Friday, 23 September 2016

Staying in Step

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 
~ Galatians 5:25

The first vivid but tender expression of Spring has passed. The sun is stronger and shade more generous. Summer is never quite guaranteed in an Alpine climate. There are blissful balmy days and mild nights. Then a cold front sweeps past with icy chills in it's wake. Sun-kissed skin is covered under layers once again and smoke drifts in tell-tale tendrils from the surrounding dwellings. It is not a predictable rhythm. One has to anticipate the beat and fall into step, or be left out of the dance...

I've often wondered about a particular verse in Galatians which tells us to "keep in step with the Spirit". Many of us can dance our hearts out on our own, but to glide smoothly along a dance-floor in graceful arches in the arms of another, is an art not many care to master. When I was a shy teenager, I remember being asked to dance at a wedding by someone's uncle. I mumbled an apology, but the older man was persistent. He proffered his hand to me, and I accepted with dread. "Just follow me" - he said. I tried so hard, but I could not "keep in step". "You are trying to lead" he said after a while. "That is my job". Following has never come naturally to me, but the assurance and competence of the older man gently convinced me to let myself be guided. It was not a ballroom finale, just a few minutes of discovering how sweet it is to synchronise movements with a confident leader.

But why do I need to keep in step with the Spirit, and how? (The King James bible says to "walk by the Spirit.")

The why is simple: To be transferred to the image of Jesus. This goal is more important than any spiritual experience or ministry I may have, and more important than any spiritual gift or knowledge that I may receive. 

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” ~ 2 Corinthians 3:17

Walking by the Spirit is what I do when the desires produced by the Spirit are stronger than the desires produced by my physical body. This means that "walking by the Spirit" is not something I do in order to get the Spirit's help, but rather, just as the phrase implies, it is something I do with the "enablement" of the Spirit.

This is what God said he would do in Ezekiel 36:26, 27: "A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you . . . I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes."

When I "walk by the Spirit" or am "led by the Spirit" I don't feel the pinch or burden of the law. When the Spirit is leading me, and produces godly desires, then the commands of God are not a burden but a joy. So in a sense also, walking by the Spirit frees us from being under the law. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Corinthians 3:17).

The Spirit of God creates something new; He removes my heart of stone that rebels against God, and replaces it with a new heart which trusts God and follows His ways. Or to put it another way, the Holy Spirit establishes Himself as the new ruler of my life. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit." ~ John 3:6

The new birth is when the Spirit of Jesus comes into my life, to create a whole new array of desires and loves, yearnings and longings. And when these desires are stronger than the opposing desires of the flesh, then I am "walking by and keeping in step the Spirit." We always act according to our strongest desires. This morning I watched my boys whispering together, plotting some kind of mischief. When they saw Mama watching, they giggled nervously and owned up to their scheme. At this point (thankfully) their desire to please me is stronger than getting into monkey business...

When I walk by the Spirit, the result is beautiful to God. It produces fruit of the Spirit, which is quite the opposite to the "works of the flesh" - which follow when I walk by my own will and desires. It is His fruit, not my works.

First I need to acknowledge that I need the Spirit to guide me - that I cannot do it on my own. As Paul says in Romans 7:18, "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing."

Then I need to ask/pray for the Spirit of Jesus to fill and enable me like Paul prayed in Hebrews 13:21: "And now may the God of peace . . . equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in you that which is pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ."

And when I have prayed for this to happen, I should also trust that it will. Have faith that it will. For I can believe without a doubt that since I have come under the gracious sway of God's Spirit, "sin will no longer have dominion over me" ~ Romans 6:14

But I also need to act in accordance to the guidance of the Spirit. Work out my salvation (Philippians 2:12), and with His grace, fall into step to play my part in the dance, which is my life of worship to Jesus.

The final step in this dance is to bow low and thank God our Father for any virtue obtained or any good deed performed by His Spirit. "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." ~ Colossians 3:17

I often wake up before first light seeps through the curtains. I lie there and mentally structure my day, feeling focused, strong and quite proud of myself in a way. All I want to do is get up and get on with it. Or at times just lie there in the comfortable warmth and ponder some more. For I know that the moment I turn to Jesus, it all suddenly seems so fickle, and I feel so small. As I bare my heart to Him, an inexplicable sweetness fills me, the voices of my children seem far away, the strong pull of all that I need and want to do is loosened. Words and pleas form on my lips that are not my own. And as I surrender into His arms - the day before me is altered. There is music, but it is His song. There is a dance, but it is not a furious jig on my own, eyes closed and lost in all that I feel and want.

There are strong arms around me. 

At times the dance is slow and gentle, and keeping in step with the Spirit of my Lord is simple. But at times there are dizzying twirls, when all I can do is close my eyes, let Jesus sweep me off my feet and trust that there; in the arch of His arms, is where I belong.