Takeaway: Discipleship and change both are accomplished by doing what it takes over the long term.
I really like Eugene Peterson’s books. Over the last year I have read four of his books. They are essentially practical theology, the theology of how we live our life. The first (this is the order I read them in, the intended order may be different) is Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (a discussion of Christian Theology and spirituality). The second is Eat This Book (a discussion of scripture, the shortest and most accessible of the books). The third, The Jesus Way, I still have not finished. It is the only one that I read. The rest I have listened to. Even though it is not Eugene Peterson reading, I find that his writing style is more audible for me than visual. The Jesus Way is about how to follow Christ. And like Peterson often does, it is about a narrative, not propositional truth. There are two more that I have not read yet. Tell it Slant (about the language and way Jesus communicates the gospel) and a new one I just saw this morning Practice Resurrection (on growth in Christ).
This book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction is not actually a part of this series and has overlapping themes with Practice Resurrection but it fits right in. A Long Obedience is a series of meditations on the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). The Psalms of Ascent were songs that were sung as people went into Jerusalem to celebrate one of the three major feasts each year. These are psalms of preparation and worship. Peterson takes one psalm per chapter and teases out a cohesive narrative about how we grow as Christians, not by quickly learning something new, but by doing what needs to be done over the long haul. This would make a good devotional reading. Each chapter (in audio form) is about 15 to 20 minutes.
One particularly good section, I am paraphrasing here because this was an audio-book, says…”We can act ourselves into feeling. We shouldn’t worship only when we feel like it. The bible never says, worship when you feel like it. Instead it says to worship. The act of worship will bring about the feeling of worship far quicker than the feeling of worship will bring about the act of worship.” I have found this true in my attempts at fixed hour prayer. I often do not feel like praying. In fact, I frequently am half or three quarters of the way through the time before my mind even switches over to what I am doing. Sometimes I never switch over to a worship mood. But more often than I would have ever guessed, I am caught by something that I could not have predicted. I suddenly am worshipping when I would not have predicted. If I was “choosing” when to worship based on feelings there would be less worship in my life. The last chapter is also about “feelings and worship” and is probably the best of the sections.
In another chapter, Peterson uses the example of having children as an example of the work that we should be doing for God. None of us actually do much to construct a child. We participate, but what we do, most of the time is not what would be considered “work”. Instead, God does the work and allows us to participate through an act of love. Children are not created without our participation, but at the same time, we all know it is God work and not our own.
Peterson, in his distinctive, narrative, style really is one of the best authors I know to move us in the direction of spiritual growth. Highly recommend any of these books.