by Chris Ritter
This has been a summer of walking for me. For the first two months of COVID I walked back and forth to the refrigerator. Around April I decided I needed to make a change by walking outside. Last week I told Becky that I had holes in my walking shoes. “We just bought those,” she said. True, they are only a few months old, but I have put a lot of miles of them. My toes are starting to break through from the wear and tear. It has been good for me and it makes my dog happy, too.
Becky and I did some interesting walking together this past week as we visited my son, Isaac, in Maryland. It is sort of a nerve-racking time to travel, but we wanted to get away for our 32nd wedding anniversary. Because of COVID, we had to find things to do that would not put us in contact with a lot of people. Isaac is out in Cumberland and we found the Paw Paw Canal Tunnel as a place to explore.
The canal was started in the 1830’s (by a Methodist Preacher, no less) as a way of creating a shortcut in a six-mile horseshoe loop in the Potomac River. The sixth-tenths-of-a-mile tunnel made a waterway right through the mountain. It is lined with six million brick. I counted them myself (or maybe I found the number on Wikipedia).
The tow path is there where the mules used to draw the boats through that canal and that is what we walked. Once we were a few hundred feet into the tunnel, it was noticeably cool and even more noticeably dark. The visitor guide we checked before going said to bring a flashlight. I am not a great trip planner and I said we would buy one on the way. But we didn’t. Fortunately, we were able to use our cell phone flashlights or we would have stumbled along the whole way.
I don’t believe we are meant to stumble and bumble our way through life. It is God’s will that we walk purposefully, consistently in the direction of God’s best for us. Ephesians 5:15 says, “Be careful, then, how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.”
Early in my life as an intentional Christian disciple I ran across a book by a Chinese Christian named Watchman Nee called Sit, Walk, Stand. He said that the first part of Ephesians is about sitting. Paul first wants us to understand our position in Christ… we are seated with Christ in heavenly places. The last part of Ephesians is about standing. We are battling the world, the flesh, and the devil and we are called to stand strong with the full armor of God.
The heart of the letter, however, is about walking:
- Ephesians 2:2 says we are not to walk according to the world.
- Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God’s workmanship, created for good works that God prepared ahead of time for us to walk in.
- Ephesians 4:1 says we are to walk worthy of the calling that God has on our lives.
- Ephesians 4:17 says we are not to walk like Gentiles, in the vanity of our minds.
- Ephesians 5:2 says we are to walk in love.
- Ephesians 5:8 says we are to walk as children of the light.
When the old time preachers used to teach about your walk, they meant your manner of life… your character. Following Jesus is a daily walk. I heard my pastor say one time that the world is watching not our words, but our walk. The power of your faith is really in your daily rhythms. Your habits are where the rubber meets the road. Your faith is not in how loud you shout on Sunday but about how you walk throughout the week.
So let me ask you: How are you walking? Is your walk consistent or inconsistent? Does your walk reveal a daily trust in God or do you follow your own way? Are you prayerful? Are you faithful? Are you humble? Are you loving? Your opinions don’t matter near as much as your example.
Are you like me? You like to think you are walking for the Lord and you often catch yourself walking for something or someone else. My temptation is to walk for myself. The old hymn says we are all “prone to wander,” prone to leave the God we love.
We Never Walk Alone
Fortunately, we are given a big clue in Scripture about how to walk faithfully and consistently. It turns out we are not meant to walk alone. We are going to explore this essential theme over the next four weeks using a truth bomb that Paul drops on us in Galatians 5:
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”Galatians 5:16
Every believe in Jesus has the opportunity and obligation to walk with and by the Holy Spirit of God. Our life is a life in the Holy Spirit.
And Paul says,
“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”Galatians 5:25
This is not a one-time event but a lifestyle of yielding to God’s Spirit. Our life is intended to be a partnership with the Holy Spirit. Our reality begins to transform as we cultivate the capacity to keep in step with the Holy Spirit.
People of the Spirit
Someone can go to church a long time without hearing practical teaching on the Holy Spirit. That is a shame because the person and work of the Holy Spirit are such a prominent theme in scripture. We first meet the Holy Spirit in the Genesis One as he hovers over chaos to bring light, life, and order. In these dark and chaotic times, I believe the Holy Spirit still desires to bring a new creation out of chaos. All the way at the back of the book, in Revelation 22, the Spirit is still inviting God’s Kingdom people to the waters of life.
In the Exodus, the people of Israel travelled through the wilderness. On the way to the Promised Land they were guided by a pillar that was a cloud by day and a fire by night. When the pillar of fire moved, they broke camp and moved with it. They walked by the Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost, the fire returned and rested upon each believer. Each one was filled with the Holy Spirit. Each one was gifted by the Holy Spirit… so that each one could be guided by the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians reminds us that we are vessels, temples of the Holy Spirit:
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.”1 Corinthians 6:19
Being led daily by God’s Spirit is both our birthright and our adoption papers. If you are a believer in Jesus, the Third Person of the Trinity lives inside you by God’s grace. That is the same power that raised Jesus from the grave. God has put great treasure in our earthen vessels.
“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God.”Romans 8:14
More Than a Feeling
Some people associate the Holy Spirit with a sensation or a feeling. I love to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. But let’s not reduce Him to a feeling. He is God in us.
You probably knew someone who claimed to be spiritual, and they were the most unreliable, inconsistent person you ever knew. We have a caricature in our heads of a spiritual person that just sort of floats and bobs through life without real purpose. But we don’t get this from the Bible. Being Holy Spirit led means walking with purpose.
Jesus is really the ultimate example of a life led by the Holy Spirit. After his baptism, the first thing that happened to Jesus was being led by the Spirit to go into the wilderness. He came out of the wilderness, in Luke 4, to proclaim that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to proclaim release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to announce the Day of the Lord.
Jesus told his disciples not to worry when they were arrested, because the Holy Spirit would direct them what to say. They only needed to walk in the Spirit.
In Acts 13:2, the church at Antioch was praying, worshipping, and fasting and the Holy Spirit said to set apart Paul and Barnabas for their first missionary journey.
In Step with the Kingdom
Some might wrongly associate walking in the Spirit with rugged individualism. Walking in the Spirit, however, is a part of Kingdom living.
The Holy Spirit might lead us in different ways and grant us differing gifts, but there is only one Spirit. He is not schizophrenic. There are common marks of people who are walking in the Spirit. If we are all walking in the Holy Spirit, there is going to be love, and unity, and joy. If we each follow our flesh and our own desires there is going to be division, disharmony, and destruction.
“I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not walk in the same footsteps by the same Spirit?”2 Corinthians 12:18
The Holy Spirit has a history. The Spirit that lives inside you is the same Spirit that inspired the Holy Scriptures. He will not lead you in a way inconsistent with that. In fact, the primary way that God guides us is through the Scriptures.
Some people today like to say that they are “spiritual, but not religious.” Respecting the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church will also cause you to respect Tradition. I need to study how the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of the followers of Jesus before me, because that will give me a big clue in how God might in my life. Following the But we always have to take a fresh look. Someone said:
Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.Jaroslav Pelikan
Tradition at its best is the living Spirit-walk of those who have walked before us.
The Holy Spirit works through Scripture and best of Tradition and always in ways consistent with them. But the Holy Spirit is also able to provide daily guidance.
- The Bible tells us to pray for others. But the Holy Spirit will show you who to pray for.
- The Bible will tell you to serve, but the Holy Spirit will show you where and how to serve.
- The Bible teaches us what marriage is, but the Holy Spirit will guide you about whether and who you should marry (or, more importantly, who you should not marry).
Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be our constant teacher:
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”John 14:26
The Spirit is the way that Jesus speaks to us and guides us today. And Jesus said that those who are His own would have the capacity to hear his voice:
“When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”John 10:4,5
To be guided by Jesus is to be guided by His Spirit.
Jesus might lead us to difficult tasks and through dark valleys, but the destination is always life:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”2 Corinthians 3:17
The Role of Reason
I have known people to say, “I am not a touchy, feely person. Just show me what to believe and I will believe it. I like reason.”
The Holy Spirit can use your reason. God invented and gifted us with logic and powers of deduction. We ignore these to our own peril. But the Holy Spirit always reserves the right to supersede our reason. Martin Luther called reason “the Devil’s girlfriend” (but he didn’t say girlfriend). The Enlightenment supposed that we humans could all live by reason, solve our ills through science and technology, and create Utopia on earth. But we used our reason to build deadlier weapons to destroy one another.
We need more than reason. The Holy Spirit works to transform our hearts and guides our actions. I have found that I can reason my way in and out of anything. God does not owe my reason any explanations. My job is to simply be obedient. I confess that I often use reason to talk myself out of being obedient. The Holy Spirit might nudge me to give someone a phone call. I counter with, “Well, they might be eating dinner.” Or “It is 8:30. It is too late to call.” Or, “I just saw them earlier today. They are fine.”
When we give the Holy Spirit excuses, it is harder to hear his voice the next time around. When we are obedient, the voice becomes clearer. My life is to be lived under the government of the Holy Spirit.
Since I have been walking every day, it is amazing how many people I have run into at just the right time. I met someone out in their yard one time. We had a nice friendly exchange. I happened to be walking by a few weeks later at the exact moment she got the news of the death of a close family member. Psalm 37:23 says, “The steps of a good person are ordered by the Lord.”
The Holy Spirit has timing and resources that we could not even imagine. Our part is to simply be obedient. In the coming weeks, we are going to talk about how to be led by the Spirit, overcome sin by the Spirit, and use the gifts of the Spirit. But it all starts with our availability. God is much more interested in our availability than our ability.
Yes and Amen
2 Corinthians gives us a pattern:
“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:20)
God’s Word is full of great and precious promises. If you are reading through the Bible and see a Promise of God. You might ask yourself, “Is that for me?” Paul is saying here that, in Christ, all God’s promises are “YES.” We have a green light for abundant, covenant living. But he also includes our necessary response: “Amen.”
I used to think of “amen” as “over and out.” It was simply a way to end a prayer. But it is more. Amen means “So be it.” When someone prays, and you say Amen, you are agreeing that it should be so.
God’s “YES” calls for our “AMEN.”
One of the warning in Scripture that we are given related to the Holy Spirit is the warning against grieving the Spirit.
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”Ephesians 4:30
We will say more about this in the coming weeks, but today suffice it to say that we grieve the Spirit when we fail to meet his “yes” with our “amen.”
So here is our challenge this week: Give the Holy Spirit a quick AMEN. I am praying that the Holy Spirit will nudge you this week. I don’t know what it might be. He might call you to pray for someone, reach out to someone, take a different path, or lay something down. He might call you to your Bible instead of watching TV.
Whatever it is, give the Holy Spirit your immediate agreement and act on it. That is the first step to a new life with God.
Maybe you are reading this today and you don’t know that you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you. The amazing gift of the Holy Spirit comes when you surrender your life to Jesus and accept his free gift of salvation. You can do that by saying a simple, sincere prayer:
Dear Jesus, thank you for dying for my sins. Father, I receive your forgiveness as I turn to my ways and turn to yours. I want to be your follower and receive the amazing gift of the Holy Spirit. Spirit, please live in my heart to guide my steps forevermore. In Jesus’ name. Amen.