You have probably heard or read this somewhere before now: “walk with God,” or “walking with/in the Spirit.” There are plenty of resources that thoroughly describe what this means. Even more, there is an abundance of voices that list steps on how to do this in your own life. But have you ever wondered why “walking” is the metaphor the church always uses? Why not riding an animal? Or driving a car? Or why not something completely different like: eating a meal, reading a book or cleaning the house with God?
On the first read these seem ridiculous, but only because “walking with God” is so engrained in our minds that it is hard to think of our spiritual lives in a different way. Every few years there are phrases like, “Jesus take the wheel” and “Jesus is my co-pilot,” that get shared among Christian youths, but traditionally the Church has always described the Christian life with God as a walk. In this spirit, then, let’s take a walk and find out why this image is so distinct to Christian living.
When you tell someone, “Let’s go for a walk,” that person knows what you mean. In our world today there is a vast number of transportation methods: planes, trains, automobiles, boat, bike, animal, elevator, escalator, walking, etc. However, even with all these different methods, everyone around the world knows how to and what it means to walk. When you move back through history that list shrinks. During the time in which the New Testament writers were describing what they knew of Christ, transportation was limited to chariot, boat, animal and walking. To own an animal during this time, however, was fortunate because animals were expensive. Only the rich owned an animal—sort of like how only the incredibly rich own personal jets now. Jesus even had to borrow a donkey when he came into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-3).
Because of this, walking was the preferred method of transportation. This is also why, when Jesus calls his disciples, he doesn’t say, “Get on your horse and let’s ride!” No, he plainly says, “Follow me,” or “Walk after me” (Mark 1:17). If we move even further back in time, we come to the creation of the first humans—Adam and Eve. Do you know what is described of them and their relationship with God? They walked with God (Genesis 3:8)! In their relationship with God, Adam and Eve would walk through the garden, side by side. Walking has always been the preferred metaphor because it is what has always been used to describe living with God, and it translates to every culture and time. Walking is the same as it was with the first humans as it is with us today in the 21st century. Walking is the same in the Americas as it is in Africa, Europe and Asia. The scenery and experiences change, but walking is still just one foot in front of the other alongside the love of God.
How many times have you uttered the phrase, “Life is hard!”? My close friend and I went hiking on the Appalachian Trail one summer and had an absolute blast. We saw incredible sights from the tops of mountains and wildlife and met a number of interesting people hiking through the state of Georgia.
So you know what I remember the most about our hike? All the walking! This is how our days would unfold: get up, eat a granola bar, walk for five hours, eat lunch, walk for five more hours, make camp, eat and sleep. Then, when morning came, we got up and did it all over again. We walked for 10+ hours for five days straight! In fact, we walked over 20 miles the last day in order to get off the trail before storms came through the area!
In order to get to the end of our hike, we had to walk there. In order to get to where God wants to lead us, we have to walk there too. The reason why walking is used in describing our spiritual lives is because walking takes both time and energy. Growing in a relationship with God is more often slow than fast and that is something most of us struggle with at times because our world is no longer conducive to slow things. It is all about how fast we can get what we want or get to where we want to go. But that is not how a relationship with God grows. Growing in our relationship with God is slow, just like walking, but not because he doesn’t want us to get to know him. It’s because he knows that Christianity is a life change and not a quick fix. Even more, Christianity isn’t just a part of your life—walking with Christ is your life! Enoch, one of the first to be described as “walking with God” in the Bible (Genesis 5:22) is remembered as walking with God for 300 years! The life of Enoch testifies to the length and work of walking with God. Even though walking with God and living life is long and difficult at times, there is nothing greater than having our Lord by our side on our walks through life and spiritual growth.
In his letter, John hints to this truth when he writes, “If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7). The metaphor of walking infers the idea of a path as seen in passages such as Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalm 119:105 and Matthew 7:14. Each of us walks our own path, or, in other words, each of us is living our own lives. You have yours and I have mine. However, in the community of Christ, we all walk the same path.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that there is a “narrow road.” What Jesus is saying is that there is one road that leads to God. So, while each of us walks with God in our own ways, all of Christendom also travels the same road that leads to God. This is to what John is teaching us in his letter—there is fellowship among us who follow and walk with Christ. Do you know why this is important? This is important to remember because it means that we are not alone in our walking! Sure, your walk with God is specific to your context, but others are walking the same road.
Overall, walking has always been used and I expect that it will be used far into the future. Not only can everyone relate to the image of walking, but also the metaphor helps us better understand the commitment we make to follow Christ—walking with him is a lifelong process. Even more, it allows us to relate to the larger Christian community when we realize that others are walking the same path.
So, the next time you or someone else says “walking with God” you’ll have a better idea of why the metaphor is always walking and not something else. But, more importantly, you’ll remember that this walking in life is never done alone or in vain for God is with you and leading you closer to him.
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