Philippe was a wire walker, but he wasn’t a circus performer—he considered himself an artiste, and as such he wasn’t just looking to entertain, but to inspire. He wasn’t looking for routine, but to break routine, to break the bounds…and that meant, he was always looking for a new place to hang his wire. He was always looking for something bigger than himself, something solid, something he could trust, something which could lift him up and support him—something he finally found in the Twin Towers. The Walk is an amazing story, creatively told, which will have your stomach in knots (or worse) if you have any fear of heights…you’ve been warned! (Don’t worry – he lives! But knowing that probably won’t help your butterflies all that much.) It’s a fantastic story of inspiration, but it’s also a story which can help us think about the Christian life in some fresh ways.
There was a popular t-shirt when I was growing up that had a picture of a mountain climber on it, hanging off the side of a mountain, held only by a rope, and it said, “Faith isn’t faith until it’s all you’re holding on to.” That same shirt could have been made with a picture of Philippe Petit walking on a wire instead of the mountain climber. Philippe, although not a religious man (that I gather from the movie, anyway), is nonetheless a picture of faith.
He wanted his life to count for something extraordinary. He wasn’t content to be “normal”—not even “normal” for a wire-walker. He lived a life of discipline and practice, always working to perfect his craft. And all the while, he was looking for places to show what he could do. He wanted to bless the world with inspiration, with something powerful, something daring, something they hadn’t seen before.
This may not sound like a life of faith to you at first, but think about it. The call of Jesus is that His followers have a life of extraordinary purpose and meaning. They are called to make a difference in the lives of others, to change the world. Jesus said that His followers would do even greater things than He had done. He didn’t call people to be normal, but to be extraordinary—even in their “normalness”, they are called to lives of righteousness and excellence. They are to be joyful, loving, forgiving, long-suffering, disciplined, peaceful, patient, kind, holy… A “normal” person who is these things turns out to be rather extraordinary, in fact. Just as Philippe, among other wire walkers, was somewhat “normal”, he was yet extraordinary in the practice and application of what was, to him at least, “normal”. The Christian, like Philippe, if they are following the call of Christ, wants to bless others by a life that is inspiring, powerful, daring even, and quite possibly unique, something not yet seen.
Philippe did this, not by doing something never seen before (such as teleporting), but by taking what had been seen, walking on wire, to a new level of perfection and daring. He strung a wire between the Twin Towers and walked across them… without any safety measures. He lived a life of faith in this act. He found something bigger than himself, something strong enough to hold him and to lift him up… He found something which was so grand it was inspiring and he put his very life in its hands. And in so doing, he inspired the world.
For the Christian, we don’t put our faith in our abilities or external objects. We put our faith in God and in the sense that He is bigger than man, strong enough to carry man, hold him and lift him up, He is like the Twin Towers. When we put our faith in God, and let go of all other supports, all other things which we might depend on to save us should we fail, only then will our lives become truly inspiring. At least, only then will they reach their full potential in that regard. In fact, Philippe was encouraged to have a safety wire. He was encouraged to put his faith in a back-up plan, but he answered that, if he were to do that, the walk would be a lie and therefore meaningless. He either risked his life, or it meant nothing. This is the place God longs for us to reach as well—the place of total commitment, where we realize that if our hope is in anything but God, it’s meaningless. He wants us to trust Him with all of our lives, no support wires, no back-up plans. As Christians, when we have our safety wires, then our faith in God essentially becomes a lie, and our walk becomes meaningless. Oh that we would have the passion of Philippe to live such authentic and true lives of faith, risking all for the sake of the God we serve!
Narrating, Philippe said, “As soon as my entire weight is on the cable, I feel a feeling I know by heart, I feel the wire supporting me.” There are a couple key parts to that statement. First, he didn’t feel the cable’s support until he put his entire weight on it. If we don’t feel that God is supporting us, is it possible that it’s because we haven’t yet put our full weight on the cable, so to speak? Second, it was a feeling he knew by heart. Why? Because he had been practicing those steps of faith. You don’t cross the Twin Towers without first training and taking smaller journeys of faith and daring. The Christian life is usually the same. We start with steps of faith. We learn that trust and balance and the skills of walking by faith by first stepping out into smaller risks. Philippe practiced close to the ground. He fell. He learned from other masters. He trained so that when the opportunity presented itself, he was ready and he knew the feelings of risk and support and faith. We need to do the same, training, learning, practicing balance, practicing the discipline of stepping out in faith, even falling from time to time… and when we do, we, too will get to the point where we can say that we know by heart the feeling of God supporting us…because we’ve spent a life time stepping out and feeling His support.
When Philippe stepped out on the wire he knew the importance of focus. “Jeff no longer existed. The towers were deserted and I no longer heed the sounds of New York. Everything feel silent. All I could see was the wire, floating out in a straight line to infinity and if I were to shift my weight, I would become a wire walker.” Distraction was deadly for him, in a very literal sense. It’s deadly for the Christian, too, but often we don’t see that. God is our wire. He is the thing we must put first. We are to forget all the other distractions in our pursuit of Him, He is the one holding us up. The Bible speaks to this in various ways, but probably most famously in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and then all these things will be added unto you” (emphasis added).
For a while, Philippe focused only on the wire, but as so often happens, eventually the distractions got noisier and harder to ignore. “Suddenly, I’m invaded by doubts. What if my wire is tired with supporting me? What if the towers are tired of my weight… I can’t end my walk in doubt…with hanging shoulders… I decide I will only leave my tower and my wire in victory.” He, like most of us, was tempted to want to quit half way through. He began to doubt the wires and the tower, the very things he’d placed his hope in. At this point he chose. He chose to finish. He chose to believe the towers and the wire would not fail him. At some point, every Christian has to do the same. Every Christian faces a crisis where the challenge seems to hard, or God seems too distant, where the distractions make you question if anything is real or worth it… In those moments, we hold on to the promises of God. We choose to be overcomers and to only leave our life of faith in victory.
When we do this, when we cross our Twin Towers of faith, when we follow God with such perfection that the world pauses to notice and be inspired, something more happens. It happened with Philippe. When he finished he was told that not only did they “show the world that anything is possible,” they also changed the Twin Towers for the people of New York. Before that, people hadn’t liked the towers, but after that, they loved them. “They’re different because you walked on them…. People say they love the towers now… Perhaps they are different because you’ve brought them to life, given them a soul.” When we follow God well, when we life step out and demonstrate true faith for the world, in doing so, we change people’s view of God. What once seemed cold and impersonal to them, perhaps even harsh, becomes something they love. God changes for them when they see how He holds and supports us and lifts us up, how He helps us do the impossible. God becomes different because, in a way, we bring Him to life for others by bringing His soul face to face with theirs. He already has a soul, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying! We don’t actually bring it to life, but they meet Him in the flesh when they see Him in us.
Questions for Discussion:
- What do you think about Philippe walking without a safety wire?
- What do you think of Christians who take radical steps of faith?
- What are the riskiest steps of faith you’ve ever known anyone to take?
- Have you ever known anyone whose crazy faith in God inspired you?
- Were you inspired by Philippe Petit’s walk across the Towers? Why or why not? How were you inspired?
- Do you long to do something inspiring with your life?
- Has anyone’s love for God and life of faith ever changed for you the way you look at/think about/feel about God?