Summary: Having entered the Christian life, we need encouragement to stay the course. God, through the Apostle Paul, urges us to persevere.
A Long Obedience
“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
You and I live in a culture defined by quitting. From childhood, we are taught that we have permission to quit any task that is too difficult. Nations respond to attack by defending themselves, and when they discover that conflict—especially armed conflict—demands sacrifice, the populace demands that the government quit.
People marry, or simply try living together; they find life together demanding, and so they quit. No-fault divorce was supposed to make the dissolution of marriage less painful and perhaps civilise the process; but the pain of divorce is as great as ever.
People try a job; they find the work difficult and demanding, so they walk away. They start diets and discover they are expected to exercise their body and their common sense, so they quit. They begin a fitness program and maintain the schedule for a few weeks; when they realise that fitness is a lifetime goal, they quit.
People start attending church, and when something the preacher says displeases them, they quit. When they discover that the Christian Faith requires effort, they quit. Well over half of the members on church rolls rarely darken the doors of the church to which they claim to belong. Attendance, even among our own members, reflects a philosophy of quitting. Instead of working to make things better, we quit.
Eugene Peterson wrote a book on the Psalms with the intriguing title of “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction,” borrowing the line from a German philosopher. What Peterson calls “a long obedience in the same direction,” the Bible calls variously steadfastness, faithfulness or perseverance. Becoming Christlike, growing in godliness, learning to worship, all demand a long obedience in the same direction.
If you start a diet, for example, and don’t see quick results, or if you go off the diet at a party or family gathering and feel so guilty that you trash the whole plan, that is a bad decision. God has created us in such a way that we lose weight slowly; it’s a built-in protection against starvation. Maybe it doesn’t mean much to you, but countless millions around the globe owe their existence to God’s creative genius in the way He made us. Get on the diet and stay with it for the long haul. Let others rush from one diet fad to another. Stay with it. The goal should not be to lose so much weight; the goal is good health. A healthy lifestyle and a healthy body do not come in a weekend.
If you resolve to start on a fitness program—visiting the gym, walking, swimming or working out—and you drop it when you don’t see quick results, you are acting foolishly. Physical changes come slowly, but they last a long time. Since the goal is good health and long life, quit looking in the mirror. Stay off the scales and stay with the program. Give it a couple of years before you start checking your statistics.
Just as many people who are not in the Faith make resolutions in the New Year, so Christians frequently make resolutions to honour God. So, you’re determined to read your Bible, are you? And you have pledged that you will be steady in attending the services of the church? But so far, you’re not getting much out of your efforts? Of course not. This is a foreign land to you. Give it time. Stay with the program. A long obedience is what you are seeking.
New believers, having taken a stand with the Master in baptism, will want to be in church. They will bring their children to church with them and make the effort to be committed. Despite the fact that the transition in their lives creates difficulties, they are determined at first to keep at the task of change. As one who has walked with the Lord and among the people of God for decades, I encourage you to stay at the task.