One of the most overlooked scriptures in the Bible is perhaps Matthew 5:41. Jesus was preaching what we now call the “Sermon on the Mount”. If you recall, it has a lot of practical advice for people who follow God. There are two underlying principles in the sermon. The first is that God looks at our hearts and not just our actions. Actions can be faked, but we can’t hide our hearts from God.
The second principle should be life changing for all Christians. God doesn’t call us to do the bare minimum to please him. He’s not happy that we are merely ”better” than the average person. He calls us to go the extra mile. Go so far above what could be expected or even hoped for that people are shocked. Shocked enough to ask why we are different and who is God that He motivates us to live our lives in this way.
Going the extra mile isn’t easy. As strange as it may sound, your kids may get teased for going above and beyond expectations. That’s why it is so important for you to start teaching them this principle when they are still toddlers. It is also why you need to find fun ways to encourage them to go the extra mile when it isn’t so fun – because most of the time going the extra mile means we have to sacrifice something we want for ourselves in order to be able to do it.
Here are some ideas to get you started.
- What’s an extra mile? The bar for excellence has gotten so low in our world, that defining the ”extra mile” will be difficult. Take your kids on a walk one mile from your house (If they are really young, make it a distance that will be difficult, but not too difficult for them.) As you walk, explain that in the time of Jesus, there were no cars, tanks, jeeps, etc. Most soldiers had to walk and carry everything they needed. They were allowed to stop any random person on the street and ask them to carry their ”stuff” for about a mile. Jesus was telling them that if they were asked, they should go two miles instead of one. Stop when you reach one mile. Explain that this would have been the stopping point allowed by Roman law. (For older kids, you may want to have them carry a backpack for more authenticity.) Explain that Jesus wants them to keep going – even if they are tired after a mile. Walk the remaining mile to get back home. Ask your kids how the people must have felt when they heard this teaching. Can they think of real world examples of going the extra mile?
- What is an extra mile today? Have your kids think of all of the things they are either asked to do by others or opportunities they might have to help others. What would most people say is the first ”mile” in each case? What would the extra mile be? To make it more fun, have them interview people of different ages and backgrounds – even Christians and people who aren’t Christians. Do they see any patterns in the answers people gave them? If they could have interviewed Jesus, what do they think his answers would be?
- Going the extra mile around the world in 80 days style. Pick a fun place some distance from your home. It could be somewhere in your town or you could circumnavigate the globe. Calculate how many miles it is to your goal. Each day, have everyone share at the end of the day times when they felt like they really did go the extra mile. If everyone agrees the person went an extra mile, then you move one mile closer to your goal. It’s important to keep a high but not impossible to reach definition of the extra mile in mind as you go. Your first goal might be a short distance to keep your kids motivated. Consider having a family reward when you reach your goal. For example, the first goal might be to the ice cream place a few miles away and when you reach your goal, you go out for ice cream. It’s important to emphasize that often there is no reward for going the extra mile, but God expects us to go it regardless. This exercise is to help them develop consistency in going the extra mile, so an occasional reward after working hard for several days, weeks or months can be a celebration of improved consistency.
- Shower someone with extra miles. Choose someone your family knows who is not a Christian. How can your family go the extra mile consistently, over a long period of time to serve this person? As time passes, notice if the person becomes curious. Make sure you are honest about wanting them to learn about Jesus if they ask why you are being so kind to them. See what happens. Not everyone will want to visit your church or ask questions about God, but many will.
Have fun with going the extra mile. You might find it’s the best thing your family has ever done.