On Albert Bridge which crosses the River Thames in Battersea, near where we used to live, you’ll find a plaque: ‘All troops must break step when marching over this bridge.’ The story behind this is that in 1831 the Broughton Suspension Bridge (now in Salford, Manchester) collapsed as a troop of 74 men marched across. Investigations put this down to the effects of mechanical resonance caused by multiple feet landing on the bridge at once. The army subsequently issued an order that troops should always ‘break step’ when crossing a bridge.
There’s something powerful about keeping in step. It might be bad for bridges, but it’s good for our spiritual lives. In today’s reading, St. Paul gives us this exact advice when it comes to the Holy Spirit: let’s keep in step (v25). Let’s match our strides to what God the Holy Spirit is saying to us, and how He is directing our lives.
It’s significant that this simple but immensely important advice comes straight after the famous teaching on the fruit of the Spirit. Let’s be honest: it’s impossible to grow all nine fruit of the Spirit at once, most of us think we’re doing well if we’re growing in one or two at any point in time. So this is very wise advice: in effect Paul is saying, take note of where God is at work in you, what particular areas of your life are growing or changing – and keep in step. Follow the Spirit’s lead. The best thing for any follower of Jesus is to bless what God is already doing. If we do that, we’ll never go far wrong.
There’s also a secondary implication. To see God at work in our lives brings us great joy. But sometimes we can fall into the trap of giving ourselves too much credit. We see growth, but it brings us pride, not humble thanks. So Paul follows up with a timely reminder not to get either conceited at our own growth, or envious of others’ (v26). This was a trap the young church in Galatia was prone to: Paul had already had to warn them in chapter 3 about trying to achieve by their own efforts what is only a work of the Spirit (3:3).
The Christian life is a beautiful blend of the general and the particular. We live by general principles which apply to all of human life, but we also seek the Lord for the particular things where God is most at work at any point in time. Sometimes the Spirit’s step speeds up, sometimes it slows down. Maybe sometimes it stands still to direct our gaze at something important. Sometimes the Spirit leads us through lush meadows, at other times through harsh deserts. We step up the mountain and down again into the valley. But the advice is always the same: keep in step. This is the key to true and abundant life.
Where is God calling you to ‘keep in step’ today?