A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
The central reality for Christians is the personal, unalterable, persevering commitment God makes to us. Perseverance is not the result of our determination, it is the result of God’s faithfulness. We survive in the way of faith not because we have extraordinary stamina but because God is righteous, because God sticks with us. Christian discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God’s righteousness and less and less attention to our own.
– Eugene Peterson on perseverance.
Why I picked up this book:
This book is a classic, and it was gifted to me by the women on my leadership team at the end of three plus years of service as the founder and leader of the mentoring ministry.
Who Should Read A Long Obedience in the Same Direction:
This work will be an encouragement to any believer. It is an apt tool for spiritual formation and development.
What’s in Store for You:
I love that the author sticks to the basics of bible reading, prayer, and other spiritual practices for shaping the heart and soul of human beings. Additionally, he understands the critical work of the Holy Spirit to transform people’s lives. His faithful work is tried and tested. I had the privilege of reading the revised and expanded edition of this book, written twenty years after the original.
The author, Eugene H. Peterson, uses the Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134) to walk the reader through key topics like repentance, worship, service, security, joy, hope, and blessing. He begins with discipleship.
Discipleship is a decision to live by what I know about God, not by what I feel about him or myself or my neighbors (87).
Discipleship (mathētēs) says we are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ.
As believers, we are called to follow Christ alone in a world that calls us to set anything or anyone up as savior. The Bible is clear, however, that the ways of the world do not satisfy, and anyone or anything we exalt as a god besides the Savior, Christ, amounts to nothingness. False gods and idols do not live, and the end of their following means death.
“A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way. As long as we think the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety into a life of tranquility, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith. A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace.”
Rejection of the world leads us to following Christ with an undivided heart, and this is the journey into discipleship.
A few months ago, I delivered a message from John’s gospel to ask people some critical questions about discipleship. One of the simple questions I asked was, “Are you hungry?” The Psalmist invites us to taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed are the people who find refuge in him (Ps. 34:8). Hungry people go where they can find food. People who are severely hungry or deprived of food will do whatever it takes to get it.
The truth about discipleship is we are all in desperate need of God, and he has made himself accessible to us. He calls us to follow him understanding our desperate need, and he wants us to follow with an intentionality that we will not quit until we are fully satisfied in Him. This kind of obedience is cultivated over time.
This book contains profound truths about God and about ourselves.
My personal take-aways?
I read this resource as I was preparing to lead and host a Leadership Summer Program for Girls through my nonprofit, Leadership LINKS, Inc. The focus of our leadership summer is: “Walk in Purpose.” Our theme for this year was: COMMIT – WORK – SUCCEED.
In his chapter on Work, Peterson writes: “One of the tasks of Christian discipleship is to relearn ‘the works you did at first (Rev 2:5).” This word has been an encouragement and warning to me over the past couple weeks. The basic tenants and practices of the Christian faith work. They have worked over the course of Christian history, and they will sustain us still.
This reality also reminds me that God is, and indeed must be our builder. We work because he first worked in creation, in the world, in us, and now he desires to work through us. God is the great initiator. “One of the reasons that Christians read Scripture repeatedly and carefully is to find out just how God works in Jesus Christ so that we can work in the name of Jesus Christ.”
“The foundational truth is that work is good…Work has dignity: there can be nothing degrading about work if God works. Work has purpose: there can be nothing futile about work if God works.”
“The character of our work is shaped not by accomplishments or possessions but in the birth of relationships…we invest our energy in people.” This speaks to one of our Leadership LINKS Core Values, Network.
One of our other core values is Service. I appreciated the simplicity in which Peterson defines service: “the work one does on behalf of the community,” and “the worship we render towards God (66).” True service includes our relationship with God and our relationships with other people. There are three elements in a servant’s life. We must:
- Look up to God in faith,
- have an expectation of mercy, and
- have an urgency for freedom.
Karl Barth wrote: “In general terms, service is a willing, working, and doing in which a person acts not according to his own purposes or plans but with a view to the purpose of another person and according to the need, disposition, and direction of others.”
This resource has been beneficial for my own spiritual formation and soul care, and encouraging for the ways in which I lead and serve others. I also picked up a few new vocabulary words along the way.
“The Creator is always awake.” – Eugene Peterson
“The basic conviction of a Christian is that God intends good for us and that he will get his way in us.” – Eugene Peterson
“God is for us. God is our help.” – Eugene Peterson
“The Christian is a person who recognizes that our real problem is not in achieving freedom but in learning service under a better master. The Christian realizes that every relationship that excludes God becomes oppressive. Recognizing and realizing that, we urgently want to live under the mastery of God.” – Eugene Peterson
“I decide every day, to set aside what I can do best and attempt what I do very clumsily—open myself to the frustrations and failures of loving, daring to believe that failing in love is better than succeeding in pride.” – Eugene Peterson
“It is Christ, not culture, that defines our lives. It is the help we experience, not the hazards we risk, that shapes our days.” – Eugene Peterson
Next Up on This Topic:
The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ by James Bryan Smith
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2016