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Walking in the Lord

Dear friends,                                                                           August 2017

            For more years than I can count, one of my most frequent prayers has been “Lord, please set the agenda and give me the discernment, desire, and strength to perform it.”

            It is a prayer that sometimes covers a particular event, sometimes the course of my week, sometimes the full scope of Vital Signs Ministries.  It is a prayer that reflects several of both Claire’s and my desires: to avoid missing something important; to avoid wasting time and effort on the wrong things; to be faithful stewards as we invest in the world to come; and to faithfully honor all of you who support Vital Signs by being as purposeful, diligent, and effective as we can be.  It is for this last reason that we take very seriously these monthly letters to you. We serve the same purpose by presenting to the nine Vital Signs Board members at our quarterly board meetings meticulously detailed reports of not only how we’ve spent Vital Signs donations but how we’ve spent our time as well.

            So, it’s a good prayer.  Simple.  Relevant.  Practical.  And God has been richly merciful in answering it over these decades. 

            Nevertheless, with all this being true, this summer I’ve started to replace that prayer with another one.  And to tell you the story behind that change is the primary objective of this month’s letter.  So, here you go.

             As I’ve related several times in these letters, I have embarked on a serious regimen of walking these last 3 years – an almost daily regimen that combines a couple of hours of exercise, concentrated thinking, and prayer.  It has been a tremendous blessing.  But only this summer did I think of looking closely at what the Scriptures say about walking and, related to that, about paths.  As you can guess, both words go beyond physical locomotion and are, in fact, generally used as metaphors for the fullness of a person’s life – conduct, decisions, attitudes, priorities.

            The believer in Christ is instructed to walk before God, walk in His commandments, walk in truth, walk in the light, walk in newness of life, and walk in the Spirit.  Furthermore, he is instructed in various Scriptures to walk in love, righteousness, justice, peace, and faith. 

            The sheer number of these commands emphasize their importance.  And with the use of such a practical, universally understood metaphor, the intent is quite clear. Walking means movement.  No, check that. Walking, as a biblical metaphor, usually means progress; that is to say, movement in the right direction.  Walking also requires purpose and decision.  It requires effort, sometimes even sacrificial effort.  And walking is ongoing.

            Now I know there’s a popular belief nowadays that God isn’t interested in what you do, only in who you are.  Stated a bit differently, the idea is that God is all about being rather than doing.  Sorry, Binky. That may make for a religious sounding sentiment, something to put in a syrupy song that you can sing over and over in a Sunday church service. But, in truth, it’s a bunch of baloney.  The Scriptures couldn’t be more plain or more forceful.  Walking means action.  And, by the way, so do all of those other action verbs used throughout the whole of the Bible – words like do, fight, serve, love, act, teach, sow, pray, behave, share, light, choose, invest, bless, consecrate, worship, show, witness, think, build, flee, resist, follow, bear fruit, hold onto, tell, do justice, abide, know, exhort, conduct, lead, guard, rule, meditate, endure, help, listen, correct, forgive, understand, work, minister, imitate, make peace, persuade, fulfill, present, hope, proclaim, fix, run, establish, prepare, cleanse, pursue, reprove, obey, secure, plant, give, deliver, perform, labor, speak, repent, ask, remove, praise, testify, visit, sing, stand firm, and a whole lot more.

            You get the idea. 

            True spirituality is not a mere state of being.  It is the active, ongoing, progressive response of one’s whole life when dedicated to the Savior.  

            Now keep in mind, of course, that a person cannot walk with the Lord until a) his sins have been forgiven, b) he has been adopted into God’s forever family, c) he has had the very righteousness of Christ imparted into his soul, and d) he has received the presence of the Holy Spirit into his life. And yes, all of these things (and a lot more!) happen at the very instant that a sinner trusts Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as the payment (the only possible payment) for the penalty of that sinner’s sins. Without the substitutionary atonement Jesus provided through His death and resurrection, we have no hope. For no matter the fervency of one’s desire or the strength of their diligence, the unbeliever cannot walk his way into a righteous standing with God. He needs the cross.

                  “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4-5 and 8-9) But, after one has received the grace of God through Christ, he can and should demonstrate the power of God through his walk.  For as the next verse in this passage relates, For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

             Good works – that’s walking the walk after (and because of) our salvation by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.  And, as we’ve highlighted in this letter, the active, obedient character of the Christian’s walk is of paramount importance to the Lord.

            I also mentioned earlier that I’ve been meditating on Scriptures about paths. Like walk, the word path is also used metaphorically to describe the course of life that God desires of us.  Thus, Psalm 23:3 speaks of the path of righteousness in which the Shepherd guides His faithful followers; Proverbs 3:17 describes the paths of wisdom as being peaceful and pleasant; Proverbs 8:20 refers to God’s paths as being righteousness and justice; Psalm 119:105 praises God for His Word which provides light for a man’s path; and earlier in that same Psalm (verse 35), the path is specifically defined as the “path of Your commandments.”  Also, we are warned that there are wrong paths too which must be avoided at all costs. (Check out Proverbs 1:15, 7:25, and 16:17.)

            Added to these (and several others) are three more which I’ve been using lately in my personal vows to God and in my prayers for others.  1) Psalm 16:11 – “You will make known to me the path of life.  In Your presence is fullness of joy.  In Your right hand, there are pleasures forever.”  Can the path of life be difficult?  Certainly.  Yet we walk it in honorable obedience depending on His strength to make the journey and because we know where the path of life leads; namely, the heavenly city of Zion in the re-created Earth.  And please note the enthusiasm and confidence of the psalmist’s hope.  He is expecting in full God’s gifts of joy and pleasure in the life to come.  Oh yes; the destination of the path of life will make our journey well worth every step.

            2) Psalm 25:10 – “All the paths of the Lord are lovingkindness and truth to those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.”  This is a grand promise indeed but it is a conditional one.  If I desire my life to be constantly blessed by God’s lovingkindness and liberating truth, I must be constantly obedient to His teaching.  It’s a very clear quid pro quo deal, one which underscores that He will be bountiful in His blessings to me in whatever particular paths I’m walking (the word in the verse is plural) as long as I walk them in faith and integrity.

            And 3) Proverbs 15:19 – “The way of the lazy is as a hedge of thorns but the path of the upright is as a highway.”  The contrast here is striking.  And ironic too.  For the way of the lazy turns out to be a lot harder and a lot less rewarding than the way of the industrious adventurer.  Indeed, the upright bravely tackles the path the Lord shows him but then, along the way, God transforms that path into a raised highway, a word that the 3rd Volume of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia describes as “a prominent road, such a one for example as was anciently maintained for royal travel and by royal authority.”  The ISBE also notes that this word is “always used in the literal sense except” here in Proverbs 15:19 and in 15:17 where it conveys a similar contrast between the upright and the wicked.  “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil.  He who watches his way preserves his life.”

            Knowing what the Book of Proverbs includes in the “way of the lazy” provides a helpful appreciation for the highway that is rewarded to the upright.  The lazy, slothful approach to life is marked by a shameless dependence on the efforts of others, a desperate future, selfishness, fear and cowardice, ugly living conditions, poverty, a lack of friends, spiritual impoverishment, and foolish pomposity.  Yuck!  Lord, please point me towards the highway to Zion instead! 

            Now before I finish up, let me add a word of specific encouragement to those who might mistakenly think that these exhortations to an “active Christianity” are not for them because they are older or ill or disabled or socially marginalized.  But, as I’ve already said, all of these passages about walking and following paths are metaphorical.  They deal with actions of the will, not necessarily of the legs. The Lord wants you to use whatever you’ve got, but nothing that you don’t have. For instance, just this afternoon I posted an article on my Facebook page written by one of Claire’s and my heroes, Joni Eareckson Tada. It was entitled “After 50 Years in a Wheelchair, I Still Walk with Jesus.” Joni well understands the spiritual applications of the verses I’ve used in this month’s Vital Signs letter and she knows that inactive limbs do not mean inactive hearts.  A Christian, for example, who may be homebound by illness, disability or other circumstances can still minister to others around the globe through notes and phone calls and prayers in their behalf.  The Christian isolated in a rural home or a prison or a care facility can do the same.  They can also resist the devil’s temptation to be morbid, ungrateful, or angry about their trials (which is an important enough victory in their walk with God) even as they use every opportunity to be a light to those who do come their way. 

            No, our paths may be different; our walking pace and style different too according to our talents, resources, health, and spiritual gifts. But an active Christianity is for us all.  We are all called to walk in holiness, in love, in faith, and all the rest. So, metaphorically speaking, put on your walking shoes, grab the lamp of the Word to light your path, and start stepping into the next stage of your faith adventure.

            Oh yes, about that change of prayer I’ve made?  I’ve exchanged my agenda-oriented prayer (along with its association with business management) for something more organic and comprehensive…a prayer stimulated by the word studies I’ve shared above.  “Lord, let me clearly see the paths You have prepared for me.  Then help me to walk those paths in the power of the Holy Spirit, accomplishing Your purposes, and wisely investing my efforts now for Your glorious rewards in the life to come.”

 

Until next month,

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