Here’s a secret every good volunteer and leader knows: You don’t do something because you feel like it. You do something in order to feel like it. If you only do what you have to do, you will be limited in what you do. It’s the stuff that you don’t have to do that ultimately changes your faith.
Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when He suggested this to a group of people gathered around Him to hear Him teach:
“Suppose someone forces you to go one mile. Go two miles with them.”
To us, this sounds odd. But in the context of the Roman law imposed upon the Jewish people two thousand years ago, this was a bold challenge. The Jews resented and even hated the Romans because of the Roman Empire’s heavy-handed taxes and laws. One of those laws required anyone twelve years or older to carry a soldier’s gear for an entire mile if they were asked. It was in light of that law that Jesus taught the principle of going an extra mile.
Imagine a teenage boy in ancient Jerusalem, going through his daily routine. Picture him as he comes around a corner and notices a Roman soldier about to dismount his horse. The boy freezes, trying to retrace his steps and avoid being seen. He knows if the soldier notices him, he’ll be commanded to carry the soldier’s gear. But it’s too late. The soldier catches the boy’s eye and motions for him to come over, and then loads the young man down with all his equipment. And from there, because the boy has no choice, because it’s the law, they start the long walk through town.
Now, let’s pretend this particular boy just happened to be in the crowd when Jesus said, “If someone forces you to go one mile. Go two miles with them.” And as he travels the first mile, this boy keeps thinking about what Jesus said and starts to wonder, “Why would Jesus say that I should go two miles? Why should I help a Roman? Why should I go out of my way for someone I don’t even care about?” As much as he doesn’t understand Jesus’s words, he just can’t get away from them either. They stick with him, “Go two miles…”
Before he realizes it, they’ve reached the end of the first mile. The soldier stops, gets off his horse, and reaches to gather up his stuff. But the boy stands there, wondering what might happen if he tries what Jesus said. He clears his throat and makes a proposition:
“I’ll be more than happy to carry your gear for another mile if you like.”
What do you think would happen next? I imagine something would fundamentally change beginning with the first step of the second mile. Maybe the Roman soldier, curious about this Jewish boy who voluntarily offered to help him, started to engage the boy in conversation. Maybe during the second mile, the Roman soldier and the Jewish boy shared stories, ideas, experiences. Maybe, just maybe, the young teenager and the Roman soldier began to see each other as real people.
Mile One fulfilled an obligation.
Mile Two changed the nature of their relationship.
That one step from Mile One across the line to Mile Two changes everything.
When you as a leader can lead someone to take one step across that line, you have introduced them to a different kind of adventure. As long as they stay on the Mile One side of the line, they will never understand what they missed. They are missing a party and they don’t even know it. They wonder why they are not more motivated. They wonder why they are not more passionate. They have no idea it’s connected to just one step.
That’s why what you do is so important. You have the potential to lead them over the line. You can stir their gifts. You can encourage them to move. You can organize your ministry so that the next generation can experience the party. When people get a taste of what it’s like to live on the party side of the line, it will change them forever
Jesus knew that when someone stepped from Mile One over the line to Mile Two, everything would change.
That’s when you enter into a different kind of faith, a different kind of belief.
On the Mile Two side of the line, God gets bigger, life gets fuller, and friendships get deeper.
So here’s my question: What have you done lately that you didn’t have to do?
I know firsthand it’s easy to go through the motions and get really busy with whatever you have to do. Sometimes what you have to do can become your best excuse for not doing what you don’t have to do.
I recently decided I was so busy I needed to volunteer more. I started spending several days each month working in a small rural town.
It’s amazing how just showing up and serving people living in a different world than mine can teach me so much about life and love. I’ve added twenty new contacts to my cell phone that weren’t there a year ago, and I talk to someone in that town almost every day.
Now, suddenly I care
- that DQ is closing at 8:45 p.m. instead of 9:30 p.m.
- who is singing at the Wiggle and Twist Festival.
- if church is going to let out in time for me to get a table at Doc’s restaurant.
- how many newspapers the Johnson County Journal is printing.
- when it’s forecasted to rain because of how it affects the farms.
- who is expecting a baby and who just went to the hospital.
- which houses are going up for sale.
- where kids and teenagers are going to church.
- who is on the board of education.
It’s interesting to me that I care about things I wasn’t concerned about a year ago.
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, that’s where your heart is.” In other words, when you invest in someone, your heart follows. Don’t confuse the order. Don’t wait until your heart changes to make an investment. Invest in someone so your heart will change.
Do you want to change your heart about somebody you dislike? Serve them when you don’t have to serve them.
Do you care that you stopped caring, and you want to care again? Do something you don’t have to do.
A small town has revived my faith, my passion, and my priorities.
I’m not spending time with people in Wrightsville, Georgia, because they need me. They have plenty of great leaders. I’m showing up because I need to do something I don’t have to do. I actually love doing what I have to do. It’s my mission. It’s my job. And I’m always busy doing it. But doing what I don’t have to do is changing me in ways I never imagined.
Of course, you don’t have to go the extra mile. No one will judge you if you don’t. You are not obligated to take even the first step into a second mile.
You don’t have to become a foster parent.
You don’t have to lead middle schoolers.
You don’t have to pause to talk to a child.
You don’t have to buy someone’s meal.
You don’t have to ask the waiter his name.
You don’t have to help your local school.
You don’t have to speak out against an injustice.
You don’t have to forgive that friend who offended you.
You don’t have to do life with anyone who is different.
You don’t have to show up for someone at the hospital.
You don’t have to give anything away.
You don’t have to invest in someone else’s success.
In fact, in many ways, life will be easier if you don’t.
But if you do, it will change you. If you do, you will feel something deeper. If you do, you will tap into something sacred you never knew existed. If you do, you will experience love in a radical new way.