In preparation for speaking at a church retreat, I studied the Scriptures regarding the work of the Holy Spirit and tried to put into practice my understanding of what I learned. An intriguing concept emerged. The Bible speaks of life with the Spirit as being a walk. The King James Version says in Romans 8:4 that Jesus met the requirements of the law so that we can walk, not after the flesh but after the Spirit. The NIV uses the word “live” instead of walk, but the original Greek word literally means, “to tread all around, i.e. to walk at large." A walk implied two things to me. First, it is not a work; it is a walk. Then second, to “walk after” implies subjection” (The Normal Christian Life, Watchman Nee p.200-201). I have to choose to be subject to the Spirit and His leading in my life.
Knowing these truths helped me in my walk with the Lord, but practical questions plagued me. How does the Spirit lead us? How do I recognize His leading over my own will and desires? How does He work in me, and what does it look like when He is leading compared with when I am leading? I began to pray that God would make the truth of His Word real in my life, so that I might know better how to live. Illustrations usually help me to better understand nebulous spiritual concepts, and this time God delivered one right to my door.
In January of 2011 my father-in-law, Stan Julin, who was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s moved in with us along with his wife, Connie. Feeling trapped in a strange house, Stan needed the frequent release of neighborhood walks. Because my mother-in-law desperately needed hip replacement surgery and walked only with great pain, I began taking daily, long walks with Stan. Doubtless my protracted walks with Stan, often dressed in comical attire, provided endless amusement for the neighborhood. Our leisurely pace, however, allowed for much thought and prayer on my part, as well as unstrained conversation between both participants. One day after many walks with Stan, God called the concept of “walking” with the Spirit to mind and combined it with what I had been daily experiencing with my father-in-law. The result was a powerful illustration to me of what it means to walk with the Spirit.
"because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God."
"But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."
For starters, Stan didn't know which direction to go. Upon exiting the front door, confusion generally took over. Everything was unfamiliar. When in a good state of mind, he contented himself with being led, and therefore, I walked one step ahead of him but to his side, where we could still converse easily. I told him where we were, where we were heading, and to watch out for the uneven pavement. I would remove obstacles from his pathway, and speak words of cheer and comfort when needed. When we came to a corner or crossroads, he would pause to ask which way we should go. Stan didn't strive to push himself but instead seemed to sense that the walk was for his benefit. Does this sound reminiscent of walking with the Spirit?
When we’re content to be led by the Spirit, we also should walk one step behind and allow Him to speak to us God’s truth in the form of direction, encouragement, and wisdom. Every decision should be in subjection to the Spirit’s leading. When He pauses, we pause; trusting that He knows best. Communion, not striving, characterizes this walk.
"For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want… Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."
In the first months that Stan was living with us, he was addicted to a prescribed medication that caused him to be paranoid, aggressive, hallucinatory, and agitated. What a time of rejoicing ensued when the medication finally lost its hold on him. However, during the time that the drug affected him, Stan frequently determined that we couldn’t be trusted, and would take off with astounding energy. He would flee with surprising speeds to he knew not where. Then we really gave the neighbors something to chuckle about as we chased after Stan through hedges and backyards. We, of course, followed him closely to make sure that he stayed safe and eventually directed him home once his mind cleared. On occasion this happened in the middle of an otherwise normal walk.
One such time, he and I were walking in our typical fashion, me one step ahead, sometimes silent and sometimes conversing. To my alarm he suddenly decided that I couldn’t be trusted to lead him home and that he knew the way on his own. He spotted a long driveway and took off down it. I tried to convince him of my trustworthiness and to warn him from the path he was determined to take. The more I tried, the more panicked he became. The driveway led to three houses in close proximity to each other, all of which butted up against woods and had extremely messy and overgrown backyards. After traipsing through dangerous terrain, he finally encountered fences that blocked him from going any further. It was only because he needed my help to get across a precarious rotted and fallen fence and tree that he allowed me to take his hand and help. Once past the danger, he raced off... in his own direction once again. After what seemed an endless hour of useless wandering, he allowed himself to be taken home, much wearied from his wanderings.
How like us frequently in our walk with the Spirit. Our sinful nature is contrary to the Spirit, and when we determine that the Spirit’s leading can’t be trusted or is not taking us in the path we desire (we know better), we determinedly go our own way. Like me with Stan, the Spirit tries to warn us, but He won’t tie us down and force His way upon us. Just as I would never abandon Stan, no matter his trajectory, the Spirit will not abandon us no matter our behavior or willful direction. He is even there to offer us help when we look to Him in the midst of the consequences of our rebellion. The Bible promises us that it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purposes (Philippians 2:13). His will will be done in the end, but how often do we take needless detours and suffer because we did not keep in step with the Spirit?
"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will."
The Greek word “helps” means, “to take hold of opposite together” (Strongs #4878)
Stan walked quite unpredictably on our journeys. Sometimes his stamina was great, and other times he suddenly didn’t have the energy to take another step. Before I learned to be prepared for such unexpected events and bring a wheel-chair, I had to find ways to get him home in spite of his weakness. When weakness would overcome him, I would leave my position of one step ahead and come alongside with one arm supporting him. My words became one of constant comfort and encouragement. Occasionally, he began groaning with pain and weakness, during which times I would begin to intercede on his behalf.
Similarly, when we come to points in our life where we are weak and struggling, picture the Holy Spirit coming alongside and taking hold of you to strengthen, comfort, encourage, and intercede on your behalf. As I finished my preparations for teaching thoughts of grief filled my mind over Stan’s tremendous suffering, as well as my own sadness at the thought of how soon I would never again walk on this earth with such a humble and true man of God. God eased my sadness with a picture in my mind's eye of the Holy Spirit supporting us both and interceding in precisely the manner that we both would need in all future hours of distress. I will always be thankful for the many hours spent walking with Stan Julin that gave me a greater understanding of God’s Word. To God be the glory!
* Written by Marci Julin in May of 2011. One month later Stan went to be with the Lord he loved deeply and had served faithfully. For more on caring for someone with Alzheimers and on Stan's well-lived life go HERE.