It happens far too often for me: I begin my school year by investing time in my weekly small group and larger campus Christian community (for me, that's Campus Christian Fellowship at WWU). Throughout the quarter I'm building spiritual friendships, cultivating a consistent devotional life, attending larger gatherings of worship during the week...I'm really rocking the whole following Jesus thing through and through.
And then winter break comes. It seems to be the same story that I write for myself. Classes end, so I do away with a daily routine. My campus Christian community doesn't typically meet weekly for small groups or weekly worship gatherings, so I do away with seeking community and just manage with who I can find to hang out with.
From my experience in disciplining college students, just like myself, they have experienced (or could potentially experience) this type of winter break too: the type of winter break that is ultimately a break from following Jesus.
So how do we avoid this? How do we keep ourselves "focused on God" and following Him in our time of break?
Hebrews is one of the last "books" in your Bible, way back into the New Testament. It's actually not really a book, but more so a letter, written by an unknown author. The audience of the letter is unknown, but we can assume that the community of Jesus followers being written to were Jewish, as the author assumes that they possess vast knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures.
Throughout the letter, the author is challenging his audience in their faith, drawing on previous scenes and characters from the Old Testament (specifically The Law, aka the first five books of the Bible) to help readers understand how powerful and important Jesus truly is, as well as what it looks like to follow Him.
But the more I have focused and reflected on a specific passage from Hebrews this past week, the more God has spoken to me about how to navigate winter break...and how you can navigate winter break, too!
So, as the Holy Spirit says:
"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested and tried me,
though for forty years they saw what I did.
That is why I was angry with that generation;
I said, 'Their hearts are always going astray,
and they have not known my ways.'
So I declared on oath in my anger,
'They shall never enter my rest.' "
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called "Today," so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.
Notice how the author is framing the reader's perception of their current situation: they are being equated to God's people who, in a very early Old Testament story, were led by God through a land of wilderness. While traveling this dangerous, treacherous terrain, they faced temptation and testing, fighting to not turn away from following God.
That is exactly what our winter break is: it is us walking through the wilderness, a period of testing that can tempt us to turn away from following God. And because of that, I believe this passage speaks clear truths about how to be on guard against turning away and continuing to grow in Faith this winter break.
First off, the author goes out of their way to say that the Holy Spirit is speaking the following stanza of poetry over God's people. But when you look closer, this selection of poetry is simply a quotation from the book of Psalms. It's abundantly clear: God's Spirit, His personal presence, speaks to us through His word. We need to have a cultivated, routine habit over the break of being in God's word, having time to read Scripture for the purpose of hearing His voice over us.
Secondly, we need to pay attention to what the Spirit is saying in this poem: that God's people are not to "harden their hearts." Practically, what I have found most helpful in keeping my heart soft, keeping myself open towards God's will and plans for me, is an active time of prayer. I keep a prayer journal and make it a routine to write in it, not just asking for requests for myself, but primarily I pray for God is open my eyes to "know [His] ways" (Hebrews 3:10, NIV). Even combining this with a time of reflecting on Scripture will help you build a daily (or bi-daily, but hopefully daily) time to hear God's voice in two unique ways.
But there is a final component that the author really hones in on a community. The contrast the author makes is between those who turn away from God and those who have a community, encouraging one another. While we are leaving behind our current community of college friends and community of Jesus followers, there is nothing wrong with daily praying for and sending encouragement via text or even phone call to them, too! Setting up and asking for accountability over break is an excellent way to continue following Jesus together.
Ultimately, why these practical steps work is because it is what God prescribes for those in the wilderness. He watched His own people hike into and through the wilderness, to terrible results of disobedience and sin. God knows that if His people meditate on Scripture and pray daily, that they will recognize His voice, hear His instructions, and posture their hearts every day towards following His path through winter break (aka our own wilderness). Community is also at the focus of this: keeping each other encouraged and accountable means we allow God to use us, to speak to each other we strive to be and live obediently through the wilderness as His people.
This winter break does not have to be a relapse into your past, high school self. You have made progress towards following and living more like Jesus, the progress that God is proud of and wants to protect. We need to allow Him to protect us, through the instructions He provides for us in the Scripture above, so that we may also continue to "share in Christ," to continue to be citizens of the Eternal Kingdom.