The other week I took a long walk with a new friend. From our southwest London neighborhood, we walked through the commons to Richmond Park where – oh the blessed history of it all – King Henry the 8th used to hunt deer. Six miles on foot, lunch by the Thames, and a bus ride home on a double decker. Pure loveliness.
Walking with someone carries certain, yet unspoken, expectations: you’ll travel in the same direction, often side by side. You’ll talk. You won’t pop in your ear buds or take a prolonged phone call. The walk is the means by which you spend time together. Specific destinations and step goals might be part of it, but those targets are attainable all by your lonesome. Walking with someone implies companionship and communication. You’re in this together.
I’ve been reading in Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, and the repeated phrase walked with God has caught my attention:
Noah walked with God. (Gen. 6)
Enoch walked with God. (Gen. 5:24)
Abraham and Isaac walked with God. (Gen. 48:15)
walk /wɔːk/ verb
- move at a regular pace by lifting and setting down each foot in turn, never having both feet off the ground at once.
While it’s unlikely that the forefathers of our faith took literal walks with God, their lives aligned with God and his precepts, so much so that their relationship with God took on the qualities that characterize a person to person, side by side walk: listening and speaking. Steadfastness. Not a mad dash nor stagnancy, but steady forward motion. One can expect stumbling, tedium, steep ascent, and uneven ground, in both physical and spiritual walks, but on you walk, one foot in front of the other.
Ever been walking with someone and a disagreement ensues? (Think family vacation.) An argument flares between you and your spouse or you and your child and all of a sudden you’re at odds and the last thing you want to do is walk next to that person.
In fact, it feels impossible to walk beside that person. So one of you barrels ahead, or stops and refuses to budge, or turns around and stomps off in the opposite direction, or crosses the road. Even if you are able to carry on side by side, something has changed. There’s a space between you now and it’s uncomfortable. Communication shuts down. Something ugly has gotten in the way of your walk.
Sin gets in the way, interrupting pleasant physical walks with one another and interrupting our walk with God. Sin, our natural, rebellious I want to go my own way spirit, prevents us from walking with God in the first place.
In conjunction with reading the first book of the Old Testament, I’ve also been reading the first book of the New Testament, Matthew, and I’ve noticed this repeated phrase (“him” referring to Jesus):
Great crowds followed him. (Matt. 4:25)
Great crowds followed him. (Matt. 8:1)
Great crowds followed him. ( Matt. 20:29)
The phrase is stamped all over the gospels. The crowds followed Jesus like children follow a street performer. What’s he going to do next? With a word, withered skin healed. Defective legs walked. Who wouldn’t want to witness that? Who wouldn’t clap and cheer? Of course the crowds followed him, if only for the endorphin rush.
But crowds can be fickle. Crowds can quickly turn into mobs. The green with envy religious leaders knew this and worked it to their advantage by persuading the crowd to crucify Jesus, the very man they’d been scrambling to watch heal the sick, instead of Barabbas, the murderer. (Matt. 27:20)
It’s easier to remain in the crowd than to step out on your own.
Even now, it’s easier to appear to follow Jesus, to step into church on a Sunday (as we should) than depend on him Monday through Saturday. Jesus put up with the crowds; he was interested in the person. He wasn’t pursuing popularity, he was after the heart. Jesus called, and continues to call, individuals to step out of the crowd, take up their cross, and walk with him. Men and women, young and old. For many, this invitation felt a little too personal, a little too crazy, and cost way too much. Following as a groupie was one thing. Walking with him was another. Jesus knew this and warned his crowd, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt. 7:13-14)
It’s small and narrow and few will find it but guess what? If you seek him, you will find him. If you knock, he’ll let you in. The good news is that Jesus himself is the gate, his death and resurrection opened the way for us to walk with God. The good news is he wants to lead us by the right hand, to give us an unshakeable hope and a secure heavenly home. He wants us to align ourselves, our lives, our steps with his word, which serves as a lamp to show us how and where to walk. (Psalm 119:105)
What is your reality? Do you view Jesus from the crowd, or do you walk with him day by day? Has your walk with him been interrupted by sin? Would you like to step out of the crowd and begin walking with him?
Wherever you find yourself, call out to him. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1John 1:9)
And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)