The Bible tells us that in the beginning, in the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve walked with God. Can you imagine it?
You wake up in the morning. Have some fresh fruit. Inhale the crisp, clean, fresh morning air. You watch the animals grazing nearby, and then you hear a footstep and the sound of His voice! It’s the Lord God, your Creator! So, you run to Him and walk with Him and talk to Him about your day.
It wasn’t God who changed. It was Adam and Eve.
Adam and Eve invited sin in, and sin brought along its many companions: fear, shame, selfishness, pride… you know their names. “And [Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and [they] hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. So, the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:8-9)
When Adam and Eve heard His voice, they ran and hid. Their joy at His presence had been choked out by fear because of their sin. God could have given up on them. But He didn’t. He found where they were hiding. And He walked with them. And He talked with them. He explained to them the consequences of their disobedience. And He provided for their needs.
Time passed and along came Enoch. We don’t know much about Enoch. We know he was the great-grandfather of Noah. We know he lived to be 365 years old, which, in those days, was really not very old. And we know one more thing about Enoch. In fact, we know the one thing we need to know about him. We know Enoch walked with God.
Two generations later, Noah came along. The story of Noah is familiar. God commanded Noah to build an ark because of the great flood that was coming. If it wasn’t for Noah’s obedience, none of us would be here.
Here’s what the Bible says about Noah: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.” (Gen. 6:9)
Are you beginning to see the trend?
A few hundred years later, we meet Abraham. “Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am [El-Shaddai], God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless.” (Gen. 17:1)
I think sometimes we picture Abram’s encounter with God through Adam and Eve’s fear. We picture Almighty God demanding that we walk right in front of Him where He can see our every move, and we want to hide. We are afraid that we will mess up. We are afraid we won’t meet His standard of blamelessness. We are afraid that when God declares Himself to be El-Shaddai, the Almighty One, that it comes as a warning to us that He is following right behind us, scrutinizing our every step, and watching for an opportunity to punish us with His Almighty power.
But that is not the situation at all.
When God gives Himself a name, He does so to reveal to us how He Himself is all that we need. When God says to you, “I am [El-Shaddai], God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless.” He is saying, “It’s okay. I’m right here. You can walk in My ways and be blameless because I am El-Shaddai. I am God Almighty. I can handle anything that comes our way. Walk right here before me. I’ve got your back.”
Your Life is a Journey
Throughout the Old Testament, the image of walking is used to describe life as a journey. Day by day, step by step you are living your life. But the question is,
- Which path are you following?
- Where is it taking you?
- What are you pursuing?
- Are you walking alone?
- Who are you following?
Sometimes, the Bible describes evil men as those who choose to walk the wrong path or who choose a life of walking in sin. For example, Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz, followed in the footsteps of his ancestor Jereboam. He “…did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not turn away from all the sins of Jeroboam… but he walked in them.” (2 Kings 13:11)
Sometimes as we journey through life, we wander far from God’s path. Thinking to turn circumstances to our advantage or to find fulfillment, we find emptiness instead. The prophet Jeremiah declares:
Thus says the Lord, “What injustice did your fathers find in Me,
That they went far from Me and walked after emptiness and became empty?
…the prophets prophesied by Baal
And walked after things that did not profit.” (Jer. 2:5, 8)
From the beginning, God’s desire was that His people would walk with Him.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses exhorts the people:
“Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deut. 10:12-13)
Also, the prophet Micah writes,
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (Mic. 6:8)
God desires fellowship with His people. And so, He calls them to walk with Him
And then came Jesus.
When Jesus called His disciples, what did they do?
- They walked with Him.
- They talked with Him.
- They lived with Him, daily, in intimate fellowship.
Literally everywhere they went, they walked with Jesus.
After three years of ministry together, when He was about to be betrayed, Jesus knew His disciples would be afraid. Soon, He would no longer be there to walk with them. So, He assured them, saying,
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)
Jesus promised that once His work was finished and He was no longer with them in the flesh, His followers would still be able to walk with Him in spirit.
- It wouldn’t be as Adam and Eve experienced it, waiting for God to visit them in the garden.
- Nor as Noah, or Abraham, or Moses or others to whom God appeared in bodily form from time to time.
- And it would not be as it had been for the past three years when the disciples had physically lived life with Jesus and had known Him face to face.
No, now the Holy Spirit would come. And He would not only be with them, He would be in them. So, wherever they went, He would be with them. Always.
For those of us who are in Christ, we not only have the opportunity to walk BEFORE the Lord or even BESIDE the Lord, but through the Holy Spirit we can have an even more intimate fellowship with Him. We have the opportunity to walk IN Him.
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him… (Col. 2:6)
…God …[sent] His own Son …so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 8:3-4)
Because He indwells us, our fellowship with Him need never be broken. Even the disciples were physically away from Jesus at times, but the Holy Spirit is always near. Yet the choice of where we go and how we walk is still left up to us. We can choose to walk His path. Or we can choose to walk our own.
So now we come down to it. What does it mean to walk in Jesus Christ, to walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit? What does it look like? And even more pertinent, HOW do we do it?
The Daily Walk
There is a glorious, abundant life in Christ that I am sorry to say many believers never experience because they have never learned what it means to abide in Christ, to walk according to the Spirit.
Here is what often happens.
You pray and ask Jesus into your life. You experience His love and forgiveness. You get connected with a church and you start reading your Bible and praying.
Some time passes, and life gets busy and a little difficult. You pray and ask God to fix your situation, but things don’t always go the way you want them to. You realize it has been a while since you picked up your Bible. You join a Bible study to help get you back on track.
More time passes. You are pretty comfortable in your relationship with God now and you feel good about the fact that you are not doing some of those things you used to do. You hear another sermon that makes you feel a little uncomfortable, but once church is over, you forget about it and start thinking about your schedule for the week. It seems like there has been a lot of hardship coming your way lately. It must be a spiritual attack. You ask people to pray for you.
Time passes. You have some decisions coming up and you pray for guidance, but you don’t seem to be hearing an answer. You ask others to pray for you thinking maybe God will respond quicker if more people are praying. A week or two go by but you haven’t heard any response from God, so you just make the best decision you can.
Sound a little familiar?
Unfortunately, I think that is a pretty common experience. Oh, we may have a season where we get more serious about God for a while, and we may spend more time in the Word and in prayer. Or maybe we will wrestle with a particular issue that just doesn’t seem to want to go away until we finally surrender it to God. But often, even then, we soon fall back into the same old pattern.
How can we do it differently?
I want to propose to you that we need to learn to walk with God. The Scripture gives it different names:
- abiding in Christ, John 15:4-5
- walking in Him, Col. 2:6-7
- walking in the light, 1John 1:5-7
- walking according to the Spirit, Rom. 8:1-8
- walking in newness of life, Rom. 6:4
- putting on the new self, Col. 3:5-17
We are commanded to do it. But, practically speaking, HOW do we do it?
I want to suggest some practical ways you can learn to walk with God, daily, even moment by moment:
First, make time for your devoted time.
Yes, you have heard it before. Yes, you have done it before, and maybe you are having regular times of Bible reading and prayer.
But I want you to consider the experience of a brother who has gone before us.
Charles A. Miles wrote these familiar words in 1913:
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known
I believe Miles is describing the personal manifest presence of God – an experience when you know, without a doubt, that God is present; when you know, without a doubt, that He is speaking to you. He may not be moving in a visibly powerful way, but He is speaking to you in a very personal way. You know it. You experience the love and joy of His presence. When was the last time you experienced that?
If it has been a while, maybe you should think about seeking His presence. Jeremiah 29:13 says, ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.’
When was the last time you really set aside the time simply to be in His presence? The last time you turned everything off, found a quiet place, set aside the time, and began to just praise God for His goodness and mercy?
We may not experience the fullness of His personal presence every day, but we should be sensing His presence to a lesser degree frequently.
Second, train yourself to seek Him.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-88 says,
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
We treat this verse as if it reads:
Rejoice when things go well
Try to pray a couple of minutes each day
Give thanks for the things that make you feel good
No! Rejoice always!
Your heart can be anchored in the joy of your relationship with Jesus Christ, even in the midst of sorrow. Joy is not happiness. It is not fleeting. And it does not depend on your circumstances. When you have truly learned to abide in Christ, His unshakeable joy will give you strength in the midst of hardship.
Pray without ceasing!
That’s just a figure of speech, right? I can’t really pray without ceasing. I have to do my work. I have to talk to people. I can’t be praying all the time.
Well, that depends on what you mean by prayer.
- There is prayer… and there is prayer.
- There is a time that we set aside for praises and petitions: what we usually think of as our prayer time.
- But there is also an attitude of prayer. An ongoing conversation of prayer. A hanging-out-with-your-best-friend-and-communicating-even-though-you-are-not-talking-all-the-time kind of prayer.
Oswald Chambers wrote,
“The purpose of prayer is to reveal the presence of God equally present, all the time, in every condition.”
Brother Lawrence, in the mid-1600s, wrote in Practicing the Presence of God:
“The presence of God is the concentration of the soul’s attention on God, remembering that He is always present…”
If you are in Christ, the Holy Spirit is dwelling in you. He is ALWAYS there whether you are aware of Him or not. But we must develop the habit of turning our attention to Him within our hearts, even if only momentarily throughout the day. We must develop the habit of listening for His voice.
Consider what Søren Kierkegaard wrote in 1848:
“A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer is listening.”
Praying without ceasing has a lot more to do with listening than with talking. We need to learn to listen for the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit.
Third: Practice obedience.
How often do we pray and ask for God’s help with something, but then we don’t listen when His Spirit speaks? If you have an issue with anger, for example, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to check your anger. And then listen for His intervention! When those angry words are about to burst out of your mouth and you hear His gentle whisper, respond to Him immediately! Thank Him for His faithfulness! And the times when you push right past Him and speak the angry words anyway, He will bring it to your attention. Thank Him for pointing out your error, ask forgiveness, and ask Him to continue faithfully helping you!
As you learn to attune your heart to listen for His voice throughout the day and respond to Him in obedience, you will find that He will begin to speak to you more often and you will find it easier to recognize His voice. You will become more aware of His presence more often throughout the day.
You may be wondering: Do I have to go through all that learning to listen to God constantly? Why can’t I just ask for God’s guidance when I need it and have Him answer me?
Here’s the reality. If your Christian experience sounds kind of like the “average experience” I described earlier (you go to church, you go to Bible study, you read your five-minute devotional every morning and you can’t remember the last time you were sure you heard God speaking to you) this might be true of you:
- You may have developed a habit of ignoring the Holy Spirit.
- The Holy Spirit usually speaks in a gentle whisper.
- Whenever you refuse to respond to Him, your heart becomes a little bit harder, and your spiritual ears a little more hard-of-hearing.
- Eventually, you may train yourself to tune Him out.
- The Holy Spirit may be waiting for you to obey what He has already told you to do.
- If there is a sin that has been brought to your attention but you have not dealt with it, the Holy Spirit may be silent on any other issues until you deal with it. (And chances are, you may also be experiencing God’s discipline.)
- If there is some matter that is not sin, but in which you have not done what the Spirit has asked you to do, He may simply be waiting for you to obey.
- When you have not obeyed the Spirit in small things, He may not entrust you with greater things.
If any of these are true of you, you have an obedience problem. You may have become “stuck” in your Christian growth due to a stubborn, prideful, or rebellious spirit. The only cure is repentance and a changed heart evidenced by obedience. But fear not, at the throne of grace you will receive mercy and find grace to help in your time of need (Heb. 4:16)!
- According to the Scripture, disobedience is rooted in unbelief (Heb. 3:18-19).
- Obedience is rooted in love (John 14:15).
Those who develop the habit of obedience are also those who hear God’s voice most clearly.
Suppose I am learning to walk with God. How will God guide me? What happens if I step off the path?
There is a wonderful passage in Isaiah that goes like this:
…the LORD longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who long for Him. (Is. 30:18)
…He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, …Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left. (Is. 30: 20-21)
When you learn to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit, He will warn you whenever you turn away from the path. Trust Him to guide you.
But understand, He won’t hand you a map. He will almost never lay out His plan for you in detail. He will show you the next step or two, just enough to allow you to prepare for what is ahead. If you get off track, He will guide you back to the path.
When the Israelites fled Egypt, God commanded Moses to part the Red Sea and the people were able to cross on dry land. But, years later, when the Israelites were about to cross the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land, God did not first part the waters. He commanded the priests to carry the Ark of the Covenant and step right into the rushing floodwaters. He parted the water for them, but only after they had been obedient and stepped into the overflowing banks of the river.
God’s leading is often like that. Early in our journey with God, He often speaks more loudly and makes His ways more plain. Later, as we learn to walk with Him, and as we learn His ways, we may need to step out in faith without having all of our questions answered or our doubts satisfied. We must trust that God is with us and is able to carry us through. And that if, in our human frailty, we take a step in the wrong direction, He will correct our course.
In the wise words of John Sammis, written in 1887:
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
[adapted from a sermon originally preached 9/24/2017]