I’m not the most adventurous person in the world. But at 5am on 11 November I found myself at a soaking wet and freezing cold Chesham underground station about to step into the unknown and embrace the challenge of visiting every London tube station in one day. I was doing this to raise money for Church Army as part of their fundraising theme for 2017 of The Journey. 17 hours, 269 stations and 3 bananas later I stepped onto the platform of Heathrow Terminal 5’s underground station having completed the challenge. It was a whirlwind day packed with unexpected moments, but what is there to learn from it?
While this was a solo challenge, I couldn’t have done it without the support of friends and family on social media who kept me going during the day, my wife Jess who brought me food and water along the way and everyone who donated to the cause. I also received a lot of helpful advice from Andi James, the Tube Challenge world record holder who I unexpectedly met along the way! As a huge Sheffield United fan I’ve sat on many terraces over the years supporting and occasionally berating the team. Footballers often say that support from fans makes a huge difference when playing, something which I’ve often doubted… but having done an intense physical challenge like this, the motivation that my supporters gave me on the day cannot be understated and kept me going when my strength was waning.
The Christian walk is, of course, not just an individual journey but one to be made as part of a community of like-minded believers. Jesus himself called the 12 disciples to walk alongside him, before sending them out, and later sending out the 72 (in teams – see Luke 9 and 10). If you’re not in a church community already, I’d strongly encourage you to find one. James Poch, leader of regeneration church in Romford (which you can find out more about in our team’s upcoming research into mission with young adults) writes, “There is nothing like the Church. Where else can you go to find such loving and honest support to be the best person you can possible be?”
Expectancy is rightly one of Church Army’s values, but it can be difficult to live out. When I left Chesham I was stepping out more in hope than expectation. I had no idea how the day would go – I wasn’t sure I would be able to cope with the physical demands of the day, and there was so much that could go wrong on the underground network (signal failures, line closures, delays etc.) that was beyond my control.
Life is uncertain. But as Christians we have the most incredible God to place our trust in regardless of our circumstances. Paul remained expectant even when in prison, writing in Philippians 1 “it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death.” A famous verse in Ephesians also states that He is able to do far more abundantly than we could ever ask or imagine.
By 5pm on 11 November I was 12 hours in to my tube challenge. My body was flagging badly. I was hungry, thirsty and on a tube surrounded by angry Barnet fans who’d just seen their team lose at home and drop into the League 2 relegation zone. I still had almost 100 stations to visit and had the longest run of the day (between High Barnet and Cockfosters) ahead of me. There was only one thing on my mind though – getting to Heathrow and completing the challenge. My mind automatically adopted an almost zen-like focus on this goal and I somehow found myself, despite my weaknesses, with an insuppressible determination to finish the job. Hebrews 12 will be a familiar passage to many of us. It calls us to run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Some of the times when I’ve felt most distant from God have been when I’ve lost my focus on Him and started drifting through life, perhaps not praying or engaging with spiritual disciplines as much as I should. This makes me wonder what is possible if (as individuals and a church) we can maintain our focus on Jesus with intensity… and more to the point, what isn’t possible?