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Reflections of a Veteran Trip Leader

October 21st, 2008

Focus Text: Proverbs 6: 22 (NLT)

 22 When you walk, their counsel will lead you.
      When you sleep, they will protect you.
      When you wake up, they will advise you.


Stop Here and Reflect Before Reading Ahead

I love retreats.  As a youth pastor, they are a central feature of my life.  My memory literally cannot recall the vast number of retreats that I have attended in some capacity over the years.  Consequently, at the time of this writing, I am at a retreat where I am spending the day with a youth group as a guest speaker.

As a group of pillow-fighting boys just ran past the window like a herd of gazelles fleeing a feathered-predator, I can’t help but reminisce.  Much of my life entails planning and implementing such trips.  Sometimes it’s a ski trip.  Sometimes it’s a camp.  Sometimes it’s an overnight leadership retreat.  However, each one is unique in its own way.

Months of planning cannot prepare one for what can happen on a trip.  Just a few minutes ago, a young lady stumbled on her “dismount” on one of the low ropes courses and injured her knee.  Once, I had a kid wander off in downtown metropolitan area, sending me into a panic.  I’ve seen vomit and I’ve seen rain . . . pretty sing-songy, eh?  I’ve been to hospitals and I’ve been to hotels.  I’ve had vans and buses break down and I’ve watched my whole youth group squeeze into a tiny hot tub because they got in trouble in the pool.  I’ve been to oceans and glaciers.  Huge cities and tiny villages.  Filthy gas stations and gargantuan airports.  I’ve witnessed middle schoolers, high schoolers, and college students alike experience some of the best times of their lives.  I’ve seen a lot.

The role of “trip leader” brings with it a certain amount of worry.  Worry about cost.  Worry about safety.  Worry about schedule.  Worry about the smell from the back row of the bus.  The kids, however, seem to worry about nothing.  You know why?  Because they trust that their leaders are taking care of the issues of the journey.  This scripture reveals to us the times and the manner in which God in His infinite wisdom addresses the various issues that arise on our “trip” of life. 

Walk.  Ah, the walk!  My youth groups over the years have walked with me through the streets of so many cities.  Austin.  Denver.  Orlando.  Indianapolis.  Charlotte.  Gatlinburg.  Gulf Shores.  Savannah.  So many different experiences, each rich in its own right.

Trust me, though, when I say that herding a group of thirty to fifty students and adults across city blocks and through intersections can be very stressful.  In fact, if boundaries and expectations are not set, it can be dangerous.  I try to decrease the danger with one word: leadership.  I usually take the lead in the front and I position youth leaders in the middle and in the rear of the group so that no matter what happens in the “in betweens” of our journey, I know that someone is looking out for the kids from all angles. 

This passage says that wisdom “will lead you” “when you walk.”  To me, that means that God’s wisdom will surround us in every situation that our feet carry us into.  Just like the leaders who surround our students, wisdom can keep an eye on every aspect of our sojourn.

Sleep.  Nighttime on a trip can be the best of times or the worst of times.  It can be restful or it can drive one to the point of utter insanity.  “Go to sleep!”  That’s our mantra and we make non-idle threats to enforce it.  For the most part, things go well.  But when the kids are safe in their rooms or cabins and are thinking of little more than prank calls and pillow fights, the leader is thinking about safety.  Why?  Because it is my job to protect them from outsiders as they sleep.  This passage personifies wisdom as our guardian.  “When you sleep, they will protect you.”  When we’ve entrusted our lives to the direction of the Father, we can “rest” on the fact that He is standing guard at our bedside and that His principles ensure our security.  We can just concentrate on late night texting . . . spiritually, of course.

Wake.  Morning is the moment of the trip that every detail of the day is planned and communicated to the whole group.  Wake-up calls and breakfast.  Overheard stories from the “secret” antics of the previous night’s antics.  Just this morning here at this retreat, a few students informed me that they had climbed on the roof of a cabin at 3:30 a.m.  If they were my kids, I would kill them!  But, I’m getting to play the cool speaker role, so I just laughed instead.

Once everyone is awake, schedules are passed out and the day’s festivities are discussed.  I usually try to prepare everyone for what they can expect to face and I “advise” them on what to avoid from the previous day’s experiences.  Hey, you know how yesterday some of you decided it was okay to eat three bags of Funyons and drink Dr. Pepper on the bus, filling the air with your putrid pollution?  Yeah, never again.  Now that’s some advice!

This passage ends with the knowledge that wisdom “will advise you” “when you wake up.”  Like the trip leader that is looking ahead to what the whole group will face throughout the day, the wisdom of God heard through the direction of His Spirit is there to advise us on which paths to take and which paths to pass by.

Leadership.  Protection.  Advice.   As far as trips go, the daily journey of life affords us more adventure than any other journey we will ever take.  It’s nice to know that Jesus is walking along the road with us, watching over us and protecting us at all times, and advising us at every intersection and in every situation.  Just like my students, we don’t have to worry about every miniscule detail of the trip; God’s got it taken care of.

We just need to listen.  To follow His leadership.  To stay under His protection.  To follow His advice.  When we do, it’s  Funyons and Dr. Pepper for everyone . . . spiritually, of course.


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