Beyond the Formulas, Part 5 – Step by Step
In my last post I explored Jesus’ call to follow him – to live life as he did, connected to the Father by him, the Son, and through the Spirit, calling others to do the same. In this post I’d like to share some thoughts on what I think it means to try and do that in the context of everyday life.
When I look back on my life and journey of faith thus far, it is divided into two parts. In the first half, faith for me was mostly about a decision. The decision was to accept that Jesus’ death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection accomplished something for me. It was about deciding that I believed who Jesus claimed to be and that his sacrifice accomplished something on my behalf that I could not accomplish for myself. I was accepted, loved, and redeemed by God based on what Jesus did. The problem is that for too long, this is where faith ended for me. What I didn’t realize for many years was that the decision I made was a first step not a final step.
When my two boys first learned to walk, they both had a similar experience. Both stood and took faltering first steps before deciding that crawling was way more familiar and comfortable to them. Walking was scary, uneasy and unpredictable. They couldn’t get very far crawling, but they also couldn’t fall down. Crawling was safe and predictable. But you can’t really grow and mature as a human being and insist on continuing to crawl.
In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul addresses a somewhat similar situation. Having taken their first steps of faith, some were actually going back to crawling:
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
Paul sees these new followers of Jesus who have taken their first steps of freedom. They have made a decision to believe in Jesus and to follow him. But Paul also sees that these followers want to stop and rest after taking their first few steps of faith. But he pushes them to keep moving forward:
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
So Paul has now contrasted two different ways of life – “indulging the flesh” and “walking by the Spirit.“ Paul goes on in Galatians 5:19-26 to explain more what each of these ways of life look like. To continue my metaphor, indulging the flesh is about continuing to crawl in your familiar habits and ways even after you’ve taken your first steps of faith into a new way of life. Walking by the Spirit, in contrast, is the awkward stumbling-forward process of learning to walk, in the way of Jesus.
But the question still remains – how do you do this? Unfortunately I can’t give you the process or formula (did you read the title of this series?!). What I can give you are the words of Jesus. These words have been immensely helpful for me on many occasions:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
While there are no formulas, Jesus does give us a process that is helpful in understanding how we can continue taking steps forward, learning to walk in step with the Spirit:
- Ask – God invites us to come to him with our cares, concerns and questions. So take him up on it. Go to God in prayer, ask him for wisdom, for guidance, for strength, for courage, for support. We ask, he gives.
- Seek – This is an invitation to action. Seek people who can guide you in the process. Seek books and resources that provide insight and wisdom. Seek truth, beauty, and justice, knowing that these come from God.
- Knock – Try things, and be willing to fail. The invitation to follow where Jesus leads is an invitation to learn from him. This will not be a perfect process. You will stumble. You will fall. But you never learn if you never try.
I can’t give you a formula or tell you what your journey of walking with God will look like. But I can tell you that God is found by those who seek him, and there is more joy and life in stumbling forward, learning to walk, than there is in going back to crawling. Who knows, we might even move beyond walking one day and actually get the chance to run. That’s something to look forward to.
**Photo from Flickr user cc511, used under Commercial Commons license