Every year, 15,000 Australian students flock to the beach town of Victor Harbor for the Schoolies Festival.
This is one of the biggest festivals in Australia where students (aka ‘schoolies’) celebrate completing their final school matric exams over 3 nights of intense partying.
Strangely, a group of over 550 Christian volunteers from churches across South Australia also join them.
To follow what Jesus said in the Bible and ‘love their neighbors as themselves’! (Mark 12:31)
We cook free pancakes and keep schoolies fed, morning and night. We carry schoolies back to their homes when they are too drunk to find them safely on their own. We clean up bottles, rubbish and vomit. We walk around caravan parks at 4am in the morning to make sure schoolies are safe and there isn’t anyone passed out in the dark without medical attention. We help schoolies with the event’s free bus service so that they don’t have to drink and drive. We take them to first aid stations and call emergency services when help is needed.
This group of Christians is called the ‘Green Team‘ and this is a story from when I volunteered with them last November 2012.
Truth be told, although part of me looked forward to working with the Green Team, part of me was also hesitant. My medical exams finished only 2 days prior to the festival and after the most intense year of my life – I was drained. The day before leaving for Victor Harbor, I thought to myself – God, I won’t have the strength to do this alone.
Green Team can be physically demanding, especially with some of the late shifts being 1am – 7am. But what I find more demanding is the emotional side. Many times you find yourself in deep, challenging conversations with young people. Yes, a lot of the students simply want to party and drink. But every year I find myself in conversations with a handful of schoolies who really want to talk to you and have someone listen to them as they wrestle with mankind’s big questions:
‘What is the point of my life?’
‘What am I going to do for the rest of my days?’
‘Who will help guide me and help me along the way?’
‘Is there a God out there? And if so, why is there suffering in the world?‘
I find these conversations very precious. They contain the moments that can distinctly influence your own life and the lives of others, whether subtly or overtly. But if you are in a fragile emotional state – you cannot listen to others with the 100% attention, respect and dignity that they deserve.
And this is the lesson I have learned through medicine and volunteering with Green Team in the past: without prayer and trusting in God, I am not strong enough physically, emotionally or spiritually to put aside my own problems and persevere through the tasks that come my way. Without God’s presence, I do not have the emotional wherewithal to invest in listening to someone who is opening up their soul and allowing themselves to be vulnerable in voicing their thoughts.
Bottom line – without God’s presence in my heart, I burn out. Knowing this, I cried out in my spirit:
God I know you’ve put this assignment before me – but I am weary of heart. I need you to refresh my spirit. I can’t do this on my own!
Avoiding Burn Out
My solution to avoiding burn out?
Spending time in prayer and worship to experience his presence and promise of rest! (Matthew 11:28-30)
Psalm 84 expresses my desire for God’s offer of rest perfectly:
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
10 Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere…
So once my medical exams finished, I decided to spend a whole day in my room to commune with Jesus! I spent much of the day praying, meditating on the Word of God and singing spiritual songs to Him.
I call this place the secret place. (Matthew 6:6)
This is the place of restoration, where my heart seeks life from the Word of God! For “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”. (Matthew 4:4)
Stumbling Upon Christ’s Perseverance
Morning turned to evening and I paused to listen to a sermon by Mike Bickle on the internet (part 5 of a series I had been listening to weekly).
This is where my story really starts. I sat down to listen… and my heart was arrested by the very first point in this sermon. The pastor began by reading a verse from the Bible – 2 Thessalonians 3:5:
“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.”
The verse cut to my heart. Perseverance. It was a verse I was unfamiliar with – but it was so relevant to my situation. I thought to myself:
God, I won’t be able to grit my teeth through the Schoolies Festival and persevere from my own strength. But this verse is the key! Lord, Direct my heart into your love and perseverance by reminding me continually of what Christ endured during his life.
He persevered because of love – love for you and love for me and the rest of mankind, not from sheer willpower alone. He persevered to the cross because perseverance motivated by love will always trump perseverance motivated by sheer willpower. (1 Peter 3:18, Hebrews 12:3, Song of Songs 8:6-7, Romans 5:8)
I knew this verse was God speaking to me. I wrote it in my computer journal, wanting to treasure this verse in my heart over the weekend and remember it whenever I faced emotional or physical challenges. With spirit refreshed, by night’s end I felt much more prepared to embark for Victor Harbor.
That was on 15/11/2012.
An Out-of-the-ordinary Message
The following day, before leaving I wrote an email to some friends asking them to pray for me over the weekend. It was a fairly non-specific email – I didn’t tell them to pray that I would have perseverance over the weekend – but I invited them to send me messages with anything that they felt God wanting to tell me/encourage me with.
This is where things get out of the ordinary.
Two days later on 17/11/2012, I received a text from one of the friends I had emailed (see screenshot below).
I was astonished…exactly the same verse that had moved me the night before.
How encouraging are such moments in our life that God brings about! I saw it as God affirming that 2 Thessalonians 3:5 really was the verse he was wanting to speak to me through.
Curiouser and Curiouser
Then three days days later, I received another message from a friend overseas in Kansas City (see screenshot below).
I was amazed. 2 Thessalonians 3:5. Exactly the same verse… again!
There are 31,173 verses in the Bible. The chances of receiving exactly the same verse from my friends by chance?
You can see that it requires a certain degree of faith to believe this series of events as random chance!
The Threshold of Belief
The question is – how do you interpret an event like this?Some would call this a coincidence. A coincidence is defined as:
- A remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.
Some will see my story as coincidence (no apparent causal connection between events and purely due to random chance). At the very least, one must acknowledge that it requires a leap of faith to believe in such a coincidence (just as it requires a leap of faith to believe in God).
But, as a Christian, I do not believe in coincidence. I believe the term coincidence is a term we use too often. It causes us to attribute what God has done to random chance. We miss out on opening our eyes and really seeing how God is trying to get our attention in our lives!
From many experiences in my life, I testify that God really is one who “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
Key word: everything!
Not a single event occurs outside him willing it. No detail is too small – he knows even the comings and goings of birds in the air, he knows every detail and tiny happening in your life, he even knows the number of hairs on your head! (Luke 12:6-7, Psalm 139:2-3, Zechariah 4:10)
If you believe God is real and works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, then I challenge you to consider the way you interpret so-called ‘coincidences’ in your life. God often moves in our lives and responds to our prayer through such ‘remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances!’
Let us continue to pray and ask for God to reveal himself in our lives as the personal, intervening God! I leave you with William Temple’s (Archbishop of Canterbury) words:
“When I pray, coincidences happen. When I don’t, they don’t.”
PS. And in case you were wondering, God’s word did prove faithful to me over the weekend! His encouraging word sustained me throughout the festival. It was a worthwhile experience from which I have many precious stories – one of which I will share in the Part 2 of this post.
*Note – The likelihood of receiving the verse from my friends by chance is 0.0000001029064% (1/31173 multiplied by 1/31173). To play devil’s advocate, it could be argued that the number of verses that are related to the circumstance of someone asking for prayer are less than 31,173. But there certainly still remain thousands (if not tens of thousands) of relevant verses to choose from, even if someone wanted to choose one suitable to the situation completely by random (which these friends obviously didn’t). Bottom line – the chances of these events happening by chance would still be incredibly low!