In other words, he stretches a cable across wide spaces, stories high in the air, and while barefoot, walks across, into swirling breezes or through slick fog, without being attached to a safety belt and without a safety net.
There are explanations for this sort of behavior. Insanity comes to mind, an utter break with reality. Or perhaps it’s related to an uncontrolled addiction to the adrenaline rush of risk. The Red Bull lifestyle.
In Nik’s case, there is another explanation. His last name is Wallenda. As in “The Flying Wallendas”, the famous wire-walking family from the Ringling Brothers Circus (who, ironically, got their stage name when five members of the family fell from 50-foot wire and walked away unscathed). Someone in the Wallenda family has been performing on the high-wire since the first ones in Bohemia the late 1700’s.
So, Nik is the seventh generation of Wallendas. He holds record for the longest bicycle ride on a high wire: 150 feet, 20 stories up on a wire strung from the roof of The Prudential Building in Newark, NJ. This summer, he plans to walk 1500 feet across Niagra Falls—both of them –a feat that has literally required acts of Congress, and the passage of state and provincial laws just for this event. His ultimate goal is to wire-walk the Grand Canyon.
I cannot imagine wire-walking one story up, much less twenty. I’m just not wired for that sort of risk and danger.
But Wallenda’s walk reminds me of the risks of another walk I must take every day. It is the call to walk faithfully for Jesus in the world. It is a significant challenge, for He said that His was a “narrow way” and sometimes, that way feels thin as a narrow cable stretched between skyscrapers.
My toes hold tight when the challenges to faith come from the swirling winds of a coarse, over-sexualized, secular, cynical and anti-Christ culture. I peer through the chill mist of a thousand versions of the Christian faith, most of which Jesus would not recognize. I look down from the heights and fear the crash that comes with failure or the frowning disapproval of people. I feel the dizziness of the vertigo that arrives when self-pleasing rises over servant-hearted love. I know the moment when gospel witness is required, and my stomach is in my throat so all I want is solid ground. Too often, when Jesus calls me to keep in step with the Spirit instead of living my expertise, I put out my foot and can’t find the wire—and I flail with my arms to stay safe.
How can I walk the Jesus way in the face of such challenge?
Nik Wallenda says the most important part of his wire-walking is not the walk itself or even the conditions on the day of the walk. It is the rigging for the wire. What’s involved with the rigging? It is the wire itself—the right tensile strength and width. It is the foundation for the wire, the stability of attachments that will hold the wire stable and steady in the face of gale-force winds.
The rigging for our narrow walk is called the gospel, which Jesus says is the good news of our sovereign King (Mark 1:14-15) whose Kingdom purposes will be perfectly satisfied. Paul says the gospel is “of first importance” and includes this: “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, was buried and was raised on the third day.” (1 Cor. 15:2-3) In other words, the rigging of our walk is rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is our stability. Our narrow wire is, in fact, a strong foundation.
We step forward into the wild and swirling world by faith. “We are of good courage…for we walk by faith and not by sight.” (2 Cor, 5:6) This faith is a simple and ruthless trust in Jesus and the true promises of His gospel more than faith in ourselves. As long as we walk in it, we can step strong, and bold, and sure.
That does not mean that the walk will be easy, nor without significant, even life-threatening peril. So, how? How do I step forward when the threat is so real? How does on get ready to walk the narrow way?
Nik Wallenda first walked on a two-foot high wire in the backyard of his family home when he was about two years old. In other words, he has been walking the wire almost as long as he has been walking. It feels comfortable, almost natural for him to walk on the wire. It is not odd; it is just what he does.
Confidence in walking the narrow way of Jesus comes with consistent gospel practice. Listen:
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:4) This walking arises out of the power of the bloody cross and empty tomb.
“at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord….Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,.” (Eph.4:8-9, 15) This walking is built on intentional, successive choices.
“whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 Jn. 2:6) This walking follows the footsteps of Jesus
In other words, this just becomes the way we live. Doing gospel is how we roll. We think it, pray it, talk it, feed our souls on it.
Transformed minds process culture’s whims and challenges through the lens of the gospel. We evaluate truth claims by the One who is the Truth. We are free to fail because our hearts are settled by with certainty that Jesus accepts us by grace and not performance. We are not subject to the fickle judgments of people, but are delighted with our Father’s smile. We are ever changed into His likeness so we default to love over selfishness more often than we used to. We speak the Word of faith with kindness and respect to outsiders and leave the results to the Spirit. We walk at the pace and in the direction He prompts—even when we don’t see the next step. We risk all for His glory because His love is worth more than our safety—it is better than life.
Because of the resurrection, we can walk the wire through life. We walk now to the cheers of that great cloud of witnesses who have already completed their time on the wire. And we will walk all the way to the other side, where our Father smiles and waits to welcome us Home.
So, go ahead. Set a toe on the thin line in the wild blue. Just one step by faith, and then another…and soon, you’ll be a wire-walker, too.