By Leah Fuller
A gunshot echoed across the hills as the other enthusiastic hikers and I started our trek in the BLAST! Hike-a-thon. BLAST! is a 24-hour, hiking fundraiser where endurance, challenge, and camaraderie join together to raise money for Discovery Ministries. I have logged many miles on this trail over the years. I might even consider myself a veteran of the hike-a-thon, a seasoned trekker with an understanding of endurance hiking.
As I prepared for BLAST!, I decided to invite a younger hiker to join me on my quest to hike 50+ miles. That’s how Emma and I became hiking buddies. Emma, who had been hiking in the 24-hour event since she was 6 years old, was now 14 and had not yet reached the goal of hiking 50 miles. When I invited her to take up the challenge, she didn’t really hesitate, simply shrugged her shoulders and said, “Sure, I’ll hike with you.” I was feeling good about this decision and started patting myself on the back for continuing to take up the mantle of challenging the next generation to do hard things. But a few weeks prior to the event, my mindset began to shift. What if in Emma’s youth she actually challenged me? Instead of my setting the pace for her, would she take the lead? I’ve been setting pace for other hikers for many years, but could I actually keep up with her youthful vigor?
It took only the first few miles to see that my fears were valid. Emma set a pace that I could barely match, and not once did her resolve, enthusiasm, or determination waver. Mile after mile we hiked, and as the day wore on, my aching muscles caused me to start lagging behind. Emma and I were still hiking “together,” but she stayed a few paces ahead of me. At times, I would jog to catch up with her, and not once did she give the appearance of fatigue or struggle. I would joke that the fountain of youth was on her side, and she would groan, assuring me that she was feeling some soreness, too. Feeling humbled, I discovered a string of thoughts flying through my mind. “I’m supposed to be leading her, teaching her what it costs to hike this far.” “She doesn’t need me to set a pace for her. In fact, I might actually be slowing her down. Maybe I should tell her to hike ahead?” “If she doesn’t need me, then what purpose am I fulfilling? What value am I adding to the event, to younger hikers?”
Amid this mental struggle, I realized God was showing me something about leadership that I know in my head, but struggle to live out in daily life. Generally, we leaders rise in our professions because of the value of our work. We become accustomed to letting others follow our lead, even finding ourselves thinking that everything and everyone depend on us. Training up younger leaders and giving them opportunities to go beyond our expertise threatens our value and even our futures. Fear of becoming inadequate and unneeded looms within even the most seasoned leader. I am much more comfortable staying in the lead or inviting others to walk alongside me than I am letting another break trail and providing space for them to grow into leadership. I have to ask myself, “Am I willing to let them succeed or fail and not believe that it says something about me and my own success or failure?”
When I look at the ways that Jesus led His disciples, I marvel at His example of humility. In Mark 1:17, Jesus invited his first disciples to “Come, follow me.” This was not only an invitation to follow His example, but also an invitation to relationship, to learning to live as Jesus lived. But Jesus knew that if the disciples only ever went where He went or did what He did, then they wouldn’t truly take ownership for the power and authority He was actually giving them. So, not long after He invited them to follow Him, He also “sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits” (Mark 6:7). Jesus let them go out and do ministry in His name without hovering over them to make sure they did it the “right way.” And when they returned they told Jesus about all that they had done and seen, their successes and failures.
Even as they debriefed their experiences, a crowd gathered to hear Jesus teach. The people were hungry, and the disciples who had just been out doing ministry turn to Jesus for what to do next. Jesus put the ball back in their court. He told them to “give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37). He passed them the baton, giving them the opportunity to take the lead. Now, we know that the disciples fumbled this one as they struggled to grasp the difference between faith in God and physical reality. We know that Jesus, not the disciples, multiplied the bread and fish, and there was plenty to eat. This foible on the part of the disciples did not define their future ministry and leadership, though. We see after Christ’s death and resurrection that these men, who could barely grasp the vision Christ was setting before them, were filled with the Spirit’s power and became the bold and radical leaders who carried on the relentless truth that Jesus lived, died, and rose again for us. And those men changed the world as they strode ahead and carried the gospel to places it had never been before.
You see, Jesus knew that these ordinary men would need to follow Him. They would need to walk alongside Him and learn from Him. But they would also need to be able to carry on the truth of His life and death when He was no longer physically with them.
What would it look like for me to let those who may be younger or less experienced take the lead? Can I trust that my value is not diminished by another’s ability to do what I can do and maybe a little more? Will I have the humility to learn from those who are younger or less experienced than I? Am I seeking to promote myself and my abilities, or am I simply being obedient to what God has called me to? Am I willing to lead from behind, as well as from the front?
These questions and more leave me in awe that God never stops transforming us and teaching us on our journey with Him. Will I stop and accept the discomfort of what He may be leading me to lay down, in order that He might be glorified?
By Joel Bates
Awhile back, a popular movie came out depicting a gang of geriatric get-the-job-done’ers; over-the-hill henchmen; and ready-to-kick-the-bucket, karate-chopping assassins with an all-star cast of Hollywood has-beens. You see, the government needed some qualified, hardened men to complete a mission so deadly that it would virtually be suicide. When none of them showed up, the mission commander was left with “the expendables.” What made them so expendable? What makes any person expendable? In our day and age, it’s not popular to think of anyone as less valuable than someone else to the point that they should be sacrificed for the better good.
I considered this during a recent evacuation in which six others and I carried an injured participant out of the wilderness. Darren had been struggling with fatigue and back pain for about 24 hours when on our last day of the missionary training expedition, he awoke with little feeling in the lower half of his body. My co-leader and I ran some tests to determine that he indeed was suffering from a neurological deficit. Our final destination, where a vehicle was waiting, lay only a half mile away, but the trail was rugged.
I improvised a litter by lashing Darren in a hypo wrap and solicited the help of the trip participants in carrying him out. After quickly devising a plan, we were ready to transport our brother to the take out. The going was arduous as we bore our heavy burden over the rocky trail, all the while offering encouragement and comforting words to Darren through grimaced faces and clenched teeth displaying our physical strain.
After an hour of traveling only about half way to our destination, we paused and set Darren down. One participant questioned our efforts; surely there was an easier way! Why were we expelling so much energy for the sake of one person? Couldn’t we just call in some “professionals” to finish the task. I reminded them that the “professionals” were simply people with the training and equipment to do what needed to be done. We, too, had training and equipment. Our equipment was a little more primitive, and our team’s experience consisted of on-the-job training, but the biggest difference was that we were in the here-and-now with the capacity to help. The question was not could we help or should we help, but would we help. No one said it would be easy. Obviously, there were no “professionals” around, so we lifted Darren and continued onward with our burden.
Later that day back on camp and after some quality rest and ample doses of pain medication, our friend Darren was on his feet, walking gingerly around the lodge. One of the participants who had worked tirelessly to carry him out asked, “Why did we have to go through that only to have him up and walking now? Was there really anything even wrong with him in the first place?”
“Good question,” I mused. Wouldn’t it have been more dramatic and given so much more purpose to our efforts if Darren had been critically injured, and we, a heroic band of rescuers, were the only thing that kept him from certain death? There would have been so much more depth to the sacrifice…so much more meaning to our suffering. However, one thing I knew: Earlier he couldn’t seem to walk and did need our help, and now he was better. “But it doesn’t feel worth all the effort,” the participant observed. It does if you are expendable!
I find myself struggling with this concept of expendability. I’m ashamed to admit that I seldom commit to things without expecting to benefit personally. I feel entitled to my time, money, and way of life and balk at sacrificing them. It’s an epidemic in our culture, really. We want our church to meet our needs, not the other way around. We want to serve, but only if we can be a “servant leader.” We are so accustomed to expending energy on ourselves that we are quickly losing our way in the journey with Christ. He calls us to be expendable.
I recently read a biography of Nate Saint, the famous missionary aviator who lost his life in Ecuador at the hands of the hostile natives he so badly wanted to win to Christ. During his time as a missionary, he was back in the United States on furlough traveling the nation and encouraging Christians to be expendable. He said, “You say I’m expendable as I give my life so recklessly to the cause of Christ on the mission field, but we are all expending ourselves on something. What are you expending yourself on?”
That question marinates in my mind as I consider sacrificial work in the Kingdom of God. Thinking back to “The Expendables” movie, I have to ask, “Just why were they so expendable? Was it because they were old? Was it because they had no potential or very little to live for?” What I do know is that when called to the task they stood and said, “I will,” and they defeated the bad guys, won the day, and received copious amounts of fame and glory. That’s Hollywood’s version.
The kingdom-of-God version looks a little more like what the Apostle Paul said in Romans 12, “…I urge you in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.” It looks like Nate Saint expending his life and, as a result, an entire people group receiving the message of Jesus. It looks like pressing through personal inconvenience and discomfort when others will gain at your expense, knowing all along that your sacrifice is bringing a smile to the Savior’s face. It’s knowing with all your heart what Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all--how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” I guess as it turns out, we expendables will enjoy in abundance something greater than fame and glory. We will fellowship with the greatest of all the expendables, Christ Jesus Himself.
By Joel Bates
I love my boots! I found them over ten years ago at a closeout sale, what had been an outrageously high price now reduced to almost affordable. Though they were still slightly over my gear budget, I grimaced a little and forked over the cash, putting my stock in their Gore-Tex lining, leather uppers, and mountaineering soles. Their first real test came when the remnants of Hurricane Fay hit the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, mercilessly dumping nine inches of rain in one day on our expedition group. Through it all, my boots kept my feet dry! Later while evacuating a participant from the trail, I remember pausing at a creek crossing wondering if my boots were high enough to prevent water from getting in, and a mental check once on the other side confirmed my hope, forging an even deeper bond between my bombproof footwear and me. Participants wanted to follow their compass up a craggy hill of scree. No problem—thorns and brambles fell off my trusty hikers like puny arrows glancing off a warrior’s shield. Even on the coldest of days, my toes nestled snuggly in their warm, comfy shelters. On nearly every significant trip I can recall, I was hiking behind packs of participants up hills, though rain, and long into the night, wearing those boots with each step.
As they were aging, I thought it best to replace them, but every new boot I bought would either fall apart or leak in the rain, and I would end up calling the logistics crew to bring me my “old reliables.” They just couldn’t be beaten…until one fateful day last year. I was on an expedition, and it wasn’t even raining, but the meadow we were walking through was thick with morning dew. My boots were wet on the outside, but I thought little about it. As I hiked, I felt that moist sensation your feet get when water is seeping in ever so slightly. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t consider that it could be the boots. “Probably just my feet sweating,” I told myself. At lunch break when the soggy feeling in my socks continued, I took a look under the hood. Nothing could have prepare me for the horror I beheld. It was a good thing I was sitting down because when I doffed my boots, the insole revealed the unmistakable evidence of a leak! My socks were damp, but my spirit was flooded with grief. Okay…so maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic, but I was pretty bummed.
My “old reliables” had served me well, and maybe it was time to retire them from great expedition mountaineers to mere work boots. As I grieved my loss, a more serious thought hit me. I’ll be turning 41 this year, and with the coming of age has come the realization that my role as a wilderness expedition guide will have an ending point. I considered that maybe it was time to retire me to a different role. “This work is for younger men,” I mused. “Maybe it’s time to hang up the boots for good,” I thought. As I considered this, I began to keep my ears open to God’s voice and my eyes searching for His direction. I began testing my calling by making it a priority to have others lead expeditions. I weighed my motives to see if I was actually at peace with being replaced and found them mixed on most occasions, yet growing more peaceful and hopeful. As I monitored this dilemma, I saw the necessity grow for me to lead in the field on some occasions and wane in others. I hadn’t bought a new pair of boots during this time because I wanted to be sure that the Lord still wanted me in this capacity. However, by last February, I knew that the coming season’s expedition calendar would require my involvement, so I started looking for some new boots.
At first, I thought about just going with a thrifty pair that would last me through the season. Then I thought maybe I could find a deal on some good used boots. But in the end, I pondered my future and the unknowns of God’s will and decided to just get the best boots I could afford to enable me to do the best job I can. During this time, I was reading though the book of Hebrews and stopped short in chapter 10, where the writer tells us in verse 9 that Jesus’ attitude was “Here I am. I have come to do your will.” The writer goes on to tell us that it was with this attitude that Jesus became the perfect sacrifice “once for all.” I marveled at Christ’s tremendous attitude; though He was God, He did not decide to call it quits until the plan was complete.
Too often, we look at ourselves and assess our own limitations, making decisions about our purpose and calling based on what our eyes can see, what our society screams, and the fears that compromise our comfort. But we don’t always get to decide when to hang up the boots! In fact, I would submit that instead of ever hanging up the boots, so-to-speak, we should adopt an attitude like Christ that is comparable to always having a pair of good boots on hand so we, like Him, can say to the Father with arms outstretched, “Here am I. Send me.”
Get your feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. Be the messenger of the Lord with beautiful feet who brings good news. Consider Abraham, who after becoming the age where most people hang up their boots, became the father of nations and Moses, who was 80 years old when he laced up his hiking boots to lead the children of Israel out of Pharaoh’s land. We can’t leave out the fierce Caleb, who at age 85 said, “Give me the hill-country the Lord promised me, and I will drive out the enemies.”
Whether you’re struggling to find your direction, thriving within your calling, or feeling like you’ve done your part and are entitled to leave it up to others, remember to say to the Lord, “I am willing to be used.” And always, always have a good pair of boots ready.
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.