In A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson reflects on Psalms 120 to 134, also known as the Songs of Ascent. These psalms were originally sung by Hebrew pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for worship festivals. Through a variety of reflections ranging from repentance to joy and providence to perseverance, Peterson attempts to draw back to a life of intentional discipleship. The occasional pleasurable visit to a sacred site is contrasted to the daily, lifelong obedience of the pilgrim. Though we live in a different culture from the ancient Hebrews the life-pattern of a disciple remains the same.

Thus, in the 20th year edition of the book, Peterson made no substantial change to the book beyond the use of a new translation of the Bible: The Message. Personally, of the many lessons that can be garnered from these pages, three are especially relevant.

  • Firstly, repentance is painfully beautiful. The experience of God’s judgment is a necessary prelude to my repentance. Even after the initial conversion to Christ, there will be many painful calls to repent. Repentance is the door to pilgrimage and Peterson appropriately reflects on this in Psalm 120, the first of the Songs of Ascent.
  • Secondly, as a Christian brought up in a middle-class culture I somehow expect God to provide a middle-class lifestyle for me and my family. Not so, Peterson counsels, God’s providence is not about a life free from pain. Rather, it is about Him guarding us and not abandoning us, even in the face of misfortune and evil.
  • Thirdly, my spiritual life is not to be defined by feelings. The culture tells us that if the right feeling does not accompany our action, then our action is inauthentic. Peterson reminds us that, “Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship” (54). This point is so important that it bears repeating at the end of the book, “Feelings don’t run the show” (195).

Resources

Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000)

MP3 Lectures by Eugene Peterson

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