A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Earlier this month, I was able to catch up with a dear brother in the faith who was in town for a business conference. We went to Penn together, served together in an on-campus Christian fellowship, and through that grew up in the faith and in Christian leadership together. Invariably, the topic of conversation returned again and again to mutual friends of ours, and how they are doing in their lives, in their jobs, in their marriages, and in their faith journeys. As we compared notes, we saw that some were stumbling along like us, while others seemed to be sailing along (or perhaps are better than we are at hiding their stumbling).

Sadly, we observed that still others, and quite a few, were neither doing well nor stumbling along, at least as it related to the radical journey of the Christian faith that we had journeyed with them during our college years. Some had made distinct decisions to go in a different direction in terms of religious beliefs, while others' zeal for Jesus simply faded away like a fire that runs out of fuel. It saddened us to think that so many who we shared such intimate and meaningful spirituality with in our go-go college days were not similarly wired in the present, and it sobered us to think of how easy it would be for us to also opt out or fade out.

I am reminded of a book given to me by a leader in my Christian group, called "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction," by Eugene Peterson. The books speaks of Israel's three-times-a-year habit of going to Jerusalem to worship, and the songs that were sung along the way, songs that ran the gamut of emotions and challenges that defined the journey of the people of God. As Jerusalem is up on a mountain, the metaphor is easy to pick up: God's people climbing, singing along the way to remind themselves and their children of the truths that sustain them in such a journey.

"A long obedience in the same direction" may not be the greatest of catchphrases in this age of instant gratification. But it is in fact the way of the Christian: a way of dogged perseverance, in an uphill climb, sustained by the songs and truths that have sustained our past selves and our spiritual predecessors.

I cannot control what life circumstances may befall me or my past college friends. Some will catch a break in their jobs, hit the perfect notes in the marriage and parenting, and somehow avoid tragedy and hardship. The rest of us will stumble along: there will be tumult in our vocations and in our relationships, we will get old and break things, and life may surprise us with disasters unthinkably sorrowful. To proceed forth on a narrow, unpopular, and steep course, when all the world seems to be prodding us to abandon the cause, seems impossibly difficult and perhaps even utterly hardheaded and foolish.

And yet it is the path to life. And, there is one to whom (apologies for the Christianese phrase coming up) the perseverance of the saints is due. So then, by His mercy, may we keep climbing that ascending path, urging one another on in song and word, buoyed up from strength to strength.

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