Whenever I tell someone that I rode my bike with five other guys from Seattle to New York City, I almost always get the same response: “What was the hardest part?” Because I’ve had this interaction so many times, I’ve been able to give this question a lot of thought. Here’s what I’ve realized. The hardest part was not the physical toll on my body. It wasn’t finding places to stay. It wasn’t the long days of doing the exact same thing over and over again. It wasn’t the backaches that came while I was climbing over the Cascades in Washington. It wasn’t the boredom of riding through the plains of North Dakota. It wasn’t the rain in Minnesota or the mosquitoes in Wisconsin. It wasn’t the people who honked their horns at us (signaling that we weren’t welcome on their roads). It wasn’t the flat tires or running out of water or getting lost in a place with zero cell service.
All of these things were challenges and surely were annoying at the moment. But of all the things, the hardest part of that cross-country cycling endeavor was making decisions as a group. Hands down. That was the hardest part. All of our most challenging conflicts stemmed from that very thing.
Just imagine. You just finished riding 90 miles. You show up to a Dairy Queen in the middle of nowhere Montana. You’ve been dreaming about that classic chocolate-dipped cone for the past 30 miles but it turns out that this particular Dairy Queen closes early on Sundays even though the business hours say something different on Google maps. At this point, you’re fuming. The rest of the riders show up. They notice the look of dismay on your face and they realize that it’s closed. The plan was completely messed up. Now you need a new plan. Taco Bell or Del Taco? You and two of the other guys want Taco Bell. The other three want Del Taco because it’s closer. Remember, you’re on a tight budget so every dollar spent on gas counts. Three vs. three. Split right down the middle. This is when you wish there was a 7th team member to break the tie.
Tensions are high. The guys decide to get in the minivan and just start driving. But still, the group is deliberating. It’s hot, everyone is dripping in sweat, the van smells like a locker room. You’ve pushed your body to its absolute limits, you’ve been surviving off of brick-like Clif bars and all you want is a crunch wrap supreme from Taco Bell. The sad reality is that the group cannot make a decision. Enough time has already been wasted. The realist in the group finally steps up and says that we need to get to our host home by a certain time so we better just eat some protein bars and get to our destination. Case closed.
Over those 50 days of trudging across the country, this scene that I described above was all too common. It’s amazing that such a simple decision like choosing a place to eat would create such a storm of disdain and fury. There was however one antidote for moments like this.
The antidote was recentering on our mission. This was a charity ride. We partnered with an organization called Charity: Water, which works to bring clean drinking water to people in developing countries. Thus, our mission was the same. We set out to raise enough money to give 2,000 individuals access to clean drinking water for the rest of their lives. This trip was not for us; it was for others. It was not a vacation. It was a mission. Riding bicycles was simply the means, but what really mattered was the mission: to participate in the fight against the global water crisis.
Recentering on our mission put things in perspective for our team. All of a sudden, a conflict over deciding between Taco Bell or Del Taco was completely irrelevant. When we really paused to consider the reality that millions of people don’t have access to clean drinking water, we were reminded of how privileged we were. It was that mission that kept us unified and kept us going. When days were really hard, it was the vision of seeing a child receive clean drinking water for the first time that propelled us forward. When team conflict would arise, it was the act of remembering our why that brought us back together and reminded us that we were on the same team. Without a clear mission that trip would have been impossible.
As followers of Jesus, we are also invited to participate in a mission. As familiar as we may be with it, we continually need to recenter on the mission of Jesus. We need to keep it front and center in our minds. We need to remember that Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). He came to proclaim good news to the poor and offer freedom to the oppressed (Luke 4:18). He came to heal the hearts of sinners, not the righteous (Matthew 9:13). He came to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom (Mark 1:14-15). He came to usher in a whole new set of ethics, an entirely different way of understanding reality, and a beautiful way to be human, all founded on the bedrock of love. This was His mission that we get to be a part of.
One practical thing I’ve found to be helpful for participating in God’s mission is to bring two simple questions forward in prayer. These are the questions: (1) “God, what are you up to?” And (2) “How can I participate?” I’ve found that it’s important to notice how God is already at work. Notice how God is already moving in your workplace or your family or in your neighborhood. Where have you seen little glimpses of His Kingdom or heard soundbites of conversations about Jesus? Where have you sensed the Holy Spirit stirring? And then ask God how you should be involved with His movement. Sometimes he makes it crystal clear; sometimes he invites us to courageously step out in faith even when it’s unclear.
Wherever you find yourself today, remember that we serve a God who is on mission. Not only is He on mission, but through His grace, he invites us to participate as co-laborers with Him. It’s like he is saying, “Grab a bicycle, set a route, and start pedaling! Do whatever it takes to move the Kingdom forward and make sure to invite others in as you go!” May we experience the abundant life as we seek to join in on God's mission.