Along many Oregon beaches creeks run across the salt and pepper sand into the ocean. Recently, my grandson, Ari, and I were floating his toy boat on the small stream at the Kitchen Beach in Bandon. In most places it was only four or five inches deep as it carved its way to the crashing surf. The red and blue boat would float a little way and then ground out on the sand along edge. Ari or I would nudge it back into the rippling current and it would bob along happily until the current left it grounded again. We kept nudging it seaward.
I’ve read a couple volumes of systematic theology on the Holy Spirit, but I think this experience has given the best understanding of what it means to walk in the Holy Spirit. This says more about me than the value of the books I read. And it is probably God’s commentary on my experience, not my insight, that is instructive. You can judge.
First, walking in the Spirit is more than obedience. The boat was always in the stream bed, even when twirling in an eddy or aground in the shallows. The biblical images that express the Holy Spirit are wind and water, things that move and flow. Obedience is essential; it keeps us in the stream bed of God’s will as revealed in His Word. But walking in the Spirit is more. It means moving in the current, not stuck in the shallows.
Second, it is important to discern where the current is strongest. The river boat captains about which Mark Twain wrote knew every snag, sand bar, and rapid. They knew where the current was strongest. They could read the waters. For us this means sensing what gives God delight. On the beach, I looked for where the ripples of the current caught the sun. The beauty revealed the current. There was glory in the light. It took a lot of nudges to get the boat down the creek and into the ocean.
Third, only nudges were needed because I was fully committed to the stream and its direction. Graciously, God sometimes nudges us back into the current of His Spirit, but I suspect God wants us to be more than plastic boats. Like experienced riverboat pilots, we should learn to avoid the snags and sandbars; we should steer ourselves into the current of the Spirit throughout the day. The current, like God’s grace, does most the work.
For me this means nudging my thoughts and emotions into what God’s Word declares. It means choosing to hope when things look hopeless. It means choosing kindness over bitterness. Compassion instead of judgment. When I nudge my heart and my mind toward the truth, I soon feel the current of God’s Spirit.
I have gotten better at discerning when I am stuck or swirling in an eddy. Time spent in God’s Word has made it easier to make course corrections. Daily time in God’s Word has helped me quickly identify the lies and the compromises that I need to avoid. It is easier to swing back into the current of His Spirit when steering by His Word.
There is joy in the current. Being grounded in the shallows is both boring and depressing. We were created and redeemed to flow with the Spirit of God. We were made to move and feel the wind in our face. Prying ourselves out of mudflats steals our joy.
It feels like grace when the current catches the boat and moves it toward the roar of the ocean, one nudge at a time.