To practice a “long obedience” in terms of discipleship seems like a total anomaly. Our fast-paced society communicates the idea that anything that requires commitment and devotion is probably not worth our precious commodity of time. But it’s not just the outside, unbelieving culture that feels this way. Many churches and Christians even feel that there’s no place for slow-moving, long-suffering discipleship. In fact, Eugene Peterson says in his book that this book got rejected seventeen times before a Christian publisher bit!
As many already know, Eugene Peterson is an extremely gifted communicator. His work on The Message is perennial and very helpful for contextualizing and assimilating the truths of Scripture for today’s audience. Peterson is one of those voices that is able to bring together readers of different tribes and theological persuasions, uniting them with his keen insight into Scripture and his winsome, prophetic writing.
What Peterson has accomplished in A Long Obedience cannot be overstated. Peterson’s time spent in the Psalms spills out into a book that has much to teach us about discipleship, and various aspects of the Christian life, from repentance to work to humility. Peterson organizes his book by journeying through the Song of Ascents – Psalms 120-134. He seeks to combat “today’s passion for the immediate and the casual” (17) with a sense of deepened worship, prayerful meditation, passionate service, and careful reading of Scripture.
Two of my favorite chapters from the book are the chapters on worship (Chapter 4) and joy (Chapter 8). In Chapter 4, Peterson says that there are three key implications for worship in our life. It structures our life, nurtures our need for God, and centers our attentions on God (51). Worship is not merely a cause of our thoughts, feelings, or actions, but their very framework (53). Peterson explains further:
“Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship. When we obey the command to praise God in worship, our deep, essential need to be in relationship with God is nurtured.” (54)
Peterson’s chapter on joy is also very rich. He asserts that while joy is “not a requirement of Christian discipleship…it is what comes to us when we are walking in the way of faith and obedience” (96). Using Psalm 126, Peterson exhorts us to remember that , “laughter does not exclude weeping,” that the simple elimination of things that hurt is a “futile strategy” for finding joy (100).
Eugene Peterson is one of those writers that many pastors quote, and for good reason. He is not merely recycling quotes, but he is a thinker and communicator himself, offering his own unique nuances and understandings of Scripture. He writes with a warm, pastoral tone, blending together his own experiences with the ones he knows we are facing. If you are looking for an introduction into Peterson’s style of writing, I can’t think of a better book to start with than A Long Obedience.