Once again, I stumbled and fell. A few inches from the ground, I knew it was going to hurt. A fall is never fun, but I’m learning how to “catch” myself before much damage is done, or else recover after a painful fall.
I recently wrote an article on learning to walk with the Lord. I never thought much about what stumbling looks like in my Christian walk, yet it is inevitable in our Christian journey because we’re all sinners. But we don’t have to stay on the ground after we stumble and fall.
Why Do People Stumble?
It’s not unusual for babies to stumble and fall when they’re learning to walk, and they learn from those tumbles. But we can still take a tumble when we’re older.
Physically, we might stumble for a number of reasons. Some risk factors are health-related—struggles with weakness, vision problems, chronic illness, poor balance and even as a side-effect from certain medications. Everyday risks might be anything from tripping over a rug to wearing high heels! Circumstances we don’t expect can also challenge our strength or balance for a potential stumble. Certainly, aging can exacerbate some of these issues.
I think some of those risks might also apply spiritually. We can stumble when we fail to trust and delight in God and find our strength in Him, when our priorities get out of balance, or when we fail to see life from God’s perspectiveand end up making foolish choices.
There are always things in our Christian walk that come along to trip us up: temptations, the pull of sinful desires or learned habits, circumstances that challenge us, and maybe even wrongly-placed confidence when we lean on someone who fails us, our reputation, our accomplishments or material objects—and we come crashing down.
What Can Happen When We Stumble?
When we stumble, any number of things might happen. We might simply trip over something and “catch” ourselves so we don’t completely collapse. We might twist a muscle or sprain an ankle trying to avoid a fall. Or we might suffer the bruises, bumps or breaks from a hard fall.
Serious tumbles make us more cautious, maybe even fearful. We may lose some confidence and walk more tentatively than necessary. We might avoid frightening situations.
These are some of the consequences of spiritual stumbling as well: fear, insecurity and withdrawal from following hard after the Lord.
What Does Spiritual Stumbling Look Like?
Paul described Israel’s stumbling-and-recovering past to the Corinthian church and cautioned them: “Now these things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us … So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” It pays to heed biblical examples and learn from them.
Christians can stumble in many ways. One of the quickest ways to fall is by exhibiting a “haughty spirit.” This is well known even in secular culture: “pride goes before a fall.” Spiritual stumbling is apparent when we walk in the flesh and by sight, rather than by faith.
Paul admitted temptation is common to all of us. We’re all stumblers. But he also said we can stand strong by taking the “escape” God provides. Sometimes that escape is simply learning from the Lord how to walk with more stability, holiness and peace.
Steady Walking Requires a Strong Core.
One of the reasons many people fall when they get older is because they start walking with a “hitch.” Their core strength weakens and they experience problems balancing. Spiritually, when we’re walking right—with a solid, strong core—it’s harder to stumble.
We need to be sure our spiritual core isn’t weakened by beliefs, attitudes and habits that distract from or hinder our walk with God. We must become aware of subtle spiritual impediments and stumbling blocks, and deal with them biblically.
The Bible describes six solid walks that, when proactively utilized, can help us recover from a life of constant stumbling.
1. Walk in the spirit.
We live by the Spirit, and we need to keep in step with Him. If we walk in the Spirit, we will not gratify or indulge in the desires of the flesh. Instead of tripping over enslaving sins, we will walk in freedom in the Holy Spirit. Our lives will reflect the Spirit’s residence within, and we will bear fruit for the Lord.
The Spirit points us to Jesus, and when we abide in Christ, we will want to walk in the same way He walked.
2. Walk in wisdom.
Wisdom’s ways are the True North of our lives. Godly wisdom can lead us in a straight path of righteousness, making it easier to move forward unhamperedaccording to God’s plans.
3. Walk in truth.
I often sing the old hymn that promises: “When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, what a glory he sheds on our way.”
We need to walk following God’s instructions—His truth principles and commands in scripture—so we won’t stumble and fall. God’s Word is light for our path. Satan, the worldly culture and our fleshly appetites feed us countless lies, but when we are grounded in the Word, the Lord will sanctify us (set us apart and make us holy), teach us how to walk in truth, and help otherswalk in truth, too.
Satan says we are defeated, but God’s children know the truth about falling: “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise.”
4. Walk as children of light.
We live in a dark world where unbelievers rejoice when Christians mess up. As Christ-followers, we can understand the darkness because we once lived there. We constantly stumbled around in the darkness, unable to walk God’s straight path.
But now, Paul says, we are “light in the Lord.” God expects us to “walk as children of light”—to walk “properly” as in the daytime, knowing God sees us and has designs to make us holy. The world should be able to tell the difference the Gospel has made in our lives. Another way to say this is, we need to “walk in newness of life.”
5. Walk in love.
Walking in the light is tied to walking in love. The early church was known for walking in light and love, and John said those who hate other believers show evidence they’re still walking in darkness.
Jesus commanded us to love others in the same way He has loved us. If we are living out biblical love, we will not stumble into selfishness. John says whoever loves his brothers and sisters in Christ will not have cause for stumbling.
6. Walk worthy of your calling.
Paul urged the church to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling” to which we have been called, and he describes that walk in Ephesians 4. It includes faithfulness, integrity and peace-based unity with other believers.
We will also desire to walk worthy of our Master’s plans for us. We are created for good works, and if we are busy doing those good works as God leads, we will be more likely to fulfill our calling and less likely to stumble around. So do not grow weary of doing good!
When You Stumble, Get Back Up!
The adage, “You can’t keep a good man down” is a biblical concept. Proverbs 24:16 says, “For the righteous falls seven times and rises again.”
The Bible shares many examples of believers who stumbled spiritually, sometimes paying a dreadful price for their sin. But they didn’t stay down. By God’s grace and with His help, they got up and started walking with Him again.
David fell into tremendous sin, but once again walked with the Lord and penned warnings and encouragement for God’s people. Jacob lied repeatedly, but later God used him to raise up and teach truth to twelve sons who became the leaders of Israel’s tribes. Cowardly Peter stumbled badly when he denied his Lord, yet he rose up in the power of Christ and became a courageous leader in the New Testament church.
Satan wants us to believe God is done with us when we stumble and fall. But this is not the truth. Paul said that because of Christ’s work in us, “we are struck down but not destroyed.” We can get up and get going again in our Lord’s resurrection power.
God is always interested in and concerned about stumbling saints. He desires to uphold those who are in the process of falling; and yet, if they do fall, they are not “utterly cast down.” God’s hand is always stretched out to lift up sinners and get them walking with Him again. Those who delight in Him will be blessed as they refuse to walk in step with the wicked.
Learn to Stumble Forward.
When we have fallen into sin—and that includes not doing what we know is right—the way to “stumble forward” is to refrain from rationalizing. We must not lean on our own understanding, but instead fear the Lord, call sin by name, and turn away from evil as we confess that sin to God.
Stumbling forward includes: (1) Repenting and turning away from sin—recognizing all sin is first an offense against God; (2) Renewing our mind with the truth of God’s Word; (3) Remembering and resting in our forgiveness; (4) Resisting the devil as we draw near to God with a purified heart; (5) Resolvingto never give up our hope in God; and (6) Reaching out to those who can help us with counsel, support and accountability.
What a comfort that when we fall and hit rock bottom, God desires to restoreus. He wants to help us. He responds as a tender Father to our humble repentance and desire to live for Him. Stumbling forward, then, is walking restored by the Lord through our continual “broken and contrite heart.”
Stumbling, Yes … but Never Stumbling Away.
Because we all have a bent toward stumbling, Jesus said, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Again, God is faithful to offer us a way out when we face temptation, and we’re wise to walk with Him and come boldly in prayer to ask for help. As we depend on Him, we praise Him for answered prayer, just as David praised God for making “a wide path” to keep his feet from slipping.
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