Book Review: "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction"

What?! Two book reviews in the same week! Crazy times. :)

Have you ever wanted to hug a book? No? Ok, then, I'm weird. But we already knew that.

I wanted to hug A Long Obedience in the Same Direction more than once. Let me tell you why.

This book's subtitle, Discipleship in an Instant Society, is a good description of Eugene Peterson's aim in writing this commentary on the Psalms of Ascent, Psalms 120-134. These are the psalms describing how to live a Christian life in the midst of a world of trouble. The "how" is so important. Dallas Willard's recommendation of this book includes, "A long obedience is the only path of discipleship to Jesus, and this is a message we desperately need to hear and implement today." Amen.

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For each psalm, Peterson explains a truth to be found for the Christian journeying ("ascending") toward heaven. Truths such as Repentance, Service, Joy, Work, Hope, Humility, and Community.

In his lovely story-telling style, Peterson explains these psalms and the God who set them down in ink for generations. The God who is the same for all time, for all people.

"God doesn't change: he seeks and he saves. And our response to God as he reveals himself in Jesus doesn't change: we listen and we follow. Or we don't."

Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Right. It's a choice. A path we choose to follow, one step at a time, or not. It's slow. One step after another. That's the "long obedience" that we are called to. That phrase, "long obedience," is actually from Fredrich Nietzsche,

"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."

- Fredrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil as quoted in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

We, like the Israelites in the wilderness, are pilgrims. Our lives, a journey. A journey with Jesus. A journey seeking Jesus. It's a long journey and we will miss our destination unless we keep on in a steady direction. A long journey "in the same direction." The Psalms of Ascent are a map, so to speak, of that path in the same direction. They are prayers, songs actually. Songs that were sung in the Israelite community regularly. Songs of courage. Songs of support. Songs to recall our memory to the truth of God's character and promises. If they were good for the Israelites, they are good for us today.

My favorite sections were:

Psalm 121 - Providence

"We Christians believe that life is created and shaped by God and that the life of faith is a daily exploration of the constant and countless ways in which God's grace and love are experienced."

With Highs like marrying a loving and faithful husband and Lows like living with broken lungs and adoption trauma, I sing this song of providence. I sing it with joy.

Psalm 123 - Service

"The psalm has nothing in it about serving others. It concentrates on being a servant to God. Its position is that if the attitude of servanthood is learned, by attending to God as Lord, then serving others will develop as a very natural way of life. Commands will be heard to be hospitable, to be compassionate, to visit the sick, to help and to heal... and carried out with ease and poise."

Psalm 126 - Joy

"Laugher is a result of living in the midst of God's great works ... Enjoyment is not an escape from boredom but a plunge by faith into God's work. ... The joy comes because God knows how to wipe away tears, and, in his resurrection work, create the smile of new life. Joy is what God gives, not what we work up."

I am sometimes asked how I can live with broken lungs and go about my day with sincere joy. This is how. Accepting the truth, believing that God is at work. He is not finished. This is not the end.

Psalm 129 - Perseverance

"The psalms are not sung by perfect pilgrims. The pilgrims of old made their mistakes, just as we make ours. Perseverance does not mean "perfection." It means that we keep going. We do not quit when we find that we are not yet mature and there is a long journey still before us... Endurance is not a desperate hanging on but a traveling from strength to strength."

Do you feel a hug coming?! (See what I mean!) We never stop growing. We never give up. We accept what God has given us to endure and we face it head on with the strength he grants 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."

Keep going, friends. Keep going.

Psalm 130 - Hope

More on this psalm to come.

Psalm 131 - Humility

"It is a blessed mark of growth out of spiritual infancy when we can forgo the joys which once appeared to be essential, and can find our solace in the I'm who denies them to us."

Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, as quoted in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Oh there's so much in this chapter to love. There is a phrase in this psalm that says, "Like a baby content in its mother's arms, my soul is a baby content." A baby content is a baby that knows his mother will meet his needs. And as he grows, the mother pushes the baby to mature by weaning him, not giving him everything he needs but teaching him how to get what he needs on his own. And still, the child is content. He grows and no longer fits in his mother's arms. Contentment looks like being near her, in her presence, listening to her voice, learning from her instruction. So, too, do we as Christians learn to be content near our heavenly father, even when he doesn't give us what we want. Even when his instructions demand our maturity and obedience. We are content. I am learning to find this contentment.

  • We pray for healed lungs and God withholds it.

  • We pray for healed hearts and healed frontal lobes yet God withholds it.

  • We learn to be content and love the One who withholds the healing because we have learned that His withholding is a sign of his parental love.

Oh, I Wish I Had a Book Club

I would loved to have read this book in a small group for the sheer pleasure of listening to what my friends learned from it. Perhaps, one day, I will do that. Until then... please let me know if you read it. Share your "hug moment." I know you will have one.

PS

Did you find it odd that Eugene Peterson named his Christian discipleship book after a phrase from Fredrich Neitzsche, arguably the greatest atheist of all time? Be sure to read to the very end for a little chuckle on that thought. :)

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