When a friend moved several states away, she reluctantly parted with many of her books. I acquired this gem, written by Eugene Peterson in 1980. Even though my particular copy was printed before I was born, its yellowed pages speak timeless, joyful truth.
I have to admit, the title did not sound exciting at first. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction? It sounds kind of like drudgery. However, I was compelled to read it when I discovered that it included a chapter on Psalm 126, a meaningful Psalm to me during a difficult period.
The title of the book was inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher who famously declared that God is dead. Peterson quotes Nietzsche’s work, Beyond Good and Evil:
The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is …that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.
For those of us who know that God is very much alive and want to follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), it’s helpful to meditate on a collection of Psalms called the Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134). The Hebrews sung these psalms as they traveled to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. They incorporate many aspects of Christian discipleship and offer much spiritual encouragement to pilgrims on the long path of obedience. I find that even though I know the end destination of this journey, it can be hard to stay on course and not go off into the weeds and bushes.
I appreciated the chapters in this book, one for each Psalm, each focusing on a different topic, such as work, worship, service, and humility. Every chapter was relevant to me and inspired me to continue long obedience in the same direction, which makes life worthwhile because it is pleasing to God. I’ve started thinking how the spiritual disciplines seem constraining at first but ultimately lead to peace, joy, and contentment. They are not something that we do to earn our salvation or prove our worth to God. Our faith in Christ’s death and resurrection is sufficient. Yet we are called to obedience, and this commitment to the Lord ultimately leads to freedom and abundant life.
My favorite chapter is on Psalm 126, where the author focuses on joy. In this song, the Psalmist reflects on the great things the Lord has done for us in the past, and he looks to the future with confidence that the Lord will do great things again. At the center of the Psalm, in the present tense, even in the midst of incredible suffering, is the statement, “We are glad.” I love this Psalm, because we live life in an in-between time, the present, but we can always look both backward and forward at the great works of the Lord for us. I hope you’ll be able to get your hands on a copy of this book, so you can read the rest of Eugene Peterson’s reflections.
What has encouraged you recently on your “long obedience in the same direction”?