When my brilliant pastor-friend recommended this book to me, I must confess to my shame that I responded with skepticism. The only work I had ever read by Peterson was The Message, and that was because of my wife.
I’ll never forget the year we did devotions together, Cheryl reading The Message while I read another translation. I don’t know how many times she paused and said, “Jeremy, check your version. Does the Bible really say?…” It usually did, though I often had to refer to another source to be sure. Reading The Message devotionally and critically allowed us to consider nuances of the original languages that would’ve been left buried, hidden. Read in this way – something between a paraphrase and a commentary – the Message made for a refreshing, insightful journey.
One thing we learned about Peterson right away is that he has a poet’s soul, and the Psalms are undoubtedly his best work. “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” is as much a devotional commentary on the Psalms of Ascent as it is a book on discipleship. I read it in one sitting. Then read it again. I chuckled, teared up, confessed, and journeyed with Israel into His presence. I had never read Psalms 120-134 that way before. Then I realized I had to share.
Like my other book reviews, I want to provide a taste of the book so that the review is valuable for those who won’t go out and purchase it right away. So, I’ve just provided one quote from each chapter/Psalm that made my soul respond. I’d love to hear your responses as well:
“Israel, in saying that no (to the world), did not miraculously return to Eden and live in primitive innocence, or mystically inhabit a heavenly city and live in supernatural ecstasy. They worked and played, suffered and sinned in the world as everyone else did, and as Christians still do. But they were now going someplace – they were going to God” (Peterson 32).
“Psalm 121 is the neighbor coming over and telling us that we are doing it the wrong way, looking in the wrong place for help” (Peterson 39).
Shalvah (prosperity) – “The root meaning is leisure – the relaxed stance of one who knows that everything is all right because God is over us, with us and for us in Jesus Christ. It is the security of being at home in a history that has a cross at its center. It is the leisure of a person who knows that every moment of our existence is at the disposal of God, lived under the mercy of God” (Peterson 57).
“God is not a servant to be called into action when we are too tired to do something ourselves, not an expert to be called on when we find we are ill equipped to handle a specialized problem in living” (Peterson 62).
“Don’t hesitate to put the psalm (or any other Scripture passage) under the searchlight of your disbelief! The reason many of us do not ardently believe in the gospel is that we have never given it a rigorous testing, thrown our hard questions at it, faced it with our most prickly doubts” (Peterson 75).
“My feelings are important for many things. They are essential and valuable. They keep me aware of much that is true and real. But they tell me next to nothing about God or my relation to God. My security comes from who God is, not from how I feel. Discipleship is a decision to live by what I know about God, not by what I feel about him or myself or my neighbors” (Peterson 87).
“One of the delightful discoveries along the way of Christian discipleship is how much enjoyment there is, how much laughter you hear, how much sheer fun you find” (Peterson 95).
“Christian discipleship, by orienting us in God’s work and setting us in the mainstream of what God is already doing, frees us from the compulsiveness of work” (Peterson 109).
“This all adds up to a good life – a life that is bounded on one side by promises of blessing, on the other side by pronouncements of blessing, and that experiences blessings between those boundaries” (Peterson 116).
“Christian discipleship is a decision to walk in his ways, steadily and firmly, and then finding that the way integrates all our interests, passions and gifts, our human needs and our eternal aspirations. It is the way of life we were created for” (Peterson 134).
Hope is “imagination put in the harness of faith” (Peterson 144).
“Aspiration is the channeled, creative energy that moves us to growth in Christ, shaping goals in the Spirit. Ambition takes these same energies for growth and development and uses them to make something tawdry and cheap, sweatily knocking together a Babel when we could be vacationing in Eden” (Peterson 153).
“A Christian who has David in his bones, Jeremiah in his bloodstream, Paul in his fingertips and Christ in his heart will know how much and how little value to put on his own momentary feelings and the experience of the past week” (Peterson 167)
“A community of faith flourishes when we view each other with this expectancy, wondering what God will do today in this one, in that one. When we are in a community with those Christ loves and redeems, we are constantly finding out new things about them. They are new persons each morning, endless in their possibilities. We explore the fascinating depths of their friendship, share the secrets of their quest. It is impossible to be bored in such a community, impossible to feel alienated among such people” (Peterson 182).
“The way of discipleship that begins in an act of repentance (teshubah) concludes in a life of praise (barakah)” (Peterson 190).
I don’t know how to adequately commend this book to the pilgrim/disciple. Trying to choose one quote from each chapter was attempting to isolate my favourite bar from each movement of a symphony. I suppose, for me, the proof of the heeding will be in the doing. And Peterson’s book commends for me an entire way of doing something – reframing my discipleship journey as a long obedience in the same direction.