Maria Shupe | Bible Explorations
More than we ask or imagine
Finding the love of God | Read: Ephesians 3:14–20
In Ephesians, Paul offers this prayer for the people of the church in Ephesus.
My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask God to strengthen you by God’s Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask God that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! God does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, God’s Spirit deeply and gently within us. (The Message alt.)
During my eight years of ministry at Highlands Presbyterian Camp and Retreat Center in Allenspark, Colorado, this passage has been my anchor. It has been an ongoing reminder that, despite many challenges and an endless list of things “to do,” my primary task is summed up on the sign that hangs in my office: “Tell the kids I love them—God.”
It’s striking how imperceptibly this simple calling can slip from our minds. We start out with big dreams and a mission to show the world God’s love, and then one day, while we’re in a meeting or writing an email or preparing a meal or talking curtly with someone, it dawns on us that love hasn’t been a part of our work or our lives for a long time. Oh, there have been plenty of meetings and strategic plans, a good deal of weariness and routine, but somewhere along the line, our focus on love got left behind.
Paul prays that the Ephesians—and we with them—would receive a jolt of extravagant love, enabling them to dream big again.
Nature, I have discovered, can often give us the jolt and reminder we need.
For my 45th birthday, I spent 23 days backpacking in the Absoroka Range of the Rocky Mountains with the National Outdoor Leadership School. I stood at 10,000 feet and looked down on the majesty of God’s creation. Fishing in clear, cold waters for the first time in my life, I caught enough brook trout for our entire group to eat. I sat out at night in my sleeping bag and saw star constellations I had never seen before. And I thought to myself, “The love of Christ is like that: beautiful, majestic, and powerful.”
Camp, it turns out, is a place for remembering that we are loved and called to something special. I love the fact that kids arrive early for summer camp, crawl over each other to sit at the front of worship, and cry when it is time to go home. There’s nothing quite like the way camp and retreat ministry draws people together, revealing the beauty of God’s creation (ourselves included) and the inner workings of the Spirit.
One summer, one of our adventure staff took his group rock climbing. These middle school students had already been on a high ropes course together and were pretty confident. Some of them were very good rock climbers and, without hesitation, scampered up to the top of the rock. So the camp counselor proposed that they try something new. He took two climbers, with harnesses and safety belays, and tied a hand and a foot from each to the other’s. Now they were challenged to climb the rock together—to work as three-legged, three-armed partners. It was fun to watch them work it out. And it was moving to watch them encourage one another. As they learned how to climb together, they discovered unexpected courage and imagination.
A time apart heals. A time apart nourishes. A time apart calls us to ministry, restores us to ministry, and challenges us to ministry. And it reminds us how and why we climb.
Every week youth, adults, families, and friends drive down the mountain and leave this beautiful place to be God’s people in the world. To be sure, what happens at Highlands doesn’t stay at Highlands. To God be the glory!
Maria Shupe is a certified Christian educator and serves as executive director of Highlands Presbyterian Camp and Retreat Center in Allenspark, Colorado.