Devotion: A Long Obedience

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NRSV)
Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

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.– Friedrich Nietzsche

Things that make life worth living require time and effort. They always have and they always will. It’s a universal truth. Daily practice, commitment, and focus are indispensible. There are no short cuts to great marriages, peace treaties, and breakthrough discoveries. Successful artists, athletes, students, diplomats, researchers, business owners, etc. all embrace a long obedience in the same direction to realize results.

There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.– Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society

Why do I continue to imagine being a Christ follower would be different? Why am I so often puzzled when ascending to the next level of spiritual maturity does not happen easily, instantly or automatically? It’s a universal truth. There are no short cuts to going up and growing up in faithfulness. God’s transforming grace is a responsible grace. Every day, every moment I have the freedom to choose whether or not to persevere and participate in that most important and most beautiful long obedience, the one that moves in the same direction with Christ.

Faithful One, make me faithful.
Steadfast One, make me steadfast.
Unchanging One, change me.
I surrender to your Word and ways.
Fulfill your good purposes in me and through me, now and forever. Amen.  

Get Your Geek On: The term “long obedience in the same direction” was borrowed from Nietzsche by Eugene Peterson as a title for his book on the Psalms of Ascent, Psalms 120-134. (It’s quite ironic that Nietzsche’s writing and Peterson’s writing would intersect, since one worked hard to proclaim God dead and the other works hard to proclaim God very much alive and relevant.)

The Hebrew transliteration for ascent is ma’aloth, meaning “to go up.” These psalms were sung by Hebrew pilgrims as they made their way up the mountain three times a year to Jerusalem to celebrate and worship at the great feasts of faith. During the holiday season it’s not hard for us to imagine the excitement, expense, and effort, of making a trip to a beloved place for feasting with those we love.

Over time, these 15 psalms became associated with the 15 steps of the Temple in Jerusalem leading from the Court of the Women up to the level where Jewish men could observe the priests’ activities at the altar. It would have been common to sing one of the Psalms of Ascent on each stair as you made your way up and up, closer and closer to God’s most holy place.

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