My friend John used to say that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who know exactly how far their car can go past “E,” and those who will never know. I am firmly in the latter camp. In fact, I pretty much break into a cold sweat at the thought of dipping below 1/4 of a tank of gas. What can I say, I’m a planner. Of course, others might say that I’m a control freak. But, you say to-mah-to, I say, “You’re pronouncing that wrong.”
I went on a road trip with my friend Danielle this past fall and she is firmly in the former group. You know, one of those people who don’t really pay attention to how much gas is in the tank until the light comes on.
One morning during our trip we decided to make the trip from Las Cruces, NM to Carlsbad Caverns–about 200 miles away. We got up extra early that morning and headed out, deciding to stop in El Paso for coffee and breakfast. Amazingly enough, as we drove through El Paso we didn’t see one Starbucks (seriously!?!) along the way so we kept on driving. If you’ve ever traveled East of El Paso on highway 62/180, you know that there is nothing between El Paso and Carlsbad. Well, there is desert and space, but nothing that would serve us breakfast.
Just when I was trying to quiet the grumblies in my tummy, Danielle informs me that the gas light had turned on. Trying to mask my panic, noticing the sign that says we have another 40 miles to the caverns, I asked, “When did that happen?” She simply says, “Oh, about 10 miles ago.”
Now, I can’t tell you all the contingency plans that rushed through my head at that moment. I was literally calculating how long it would take me to jog the remaining 40 miles and kicking myself for not having AAA. Danielle said something about how most cars can go another 50 miles or so beyond “E,” but I couldn’t even fathom that fact. I sat in my seat and breathed slowly, praying the purest, most desperate of one-word prayers, “Help!”
The closer we got, I could feel the car struggling a little, but it kept on going. Our destination quickly approached and I calmed down knowing that I could certainly make it to a gas station and back on foot. We finally pulled into a gas station on the tiniest fumes and were able to fill up. What a relief!
Even though we made it and were okay, I never want to do that again. Never, ever want to do that again. I’m just not into living on the edge.
In this weekend’s message, I used symbol of a car to describe our actions. No matter how beautiful the car is or how big the engine is, if there is no gas in the tank, it is worthless. The car might as well have no engine if it lacks fuel. The gas in this analogy represents the “why” behind our actions: the intimate relationship with and response to God.
As I thought through the car image for this weekend’s message, it occured to me that it’s not particularly good to run on fumes all the time. I can’t imagine that God intends for us to live perpetually past “E.”
I have heard pastors and leaders say that they want to be “used up” for God. Sometimes they say they want to crawl across the gate of Heaven because of how hard they worked for the Kingdom. I have explicitly and implicitly heard the message that spiritually mature service is tantamount to exhaustion. If you still have energy, you must be holding something back from God.
But it is so easy to get caught up in what “needs” to happen and neglect what really needs to happen. We spend the bare minimum amount of time with God so that we have enough fumes to lurch into the next rest stop.
The danger in being used up for God is that if you run on fumes, you will eventually stall out. The danger of stalling out always looms and eventually overtakes you. I’ve noticed that timing is rarely ideal for this sort of thing. You certainly aren’t preparing for the long haul with this model.
Once you do run out of gas, it is much harder to get back into a groove. You can’t always just start up and go again. The time you saved by not stopping will probably be wasted waiting for help in the side of the road and trying to get back up to speed.
In ministry, when we give everything we have, it’s a problem. The biggest lesson I’ve been learning is that I’m not supposed to give everything I have, but instead allow God to give what he has through me. When I work out of my own power to make things happen, I’m exhausted and dissatisfied with the results. When I wait to see where God’s working and go there, I’m not forcing anything. I’m not focused on the results because I know it’s not in my hands to make things happen.
It occurs to me that instead of filling our tank with just enough gas to arrive at our destination, maybe we’re supposed to fill our tank to overflowing so that we have to serve to burn off the excess. Maybe the point of serving is that we have way too much to keep for ourselves and we need to spread it around.
I just heard it said again (quoting Bill Hybels), “The speed of the leader, the speed of the team.” Well, I am called to run a marathon. I am not called to sprint and burn out; what good does that do? What example does that set? I am called to keep pace, go the distance, and, most importantly, model faithful, steadfast obedience to Christ for a lifetime.
As Chris Rock’s character so elequently said in I Think I love My Wife, “You know, some people say life is short and that you could get hit by a bus at any moment and that you have to live each day like it’s your last. Bull****. Life is long. You’re probably not gonna get hit by a bus. And you’re gonna have to live with the choices you make for the next fifty years.”
Can you live at the pace you’re going for another 50 years?