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truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking. . . . Deliberate thinking is a wonderful tool when we have the luxury of time, the help of a computer, and a clearly defined task, and the fruits of that type of analysis can set the stage for rapid cognition. . . . in good decision making, frugality matters. . . . even the most complicated of relationships and problems . . . have an identifiable underlying pattern. . . . Overloading the decision makers with information . . . makes picking up that signature harder, not easier. To be a successful decision maker, we have to edit. . . . Snap judgments can be made in a snap because they are frugal, and if we want to protect our snap judgments, we have to take steps to protect that frugality.

Malcolm Gladwell, blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, 141-143.

failure on the human level may feel like a curse but on the level of spiritual unfolding it can be a blessing in disguise. . . . This shift to the spiritual perspective shows us the relative value of success in God’s eyes. The Pharisee, who was the symbol of human success, was a failure before God in comparison to the humble Publican. . . . Instead of making failure an occasion for self-flagellation, we can see it in faith as a condition for our spiritual progress

Susan Muto and Adrian van Kaam, Practicing the Prayer of Presence, 91-93

Failure ploughs the soil of my soul;

     it prepares me to receive the seed of the gospel.

Failure bends my back low,

     the right stance to carry my daily cross.

Failure humbles me into the common man,

     so I may learn to love my neighbour.

Failure pierces my heart with pain,

     that I may know the Suffering Servant.

–by Wan Phek How

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