I encourage and challenge you to not take this summer off but rather make this summer “on” for Jesus regardless of your ability to worship at Peace. For the summer with its hopefully (slightly?) slower pace and more time away from pressing business can provide a not-to-be-missed opportunity to develop a new spiritual practice or habit. You may well have more time in the summer rather than less to engage with Jesus and certainly there are more beautiful outdoor settings to do so.
Here are a number of examples to spark your own imagination:
Family worship at the lake home
Listening to Scripture or a Christian book when you’re out for a walk or bike ride
Finding a spot in a park or on the dock to read your Bible and pray
Laying in a hammock on a lazy summer afternoon and meditating on God’s creation and the blessings he has given you
Praying with your fishing buddy out in the boat (and not just that you catch some fish!)
Joining me out on the patio at Eau Claire Brewing Projekt for a brew and some Bible study
Downloading the “Pray as You Go” app on your phone and letting God’s Word wash over you every morning or evening
Beginning your morning with a devotion or Scripture reading out on your patio as you sip your morning coffee or tea and take a few minutes to be still and listen for God’s voice
It strikes me that one of the reasons why two summers at Camp Luther as a counselor had such a large spiritual impact on me was that much of my engagement with Jesus took place outside … where God’s amazing creativity was and is so evident to me. Writing this motivates me to get away from the computer this summer (where I do a lot of my Bible study) and get outside and meet God. Why couldn’t this summer be the best spiritual one of your life?