The wilderness is the ultimate classroom. The outdoors are large and intimidating, and they offer us no control over the environment surrounding us. Comfort is gone and awareness is the substitute teacher in a school that still paddles your behind for talking while the teacher is talking. There is an ebb and flow in the wilderness that solicits our attention. Moments of discomfort, fear, loneliness, or weakness are remedied by a beautiful view, a sunset, or unexpected provision. “Mother Nature” so-to-speak, keeps us on the edge of our seats and her lectures we never forget.
At Eagle Quest, this past summer, we had an awesome group from Cowboys for Jesus near Fischer, TX join us for an adventure down the Devil’s River. I remember this group pretty vividly. Mike, the youth pastor, was an energetic guy, half way through his second day as the new youth pastor when they rolled into camp. The group was pretty varied in age, size, and ability, but everyone was excited to face the challenges and fun the river was going to bring. As we unloaded the boats from the trailer and filled them with gear a storm was looming over the north sky. The storm was closing in and we were rushing to get the group on the river. They needed to get a couple miles under their belt before the storm hit. Soon they were on the river, being chased by a black cloud. Miraculously, they paddled all day without any rain. The storm finally gave up taking a turn to the east and leaving the group a clear view of the stars that night.
The following day, as the group put their boats on the water for more fun, Mike was pooped. His paddle was a shovel and every stroke was a scoop of dirt from his grave. Mike was seriously worried he was going to ruin the day for his students. He didn’t want to be the slow old drag. More than that, he wanted to be an inspiration. Out of desperation, Mike began praying the words, “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” With each paddle stroke through the water, Mike prayed a single word. The verse came out slowly and painful with sore muscles. Slowly his paddle stroke sped up along with the verse. It wasn’t long before he was chanting the verse in cadence with each stroke. He was passing people, speeding to the front of the kayak line. It turned out, God gave Mike more than enough energy for the rest of the trip.
Not too long ago, I sat with Mike at a burger joint in San Antonio and he told me this story. He remembers it like it happened yesterday and he remembers it as a lesson to find strength in the Lord rather than himself. This lesson has stuck with him and continues to shape his relationships, his youth group, and his energy level. When people are wearing him down, his first reaction is to pray for patience. If we all learned this lesson, the world would be a different place, but we can’t just hear about it. Sometimes, we have to experience it ourselves. So quit skipping class, and go get lost in the woods.