Episode 1. Taking that First Step
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You hear a lot of people in Christian circles talking about “walking in the Spirit” – living their life’s journey in the very Presence of God. Fabulous. But every journey begins with the …
So many people wish that they could say they’re living their lives by walking in the Spirit. But that’s not really how their life works at all. In fact God often seems a million miles away. Well, there’s a reason for that – it comes down, as it turns out, to a question of priorities.
DECIDING WHAT’S IMPORTANT
Today we are kicking off a new series that’s called ‘Walking in the Spirit’. Now that’s a phrase that might get some mixed reactions. Many Christians will have heard it and it speaks of walking along the path of life in the Spirit of God – the Holy Spirit – with the Spirit guiding us, encouraging us, comforting us. But equally, many who fall into that group, who call themselves Christians – as much as they have heard that phrase, ‘Walking in the Spirit’, they really haven’t experienced it in their own lives.
It’s like, “Well, other people may well walk in the Spirit and maybe it’s for Mr or Mrs Super-Christian over there but it seems that it’s never going to happen for me”. And to those who perhaps haven’t yet given their lives over to Jesus, it may all sound a little bit weird – ‘Walking in the Spirit’. Really?
So, over the next few weeks on the programme, I’m hoping that you and I will be able to spend some time together just unpacking this idea of ‘Walking in the Spirit’, because as I am discovering, day by day in my life, it’s a fantastic way to live life. And life is something we live, breath-by-breath, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour. Not just on some super-spiritual plane, not kind of riding around on cloud nine with the angels, but down here on the dusty roads of this earth; along the highways and the byways of life; over hill and dale.
And the thing that people often find difficult is living out their relationship with God in the reality of their lives. It’s not easy sometimes. This idea of walking in the Spirit might sound wonderful, but how do you actually live your life, day by day, immersed in the Spirit of God – guided by Him, knowing His healing touch and His love in the middle of conflict and strife and busyness and all the stuff we go through in life.
I guess it’s that very thing I would like to explore with you over the coming weeks. Interesting, just over the last few weeks in my life, things have been so incredibly busy and so what’s been happening in my walk with the Lord is that, well, my quiet times with Him, instead of being unhurried in the still of the morning, as they usually are, I just haven’t had those times. My times of prayer have been short and fragmented – often because I’m up early, getting ready to speak at a Men’s Breakfast or whatever.
And whilst it’s been a season of just a few weeks, here’s what I find. It’s so easy to get caught up in the busyness of doing life, doing things for God, doing this, doing that, and what happens is you lose sight of the God who loves you; the Spirit of God who dwells in you. And I get all caught up in busyness. Do you find that too? My hunch is, most of us do.
The sad thing is when that way of life becomes a lifestyle. The sad thing is when people who love Jesus and believe in Him allow themselves to get so busy that they find their time with God is somehow squeezed out of their schedule. And before you know it, God seems like He is a million miles away. Of course, He’s not really, but our fellowship with Him has been interrupted; our relationship with Him becomes fragmented and that’s why it feels as though God is a million miles away.
Now the knock on effect of that on our lives, is that we start imagining that all the doing we have to do, all the striving to achieve that we are involved in, that that is the most important thing in life. So we peddle harder and harder and we start to feel exhausted – spiritually, emotionally, physically … And this is a great time for the devil to start attacking us; it is a great time for us to start worrying about things and getting depressed about things. It’s like this downward spiral and many, many a person who loves Jesus is living their life that way – down somewhere in that dark, deep hole.
So the other morning as I finally arrived back home, I went back to my usual pattern of spending time with the Lord, in the still of the morning when everyone else is still in bed. So many issues were playing on my mind, so many pressures, so many things to pray about, so many things to distract me in my quiet time. And I opened my Bible to pick up where I had left off last time and I found myself in Philippians chapter 3 and as is so often the case, I found the salve to soothe a battered soul.
It’s the Apostle Paul writing about this very issue, about where we put our confidence; about deciding what’s really important in life. He writes a stern warning about putting our confidence in who we are and what we do – making the point that if anyone has the right to be confident in themselves, he does – a Jew, one of God’s chosen people of the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised according to the law, a Pharisee – one of the strictest of all the sects in Judaism in the first century – Paul has every right to be full of himself and to be busy, busy, busy in doing stuff for God, but have a listen to what he says. Philippians chapter 3, beginning at verse 7:
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I might gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.
In other words, the thing that was really important to the Apostle Paul wasn’t who he was and all the things he could do. No, the most important thing of all was the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. Next to that, everything else was rubbish for him, in order that he would find Jesus and be found in Him and to know His power amidst the sufferings of life.
Friend, walking in the Spirit, as we are going to be seeing over the coming weeks, is an awesome way to live our lives. Truly, it is! But it begins with a decision. It begins by deciding, “What’s the most important thing? All the busyness and the stuff I’m involved in, all that I am and all that I want to be OR knowing Jesus?” I mean, knowing Him first hand; being found in Him, knowing His power?
Because truly, if we are all wrapped up in who we are and what we do in the busyness of our lives, then as close as God might be; as effective as the sacrifice of Jesus is to save us from eternal punishment; as much as we may yearn to be close to Him, our eyes will be dull, our ears will be deaf, our heart will be closed to His presence because we have taken Him and put Him on a shelf in our lives and just left Him there.
Walking in the Spirit begins with getting our priorities right. It begins with setting aside some quiet, unhurried time with our Lord each day to rest in Him, to hear from Him, to worship Him.
THE LIGHT ALONG THE PATH
Sometimes I just wish that life made more sense. We all have hopes and dreams but often things get in the road of those. We plan a career but often it doesn’t turn out the way we planned. We hope for this and dream for that but it seems there is always someone or something to get in the road. And then we are left wondering, “Okay, what’s next? How do I go forward?”
What I love about God is that He is a realist. I used to imagine that if I became a Christian and if I gave my life over to this Jesus and if I lived my life for Him, then things would become oh so clear and the way forward would become straight and easy. Well, many things have become much clearer – sure they have – but the path is anything but easy. And you know what, it’s exactly what Jesus promised would happen. Matthew chapter 7, beginning at verse 13:
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
And as we spend some time today and over the coming weeks looking at what it means to walk in the Spirit; to walk in an intimate relationship with God – and I want to do that, not in some theoretical way, but in a way that brings the truth of God to life, amidst the reality of your life and mine.
As I have walked with Jesus, now going on to a couple of decades, the greatest joy for me is in discovering the grace and the mercy of God; the joy and the peace that His presence brings as I live out my imperfect life here on this earth. As I deal with conflict, as I deal with misunderstandings, as I deal with things that happen that I wouldn’t have chosen for myself.
Discovering God at work in me and around me and through the circumstances that I wouldn’t have chosen, that is an awesome thing! It is in that place that we discover the faithfulness, the kindness, the mercy and the power of God. It’s in that place that the Spirit of God helps us to live out the truth, the wisdom and the love of God often at a great cost to ourselves. And there is a particular verse, in fact three verses of Scripture that speak deeply into this reality for me. Have a listen. Psalm 119, beginning at verse 103:
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
God speaks through His Word – we call it the ‘Bible’. And sometimes what people want to do is they want to experience the power of the Spirit of God in their lives. We want to see powerful miracles and mountains moved and we want to experience the joy and the peace of God, but the Bible? “Nah, no thanks – stuffy old book. Not for me – no, no, no!”
But listen carefully to what the Psalmist says. He is saying that the reason that God’s Word is sweeter than honey to him, because, through this Word, God has given him understand; God has given him wisdom to choose the right way, rather than every other false way. And so God’s Word is, in fact, a lamp to his feet and a light to his path.
Now the Bible was written by people but inspired by the Holy Spirit, so we can’t separate God’s Word and God’s Spirit – they are the one thing. And so often in life the things that go wrong aren’t anyone’s fault but our own. So often we are living in the consequences of our mistakes because we made some bad choices – can I be so bold as to say some ‘wrong’ choices? And those wrong choices have consequences – simple cause and effect. You smoke; you are going to die young. You eat the wrong foods; they will make you sick and tired. You commit adultery and it’s going to tear your family apart. Clear, simple, plain, obvious – cause and effect.
But God has given us something: He has given us His Word so that we can eat it like sweet honey; so that we can gain wisdom and insight; so that we can start making good choices; right choices. Is that going to take all the pain out of life? No, stuff still happens! But as you may have heard me say before on this programme, as I look at my own life, I can honestly say that ninety percent of the pain was caused by me. My hunch is, if you are going to be honest with yourself, that’s probably true in your life too.
And here, God has given us His Word to guide us on our path and since the gate is narrow and the road is hard, we need God’s help to stay on the path that He has chosen for our lives. And listen … listen again to how the Psalmist put is:
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Two things: a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. When we are walking along and it’s dark and the road is narrow and treacherous, then what we need right then and there, is a lamp for our feet. Enough light to know where to take the next step. That’s what God’s Word is! These days when I find myself say, in a situation of conflict, when the easiest thing in the world would be to do the wrong thing, God’s Word is lamp for my feet. His Spirit brings His Word to my recollection and I might hear Him whisper, “Turn the other cheek.” That’s the lamp to my feet bit. He shows me which step to take next when things get tight.
But His Word is also a light to my path. As I look up and as I survey the path ahead and wonder, “God, where is this leading me? Where is life headed? Where do You want me to go?” Then His Word is a light to my path. I am doing what I am doing now because God spoke His call on my life, into my heart through His Word. And friend, this whole Psalm – Psalm 119 which, at 176 verses, is the longest of all the Psalms – is all about praising God and thanking Him for His Word.
It’s not that God is loading some heavy pack on our back and making us carry around a bunch of rules – it’s that God’s Word is God’s wisdom for our lives. It shines a lamp down to our feet; it casts a light forward along the path to make our lives all that God wanted them to be. When we begin to walk in God’s Word, here’s the thing: we are beginning to walk in God’s Spirit.
DESIRING GOD’S WAYS
There’s something about yielding our lives to God that is such an important first step to walking in the Spirit. ‘Yielding’ – now that’s a word that many people don’t like! We are not taught to ‘yield’ so much as we are taught to win. It’s great that kids play competitive sport – and adults – but competitive sport, at the end of the day, is about winning and ‘yielding’ seems to be the complete opposite – it seems to be the same as losing. If I yield to you in something, I have to give up my desire to have my way; to win, if you will, in order that you can have your way.
Now, I would like to spend the time we have left together today, just kind of unpacking this idea of ‘yielding’, because in it lays the secret of walking in the Spirit. In this notion of yielding lies the secret of laying hold of the abundant life that Jesus said He came to give us. Funny thing – when we discover God’s wisdom, God’s truth, so often, it turns our worldly concept completely upside down. Yielding in order to win? Let’s have a look – Psalm 25, beginning at verse 1:
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
Now, those words were written by King David and if you know anything of David’s life, you will know that even though he eventually became King of Israel, he went through some really tough times. His predecessor, King Saul, tried to kill him, the nations around Israel came against him when he was King and tried to annihilate him, even his own son plotted against him. So he is speaking here out of one of those times of trial and through it all, David has figured out that God is his salvation; that God is trustworthy.
When all these enemies of David’s come against him, David puts his trust in the Lord our God and God never forsakes him. And because he has learned in his own terrible experience that God is faithful and trustworthy because God has always been there for him, he now makes what would seem to be a strange request of God. Have another listen and see if you can pick it up. Beginning at verse 4:
Make me to know your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
I know it may sound a little odd here but what David is doing is, he is yielding to God. Not because God is twisting his arm but because he has discovered the faithfulness and the goodness and the loving kindness of God. He has discovered that, come what may, God’s way actually works – which incidentally, is why the ministry that I am part of in producing these radio programmes, is called ‘Christianityworks’, because it actually does.
And so because David has experienced the faithfulness of God, he is now yielding to God and pleading with Him, “God, show me Your ways. God, teach me Your ways. Lord, lead me into Your truth. Teach me, because You, O God, are the God of my salvation and for You I will wait all day long.”
And ‘yielding’ is only yielding when it’s done as David did, willingly – at least, in God’s eyes. Yielding to God isn’t about grumbling or complaining. He wants us – because of what He has done through Jesus on that cross – to lay down our lives at His feet; to crucify our selfishness; to nail it to the cross; to die to self and live to Him. Romans chapter 6, beginning at verse 3:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him in baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
The whole emphasis here is on dying to the old self and rising again to Christ to be what God always intended for us to be.
Now, I’m not saying for one moment here, that we need to work our way into God’s favour. Anyone who has ever tried to scrub themselves clean before coming to God, as I did, will know the absolute futility of that. The only One who can make us clean is God Himself, through Jesus. And the only One who can bring our new life to life in us is God, as He pours His Holy Spirit upon us.
But the thing that stops us from experiencing the power of the Spirit of God, His love, His guidance, His wisdom, is our stiff opposition and our pride. The idea that, “I don’t need to listen to God because I know what I’m doing.” And when we have that attitude, there’s one thing absolutely for certain, God will oppose us every time: “… for he opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James chapter 4, verse 6.
And here in David’s plea to God: “Show me your ways; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me,” we see this essential first step to walking in the Spirit; to experiencing the new life that Jesus wants us to have.
And that … that essential first step, friend, is to yield to God. Not just in some things but in everything – all that we are, everything that we have, all our hopes, all our dreams for the future – laying everything at His feet and saying, ‘Lord, all of this You have given me but more than that, You gave me Jesus, Your Son, so now I lay everything down, I worship You with all that I am and all that I have. And now, dear God, show me Your ways.’
When we come to God this way, yielding all, opening our hearts to His Spirit and His Word, then we have stepped into that place where His Spirit would lead us:
For it is no longer I that live but Christ who lives in me.
The Spirit of God Himself dwelling in me, in you, in anyone who would thus yield their life to Christ.
So many people desire with all their hearts to walk in the Spirit and yet are unwilling to yield to the Spirit. For they know when they yield, the Spirit will go to work in them and there will be a price to pay. There is always a price to pay to cut out the cancer of sin. The question is simply this: will you yield, will I yield?