Healthy Leaders


The Spiritual Power of Road Trips

Dan LovagliaDan Lovaglia

Let’s Hit the Road

My teenage son and I recently returned from a last-minute, end-of-summer, 900-mile road trip. We hopped in the car and headed due north on a route we’ve taken many times before – 450 miles there, 450 miles back. Our destination? The father-son camp he and I attended together from ages 7-12.

The breezy days and starry nights offered us a wonderful respite from the hustle and bustle of suburban life. Sharing meals, joining in worship, and serving side-by-side with the camp staff was well worth eight hours in the car each way. It was a joy to return to a place where we both connect easily with God, each other, and a community of fathers and sons.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but there was a part of the trip that surprised me even more than being at our destination. On the way up, about five hours from home, my son started peppering me with questions about authentic lifelong discipleship. He reflects on his relationship with Christ a lot, and I’m often in the mix when he wants to talk about it. I just had no idea that being in the car singing, laughing, and eating snacks would open him up more than usual.

More than I’ve ever realized, I believe there’s spiritual power in road trips.

Something significant happens when a small group of people, as few as two, hit the highway. If they’re open to God’s Spirit joining them, a simple trip from here to there becomes transformational.

This Way to Emmaus

As I reflect on my recent experience with my son, my mind is fixated on the Emmaus Road story. You’re probably familiar with Jesus meeting up with two disciples on their walk home from Jerusalem after He was crucified and buried. Luke 24:13-35 provides a snapshot of two weary souls wondering how the divine plot will unfold without Christ. They walk and talk without any real sense of peace, until the Lord shows up without their immediate awareness. Later they figured out what happened, Who was in their presence, and then couldn’t wait to tell the rest of the disciples the good news!

Similar to the Emmaus Road encounter, my son and I uncovered the spiritual power that God makes available when we step away together on a road trip. It’s not that His power isn’t there at other times. It’s just that we’re more open to it when we’re not distracted by everyday life.

When is the last time you stepped away with a close friend for a spiritual purpose? What might happen in your ministry if you and your leaders take a road trip to connect with God and each other? Jesus constantly called His followers away to pray and prepare for God’s Spirit to use them. He’s still inviting us to step away together with Him today.

We’re in the Car. Now What?

The disciples on the Emmaus Road didn’t provide us with a formula to experience spiritual power or transformation. However, here are six ways to maximize your time with God and other people while en route. I can tell you from personal experience with my son, our recent road trip played out the same way.

  1. Reset Your Pace

Time flies by at home, but not so much on vacation. Get away so that you can remember the true value of 60 seconds. Take a slow stroll or sit on a bench while life passes you by and the Lord’s presence comes back into frame. Consciously decide to allow God to be in control by taking off your watch, turning off your phone, and refusing to check email or texts. You’ll feel anxious at first, but in time you’ll return to a normal operating state. Sunrise, sunset, and repeat; it’s amazing how this happens with or without us noticing. As your pace resets, hopefully you’ll be able to take notice of God and His creation again.

  1. Talk Freely

As the Emmaus Road disciples walked along, they opened up about everything that was on their minds. It’s good to create space where we can unload all that’s storing up in our hearts. Our minds need to unpack the clutter to get perspective, to make room for new thoughts, and to find out how others experience the same world. Choose to open up beyond facts and opinions into the realm of attitudes and convictions. What fires you up? What fuels your passion? Reveal your heart. Discuss concerns about your home life, work, and ministry. Grow in the art of listening without passing judgment. Become an incredible question-asker and see what happens in your relationships as road trip companions.

  1. Practice Serving Others

My son and I didn’t just go on a road trip to be together. We also wanted to serve anyone that God placed in our path. We opened doors for people, picked up trays of food, shared encouraging words, and more on behalf of Christ. I love that the disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t turn “the stranger” away; instead they involved him in the conversation and the journey. Your road trip can turn into an opportunity to train as servant leaders if you’re open to it. Challenge yourself and others to help carry one another’s burdens each step of the way.

  1. Let God Interrupt

There’s an art to planning road trips. If you want to serve your companions well, find a balance between under- and over-scheduling. It’s important to prepare yourself and others for the high probability that the Lord will show up and derail best laid plans. This can be transformational if you’re waiting for it and extremely frustrating if you’re not open to it. If I had chosen to shut down my son’s conversation about spiritual matters on our trip, it would have wrecked a relationally rich moment. I kept reminding myself while we were away for four days that God might interrupt, so I readied my heart for Him to step in.

  1. Note What You Learn

Do you remember what happened when the two disciples thought back on their road trip? They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?”(Luke 24:32) Keep a pocket notebook or journal handy to capture your thoughts. Provide space for personal reflection. Schedule specific times to debrief, to discuss what’s going great or not so great, as well as spiritual lessons people are learning. Whether you’re on a mission trip, retreat, or a road trip, write down the important stories and situations you experience together. Distill these down into biblical principles or action items as appropriate. Having just two or three main “take-aways” from your time away will help you focus your learning and adjust your behaviors in the future.

  1. Return Home Ready

The Emmaus Road disciples weren’t home long before they raced back to tell the others that they met the risen Jesus face to face. Their road trip was truly transformational. Similarly, since my son and I got back from camp, we interact with each other, God, and the people around us more positively. We’re mindful of our pace, how we speak, what we pay attention to or ignore, and so on. Today we revisited our conversation about authentic lifelong discipleship and swapped significant stories from our road trip. We didn’t just go away, we came back revitalized. The new school year is about to start for my son, as is another busy work season for me. We’re not completely transformed into Christ’s image, but I can tell we’re not who we were when we first hit the highway.

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