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Back to Basics: Walking a Christian Life

By Paul and Bob Garofallou

It is early on a cool spring morning.  Thousands of runners are stretching and jogging, warming up for a big foot race.  The sun is just creeping up over the horizon and its golden light is bouncing off the great glass expanses of the downtown skyscrapers, a colorful contrast to the blue bowl of a sky overhead.

I’m on the sidewalk in an awkward stance, stretching my legs, as are the other many men and women, preparing for the race.  With fifteen minutes to the start of the race, I notice a young man stiffly swinging his arms in great windmilling arcs.  I see he is wearing brand new shoes, unmarked by grass stains or the tar of roadways.  

I sidle up to him and strike up some pre-race conversation.  “Ready for the run, friend?” I ask.

“I hope so,” he says anxiously, “I’ve never run before”

“Never run a race?”

“No…I’ve never ever run more than ten feet before in my life.”

“WHAT? This is a nine-mile race!  Are you sure you can make it?”

“Yeah…I hope I‘ll do alright.  I think I will finish it.  Wish me luck!”

I passed him five minutes into the race, on the side of the road, doubled over with cramps.  Luck has nothing to do with running.  Many hours and long hard miles have gone before, to bring a person to the point of successfully completing a race.  You don’t start preparing for a long distance race fifteen minutes before it starts. 

Yet that is what many Christians do.  They are not training themselves to walk a Christian life, let alone warm up for it, until a crisis overtakes them (for example, divorce, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, financial worries).  That is why you see Christians doubled over on the side of the road, unable to handle the problems they are facing.

Walking as a Christian is like long-distance running.  It requires that you follow a regimen over the course of your life.  Like an athlete who trains regularly each week to remain competitive, a Christian must make time during the course of the week to pray, to fast, to fellowship, to read scripture, in other words, to train, if he or she wants to “be instant in season, out of season,” as Paul wrote to Timothy.

Let’s look at a spiritual athlete: Jesus Christ.

In Matthew chapter 17, a man brought his child to Jesus to be healed.  Jesus rebuked the devil and the child was cured.  Afterwards, the disciples asked Jesus, "Why could we not cast him out?"  Jesus answered them by saying that this type of devil does not go out "but by prayer and fasting".  This implies that Jesus would pray and fast regularly, so that He was always able to handle the crises of life.  This account also implies that the disciples were obviously unprepared to tackle the problem. 

The point here is that when Jesus was confronted with a crisis, He immediately and effectively dealt with the problem.  Jesus did not tell the man to wait about five years so He would have enough time to begin praying and fasting to prepare Himself to face this situation.  There seem to be very few Christians who, like Christ, can handle the problems in life.  There seem to be many Christians, however, who, like the disciples, can only look on in bewilderment and ask, “How did you do that?”  The answer is a regimen of walking the Christian walk.  It begins with the line from the Sermon on the Mount, “…seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” 

How did Jesus do it? 

First, He prayed.  In Mark 1:35, we read that Jesus, “rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.”  Throughout the Gospels, we find that Jesus regularly communed with God.

Second, He read and applied scripture in His life.  In Matthew chapter 4, when Jesus is tempted by Satan, Satan quotes Scripture to Jesus, and Jesus quotes Scripture in response to each of the temptations found in this passage.  Jesus knew Scripture and lived by it.  When He was tempted, He relied on it to avoid falling to the temptations that were presented to Him. 

Third, He honored God.  Perhaps the most dramatic example of this in recorded in Matthew chapter 21, when Jesus overthrew the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple.  Jesus lived a righteous life and he honored God continually in His prayers.

The words sound good, but how does one go about “seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness”?  Let the Bible answer that question.  Micah says it this way:

 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?  (Micah 6:8)

 Jesus is even more succinct.  In Mark, one of the scribes asks Jesus, "Which is the greatest commandment of all?"  Jesus answers:

29  ...The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:

30  And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

31  And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.  (Mark 12:29-31)

 These are not just tips for Christian living.  Micah calls these requirements.  Jesus calls them commandments.  Both are saying the same thing: honor God with every fiber of your being and be merciful and just with your fellow man. 

You cannot begin to cope with a child on drugs or the death of a loved one without first having had these principles established in your heart.  Peter tells us how to get these principles established in our hearts, beginning with our faith in God:

5  And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;

6  And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

7  And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.  (II Peter 1:5-7)

 Here Peter lays out a step-by-step program that builds on your faith until you are exercising Christian charity (or love).  On closer reading, you find that Peter is simply amplifying the words of Jesus and Micah above: love God and love your fellow man.  He goes on to say that if these things abound in you, then you will never be “unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  He contrasts this powerful Christian walk with a comment about an anemic walk, saying that the person who lacks these things “is blind, and cannot see afar off”.

When Peter puts the capstone on his program, he ends with charity (or Christian love).  Paul tells us what this love is in I Corinthians chapter 13.  We often hear this chapter as a reading at weddings, and it is very appropriate for such an occasion, however, the verse is actually talking about the administration of spiritual gifts within the Church.  Reading chapters 12 and 14, we see that Paul is saying that if he has spiritual gifts in full operation but does not have love while he is performing them, then they are just noise and are of no effect.  All of chapter 13 describes the love of which Peter and Jesus speak.  Perhaps the best summary is, “Charity…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Charity never fails.”

When we, as Christians, have these precepts abounding in our lives, then we can stand on Paul’s words in Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

When I have ministered to other Christians, and I walk them through this discussion, this is the point at which some say to me, “Those are nice sounding words, but I need something that is going to get me through this trial.”  The thing they do not see is that this is what they need to get them through the trial, whatever that trial may be.  Often I find they have little or no prayer life, they do not read the Bible very often, and their Christian walk is largely a quiet Sunday morning in a church pew.  Hardly the spirit-building exercises needed to train for life’s problems.  The short answer for these people is: deal with the medical and legal needs first, save the sermon for later in the week.  If your son was arrested for selling drugs, he has been dealing drugs for a while.  If your daughter is pregnant and contemplating an abortion, she has been sexually active for a while.  There is nothing you are going to say in the heat of the moment that will change the event.  Seek God.  Pray.  Fast.  Let several days pass before you have that discussion with them.

Christians down through the ages have stood on these principles when they faced persecution.  The historian Tertullian, in the century after Christ, writes that Christians were torn apart by wild beasts in the Coliseum and were hung on crosses.  The early Christians relied on these precepts, these principles, these commandments to give them boldness to face the problems that were certainly no less than the problems faced by Christians today.  They understood the value of having these Christian precepts established in their hearts.

If you have been diligent in applying these principles in your life, if you have been a good parent, a good spouse, a diligent employee, how do you know when you are prepared to “run the race”?  When are you ready?  Perhaps the best test is to see if the fruits of the Spirit are active in your life.  Paul enumerates these in Galatians, chapter 5.  They are:  love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Periodically check to see how many characteristics enumerated by Peter or Micah are in your walk. 

If your life abounds in these fruits and characteristics, then you are ready to strap on your spiritual running shoes and join the throng at the starting line of the race.  You will find that you will be a front-runner and acquit yourself well.