Walking Like Jesus

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A number of years ago, I led a group of university students on a 4 hour walk. We spent weeks memorizing the psalms of ascent (ancient Jewish pilgrim songs) and then embarked on our own version of a pilgrimage to “Jerusalem” — a nearby medium sized hill. We left early in the morning from the university and meandered our way through streets, old neighborhoods, new housing developments and poorly marked trails. As we walked, we talked. We got to know each other. I saw students who didn’t know each other walking side by side sharing stories and building relationships. We sat in parks to rest, and we recited the psalms we had memorized together.

Simply put: Jesus walked. Jesus never flew in a plane, road a train, drove a car or zipped through dusty streets on a moped or motorcycle. Chances are he never rode in a chariot either; he was too poor for that. Jesus walked. And as Jesus walked, he taught, healed, blessed, prayed, challenged, called and formed disciples. Allow me to put forth this idea: walking is the pace of discipleship. It’s the speed of faith formation. Anything else is just too fast. Human beings were made to walk. Walking is the rhythm of relationship.

Today we don’t walk our discipleship. Rather we drive to a destination, sit, and consume ideas. We see the journey to “Jerusalem” as a commute. We feel annoyed with traffic. We just want to get where we’re going as quickly as possible. But what would happen if we saw walking as a faith formation practice and started walking together? What if instead of sitting in a staff meeting, we walked 30 minutes to a nearby coffee shop, had the meeting there, and then walked back. What if youth groups walked together more? What if we asked people to park a mile from the church and to journey there and back (getting to know someone along the way)? What if we encouraged intergenerational mingling by strolling together? What if we planned a Sunday afternoon walk for the whole community?

I love Thanksgiving. I love the food, the flavors, the variety. But there’s another aspect of thanksgiving that I like just as much as the feast— the after dinner walk. This particular walk is mostly a necessity, a result of eating too much. But walking with those who have gathered around the table deepens the relationship in a way that eating together does not.  Walking is about going on a journey together…even if it’s only around the block. It’s the shared journey that bonds. It’s walking shoulder to shoulder. It’s about facing the same direction with purpose. 

I’m sensitive as I write this to those who can’t walk because of illness, disability, or age. I don’t mean to exclude anyone. If you can’t walk, do not be discouraged. Walking is not only physical, it’s also a feeling. It’s a posture. It’s a pace. It’s about slowing down and creating time to build relationship. It’s about breathing deep and paying attention to your surroundings. It’s about journeying alongside someone as they share their story. Thankfully you don’t have to physically walk to embody the “spirit” of the walk.

Friends, let me say it again: Jesus walked. What does this mean for faith formation? What if walking wasn’t simply a circumstance of the times that Jesus had to endure, but a way of discipleship? What if the kingdom depended on it? What if it was God’s preferred method for spreading the gospel? Was walking simply an inconvenience or was it part of God’s plan to call and form disciples? 

Jesus walked, maybe we should too. 

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Sam, so good to be enriched again by your wise observation!  I'm going to add "walking" to my job description!

Peter Stellingwerff

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