Key Thoughts from “A Long Obedience” by Eugene Peterson

alongobedience.jpgFirst of all, anyone named Eugene that can write a book like this AND translate the entire Bible into what we now have as “The Message” Bible is worth reading!

I’ve basically gone through the book and typed up everything that I underlined. I hope some of these “thought bombs” help you process the book’s message and encourage you to read it!

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
Eugene Peterson (Intervarsity Press, 1980, 2000)
Notes compiled by Jeff Noble – June 8, 2004

  •  World is an atmosphere, a mood. It is nearly as hard for a sinner to recognize the world’s temptations as it is for a fish to discover impurities in the water. There is a sense, a feeling, that things aren’t right, that the environment is not whole, but just what it is eludes analysis. – 15
  •  It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. -16
  •  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 for Christians called holiness.
  •  Religion in our day has been captured by the tourist mindset. So many have a “bent” for religious entertainment.
  •  Two biblical designations for people of faith: disciple and pilgrim. Disciple (mathetes) says we are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master. We are in a growing-learning relationship, always. We don’t learn in a school, but at the work site of the craftsman. We seek not to acquire information about God but skills in faith.
  • Pilgrim (parepidemos) tells us that we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ. – 17

  •  Understanding that life is a journey must take into account the pilgrimages of the Jews. They refreshed their memories of God’s saving ways at the Feast of Passover in the spring; they renewed their commitments as God’s covenantal people at the Feast of the Pentecost in early summer; they responded as a blessed community to the best that God had for them at the Feast of Tabernacles in the autumn. They were a redeemed people, a commanded people, and a blessed people. Every pilgrimage reminded them of their journey with God – past, present, and future.
  •  Isaiah 2.8 – “He’ll show us the way He works so we can live the way we’re made.” (The Message)
  •  It’s so key to remember that following Jesus is a lifestyle “on the move.” We don’t stop to admire what we’ve accomplished. Rather, we press on to what lies ahead. William Faulkner said, “They are not monuments, but footprints. A monument only says, ‘At least I got this far,’ while a footprint says, ‘This is where I was when I moved again.'” -22
  • Rescue me from the person who tells me of life and omits Christ, who is wise in the ways of the world and ignores the movement of the Spirit.
  • The lies are impeccably factual. They contain no errors. There are no distortions or falsified data. But they are lies all the same, because they claim to tell us who we are and omit everything about our origin in God and our destiny in God. They talk about the world without telling us God made it. They tell us about our bodies without telling us they are temples of the Holy Spirit. They instruct us in love without telling us about the God who loves us and gave Himself for us. – 27-28
  •  Repentance is not an emotion. It is nor feeling sorry for your sins. It is a decision. – 29
  •  It is a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts. – 30
  •  It is the first word in Christian immigration. -33
  •  We take precautions by learning safety rules, fastening our seat belts and taking out insurance policies, but we cannot guarantee safety. – 39
  •  Help comes from the Creator, not from the creation. -42
  •  All the water in the oceans cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside. Nor can all the trouble in the world harm us unless it gets within us. – 43
  •  The mistake we so often make is thinking that God’s interest and care for us waxes and wanes according to our spiritual temperature. – 44
  •  The great danger of biblical discipleship is that we should have two religions: a glorious, biblical Sunday gospel that sets us free from the world, that the cross and resurrection of Christ makes us eternity alive within us, a magnificent gospel of Genesis and Romans and Revelation; and, then, an everyday religion that we make do with during the week between the time of leaving the world and arriving in heaven. We have the Sunday gospel for the big crises of existence. For the mundane trivialities- the times when our foot slips on a loose stone, or the heat of the sun gets too much for us, or the influence of the moon gets us down – we use the everyday religion of the Reader’s Digest reprint, advice from a friend, an Ann Landers column, the huckstered wisdom of a talk-show celebrity. We practice patent-medicine religion. We know that God created the universe and has accomplished our eternal salvation. But we can’t believe that he condescends to watch the soap opera of our daily trials and tribulations; so we purchase our own remedies for that. To ask him to deal with what troubles us each day is like asking a famous surgeon to put iodine on a scratch.
  • o But Psalm 121 says that the same faith that works in the big things works in the little things. – 44
  •  The Christian life is not a quiet escape to a garden where we can walk and talk uninterruptedly with our Lord, not a fantasy trip to a heavenly city where we can compare our blue ribbons and gold medals with those of others who have made it to the winner’s circle…. The life of faith is a daily exploration of the constant and countless ways in which God’s grace and love are experienced. – 44-45
  •  Much of what we commonly describe as Christian behavior is not volitional at all – it is enforced. But worship is not forced. – 50
  •  Worship is the singular most popular act in this land. – 51
  •  We say, “It would be dishonest for me to go to a place of worship and praise God when I don’t feel like it. I would be a hypocrite.” The psalm says, I don’t care whether you feel like it or not: as was decreed, “give thanks to the name of God.”- 54
  •  Feelings are great liars. Feelings are important in many areas but completely unreliable in matters of faith. Paul Scherer said, “The Bible wastes very little time on the way we feel.”
  •  We live in an “age of sensation.” We think that if we don’t feel something there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different: that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship.
  •  Worship does not satisfy our hunger for God – it whets our appetite. – 56
  •  God did not become a servant so that we could order him around… – 62
  •  Too often we think of religion as a far-off, mysteriously run bureaucracy to which we apply for assistance when we feel the need. We go to a local branch office and direct the clerk (sometimes called a pastor) to fill out our order for God. If we thought about it for two consecutive minutes, we would not want it that way. If God is God at all, he must know more about our needs than we do…
  •  We live in a society that is in slavery. Maybe not institutionalized, but slavery, nonetheless. Freedom is on everyone’s lips. Freedom is announced and celebrated. But not many feel or act free. Evidence We live in a nation of complainers and a society of addicts. – 65
  •  The Christian is a person who recognizes that our real problem is not in achieving freedom but in learning service under a better master. Every relationship that excludes God becomes oppressive.
  •  If the attitude of servanthood is learned, by attending to God as Lord, then serving others will develop as a very natural way of life. – 66
  •  The work of liberation must therefore be accompanied by instruction in the use of liberty as children of God. Those who parade the rhetoric of liberation but scorn the wisdom of service do not lead people into the glorious liberty of the children of God but into a cramped and covetous squalor.
  •  Paul Scherer: “God is almost intolerably careless about crosses and swords, arenas and scaffolds, about all the “evils” and all the “plagues.” His caring doesn’t mean that he goes in for upholstering.”
  •  Why are we put on the spot of being God’s defender We are expected to explain God to his disappointed clients. We’re thrust into the role of a clerk at Wal-Mart’s customer service desk – the complaints department of humanity. – 72
  •  The proper work of a Christina is witness, not apology.
  •  Instead of asking, “Why does this happen Why do I feel left in the lurch” we can ask “How does it happen that there are people who sing with such confidence, ‘God’s strong name is our help'”
  •  Advertisers are so dishonest with us that we train ourselves to keep our distance from any who speak with passion and excitement for fear that they will manipulate us. We see a Tiger Woods speaking on behalf of a product and know that he received millions for it. Yet, we read, “If God hadn’t been for us when everyone went against us, we would have been swallowed alive,” and we say, “Vigorous poetry! Well done! But who was your copywriter, and how much did they pay you to say it”- 74
  •  The only cure for cynicism is to bring it out behind the scenes. It is a parasite on faith. The reason that many of us don’t 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. – 75
  •  Have no fear about doing so, for we have a “warts-and-all” religion.
  •  One threat to our security comes from our feelings of depression and doubt. – 86
  •  We learn to live not by our feelings about God but by the facts about God. If I break my leg I do not become less a person. My wife and children do not reject me. Neither when my faith fractures or my feelings bruise does God cast me off and reject me. – 87
  •  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.
  •  The curse of some people’s lives is not work, as such, but senseless work, vain work, futile work, work that takes place apart from God, work that ignores the if. Hillary of Tours taught that every Christian must be constantly vigilant against what he called “irreligious solicitudo pro Deo” – a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him. – 109
  •  Our work creates neither life nor righteousness. -111
  •  What does make a difference is the personal relationships that we create and develop.
  •  The easiest thing in the world is to be a Christian. What is hard is to be a sinner. Being a Christian is what we were created for. The life of faith has the support of an entire creation and the resources of a magnificent redemption. In the course of Christian discipleship we discover that without Christ we were doing it the hard way and that with Christ we are doing it the easy way. – 115
  •  Will we let God be as he is, majestic and holy, vast and wondrous, or will we always be trying whittle him down to size of our small minds, insist on confining him within the small boundaries we are comfortable with, refuse to think of him other than in images that are convenient to our lifestyle That is blasphemous chumminess. – 120
  •  HH Farmer said, “If you go against the grain of the universe, you get splinters.” – 121
  •  None of that had the power to push Paul off his path ( 2 Corinthians 11.23-29). None of it convinced him that he was on the wrong way. None of it persuaded him that he had made the wrong choice years earlier. The way of Christ is a way that works. It has been tested thoroughly. – 127-128
  •  So we will not make excuses for the psalmist’s vindictiveness. What we will do is admire its energy. For it is apathetic, sluggish neutrality that is death to perseverance, acts like a virus in the bloodstream and enervates the muscles of discipleship. – 130
  •  Perseverance does not mean “perfection.” It means we do not quit when we find that we are not yet mature and there is a long journey still before us. – 131
  •  We survive in the way of faith not because we have extraordinary stamina but because God sticks with us. – 133
  •  “Hope is a projection of the imagination; so is despair. Despair all too readily embraces the ills it foresees; hope is an energy and arouses the mind to explore every possibility to combat them… In response to hope the imagination is aroused to picture every possible issue, to try every door, to fit together even the most heterogeneous pieces in the puzzle. After the solution has been found it is difficult to recall the steps taken – so many of them are just below the level of consciousness.” – Thornton Wilder – 136
  •  By setting the anguish out into the open and voicing it as a prayer, the psalm gives dignity to our suffering. It does not look on suffering as something slightly embarrassing that must be hushed up and locked in a closet (where it finally becomes a skeleton) because this sort of thing shouldn’t happen to a real person of faith. And it doesn’t treat it as a puzzle that must be explained, and therefore turn it over to theologians or philosophers to work out an answer. Suffering is set squarely, openly, passionately before God. It is acknowledged and expressed. It is described and lived. – 138
  •  We live in a time when everyone’s goal is to be perpetually healthy and constantly happy. If any one of us fails to live up to the standards that are advertised as normative, we are labeled as a problem to be solved, and a host of well-intentioned people rush to try out various cures on us.
  •  This devalues the experience of suffering.
  •  The gospel offers a different view of suffering: in suffering we enter the depths; we are at the heart of things; we are near to where Christ was on the cross. PT Forsyth wrote: “The depth is simply the height inverted, as sin is the index of moral grandeur. The cry is not only truly human, but divine as well. God is deeper than the deepest depth in man. He is holier than our deepest sin is deep. There is no depth so deep to us as when God reveals his holiness in dealing with our sin. And so, think more of the depth of God than the depth of your cry. The worst thing that can happen to a man is to have no God to cry to out of the depth.” – 139
  •  Neither prophets nor priests nor psalmists offer quick cures for the suffering: we don’t find any of them telling us to take a vacation, use this drug, get a hobby. Nor do they ever engage in publicity cover-ups, the plastic-smile propaganda campaigns that hide trouble behind a billboard of positive thinking. None of that the suffering is held up and proclaimed – and prayed. – 139-140
  •  Ministry is a very confronting service. It does not allow people to live with illusions of immortality and wholeness. It keeps reminding others that they are mortal and broken, but also that with the recognition of this condition, liberation starts. – 140
  •  God is not stingy – providing only for bare survival. – 141
  •  God is at the foundation and God is at the boundaries.
  •  Wait and watch are the two words given to us in our suffering. The words are connected with the image of watchmen waiting through the night for the dawn. There is something you can do, or more exactly, there is someone you can be: be a watchman. – 142
  •  Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusions. It is not compelled to work away at keeping up appearances with a bogus spirituality. It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying. And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he would do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith. – 144
  •  When we suffer we attract counselors as money attracts thieves. We are flooded first with sympathy and then with advice, and when we don’t come around quickly we are abandoned as a hopeless case.
  •  The big difference is not in what people suffer but in the way that they suffer. “The same shaking that makes fetid water stink makes perfume issue up a more pleasant odor.”
  •  Psalm 131 is a maintenance psalm. It reduces the distance between our hearts and their roots in God. It prunes away unruly ambition and infantile dependency. – 149
  •  We are in special and constant need of expert correction. We need pruning. – 150
  •  Ambition seeks to make something cheap and tawdry, sweatily knocking together a Babel when we could be vacationing in Eden. – 153
  •  Being a Christian means accepting the terms of creation, accepting God as our maker and redeemer, and growing day by day into an increasingly glorious creature in Christ, developing joy, experiencing love, maturing in peace. By the grace of Christ we experience the marvel of being made in the image of God. If we reject this way, the only alternative is to attempt the hopelessly fourth-rate, embarrassingly awkward imitation of God made in the image of men and women like us.
  •  Another mistake is thinking too little of ourselves. The doormat Christian and the dishrag saint: the person upon whom everyone walks and wipes their feet, the person who is used by others to clean up the mess of everyday living and then is discarded. – 134
  •  Our Lord gave us the image of a child, not because of the child’s helplessness, but because of the child’s willingness to be led, to be taught, to be blessed. – 155
  •  We must desire God for ourselves and not as a means of fulfillment of our own wishes.It is a blessed mark of growth out of spiritual infancy when we can forgo the joys which once appeared to be essential, and can find our solace in him who denies them to us. – 156
  •  God does not want us neurotically dependent on him but willingly trustful in him. And so he weans us. The period of infancy will not be sentimentally extended beyond what is necessary.
  •  Charles Spurgeon said Psalm 131 “is one of the shortest Psalms to read, but one of the longest to learn.” – 157
  •  The experts in our society who offer to help us have a kind of general staff mentality from which massive, top-down solutions are issued to solve our problems. Then when solutions don’t work, we get mired in the nothing-can-be-done swamp. We are first incited into being grandiose and then intimidated into being infantile. But there is another way, the plain way of quiet Christian humility. We need pruning. Cut back to our roots, we learn this psalm and discover the quietness of the weaned child, the tranquility of maturing trust. It is such a minute psalm that many have overlooked it, but for all its brevity and lack of pretense, it is essential. For every Christian encounters problems of growth and difficulties of development.
  •  You are much more likely to find passionate prayer in a foxhole than in a church pew; and you will certainly find more otherworldly visions and supernatural voices in a mental hospital than you will in a church. – 163
  •  Are we becoming stale Like Anthony Trollope’s Miss Thorne, whose “virtues were too numerous to describe, and not sufficiently interesting to deserve description.”We want a Christian faith that has stability but is not petrified, that has vision but is not hallucinatory. How do we get both the sense of stability and the spirit of adventure, the ballast of good health and the zest of true sanity
  •  If we are going to live adequately and maturely as the people of God, we need more data to work from than our experience can give us. We need other experiences, the community of experience of brothers and sisters in the church, the centuries of experience provided by our biblical ancestors. 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. – 167
  •  A Christian with a defective memory has to start everything from scratch and spends far too much time backtracking, repairing, starting over.
  •  The Bible never refers to the past as “the good old days.” – 168
  •  The danger that is a threat to obedience is that we should reduce Christian existence to ritually obeying a few commandments that are congenial to our temperament and convenient to our standard of living. – 169
  •  If we define the nature of our lives by the mistake of the moment or the defeat of the hour or the boredom of the day, we will define it wrongly. We need roots in the past to give obedience ballast and breadth; we need a vision of the future to give obedience direction and goal. There must be an organic unity between past and future lived in the present. – 169-170
  •  We must extend the boundaries of our lives beyond the dates enclosed by our birth and death and acquire an understanding of God’s way as something larger and more complete than the anecdotes in our private diaries. Otherwise, we will always be “mistaking a sore throat for a descent into hell.” – 170
  •  No Christian is an only child. – 175
  •  So the question is not “Am I going to be a part of a community of faith” but “How am I going to live in this community of faith” – 176
  •  God’s children do different things. Some run away from it and pretend that the family doesn’t exist. Some move out and get an apartment on their own from which they return to make occasional visits (or raids!), nearly always showing for the parties and bringing a gift to show that they really do hold the others in fond regard. And some would never dream of leaving but cause others to dream it for them, for they are always criticizing what is done and complaining that the others in the family are either ignoring or taking advantage of them. And some determine to find out what God has in mind by placing them in this community called a church, learn how to function in it harmoniously and joyously, and develop the maturity that is able to share and exchange God’s grace with those who might otherwise be viewed as nuisances.
  •  It is far easier to deal with people as problems to be solved than to have anything to do with them in community. -179
  •  Another common way to avoid community is to turn the church into an institution. In the process, the church becomes less and less a community, that is, people who pay attention to each other, “brothers and sisters,” and more and more a collectivism of “contributing units.” – 179-180
  •  Every community of Christians is imperiled when either of these routes are pursued: the route of defining others as problems to be solved, the way one might repair an automobile; the route of lumping persons together in terms of economic ability or institutional effectiveness.
  •  When we see the other as God’s anointed, a priest to us, our relationships are profoundly affected. – 181
  •  A community of faith flourishes when we view each other with this expectancy, wondering what God will do today in this one, that one. – 182
  •  Karl Barth: “The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science.” – 196
  •  If a pastor is not in touch with joy, it will be difficult to preach or teach convincingly that the news is good. – 197
  •  Westminster Shorter Catechism: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” – 198
  •  Glorify. Enjoy! Not only is there, increasingly, more to be enjoyed, there is steadily the acquired ability to enjoy it.

On this day...

1 comment

  1. Doug says:
    I must get this book!

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