Imagine a scenario where this phrase might be used. I picture a runner in the last leg of a marathon, when the end is not yet in sight. Her head is cloudy, her whole body is converting into jello, and some well-meaning bystander shouts, “One foot in front of the other!”. If we didn’t know the conventions of a marathon, or even of running for sport in general, this might seem like a curious or even cruel gesture. If the runner had any breath we would expect her to bite back, “Literally, one foot in front of the other is what got me into this mess!”. But we know what a marathon is; so we know that this phrase is not only encouraging but also good advice. For someone who feels she has nothing left, a single step may be the only thing she feels she can accomplish. What the bystander is really saying is, “Have faith! In this moment, your one step is enough!”
God is teaching me that weather strongly affects my mood. The sun went on vacation for most of last week, and you would have thought I was Juliet pining for her exiled Romeo. Mundane concerns like work and finances morphed into titanic anxieties. And within a few
short long days I had all the wind knocked out of me. It was all I could do to show up on Sunday morning and lead through songs by rote. Compared with Jesus' gift of Himself to me, my gift to Him felt petty and spiteful; and truth be told it was.
Yet there I was singing to God, confessing to Him, listening to Him, being fed by Him. My heart was every bit as cloudy as the sky that morning. But the sun finally came out that afternoon. I still feel anxious, especially at how quickly I became anxious. But the end is in sight for now. I look back even on the last several days and see that God kept me going, one plodding step at a time.
We are right to avoid dead religious observance: slavish church attendance, slavish bible reading, slavish almsgiving. But what makes these observances dead is not that they are religious; it is that we, observing them apart from Christ, are dead. When we expect these activities to give us life, both we and they remain dead. When we trust in Jesus to give us life, both we and they are made alive. Last week I prayed, I studied Scripture, I went to church, I gave money away, and most of the time I felt deplorable doing it. Were these works dead? No, because I was not dead, as much as I felt dead at the time.
Jesus promised me that He has the power to bring me and my works to life (1 Corinthians 15:56–58). The more I trust Him, the more I believe the truth: that I am alive and no longer capable of dead works. Every foot forward counts toward finishing the race. To smoosh together some of Paul's words: it is no longer I who run, but Christ who runs in me. When we feel like we have nothing left, we need someone on the sidelines preaching this to us. No amount of failure or even fear of failure can undo the victory of the cross, for me or anyone else. We need only lay hold of it, which I continue to do, in part, by dragging myself to church when necessary. Thank God for His Spirit who enables me to continue making that choice, who shouts at me from the sidelines through His word, through His sacraments, and through His church. Because of Him, my one step is enough.