The Psalms of Ascent is a collection of lyrics, a dog-earred songbook at the back of the Book of Psalms. These songs were sung by the Israelites on their pilgrimages to the temple or to national festivals. Eugene Peterson unpacks these scriptures in his book 'A Long Obedience In The Same Direction', inspired by a phrase from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Discipleship to Jesus is a lifelong process; it cannot be short cut or fast tracked. When we say yes to Jesus and discipleship, we are in essence signing up for a long obedience in the same direction. This season we want to counter our culture's lie of what 'success' looks like and that it must happen overnight, calling us to the slow process of discipleship in an instant society. Together we want to paint a compelling vision for 'A Long Obedience In The Same Direction', drawing our commitment to Jesus, to church, and to giving our lives to seeing His Kingdom come.
'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. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence for mature christian discipleship is slim.' - Eugene Peterson.
Church planter and friend of Open Heaven Church Pete McKnight joins us to share his heart and wisdom as his family returns from Annecy, France after seven years of investment in an Open Heaven church plant called Connect: Annecy.
What is obedience? Eugene Peterson argues that Psalm 132 shows it is 'a lively, adventurous response of faith that is rooted in historical fact and reaches into a promised hope'. This pilgrim journey requires our feet on the ground, yet equally ready for leaps of faith. Alan and Rachel Radbourne share their struggles from Anglesey, Wales where they are outworking a call from God to plant a vibrant and growing church.
Walking with Jesus doesn't exempt us from hardship, pain and suffering. Psalm 121 reminds that our help comes from the creator, not creation. Psalm 125 teaches us that our security is found not by living by our feelings about God, but by facts about God. Our security comes from who God is, not from how we feel. Eugene Peterson says 'discipleship is a decision to live by what I know about God, not by what I feel about him, or myself or my neighbour'.
When we say no to the culture of this world we say yes to God and his promises and purposes in our lives. 'Dissatisfaction with the world as it is is preparation for travelling in the way of Christian discipleship. The dissatisfaction, coupled with a longing for peace and truth, can set us on a pilgrim path of wholeness in God. Psalm 120 is the decision to take one way over and against the other. It is the turning point marking the transition from a dreamy nostalgia for a better life, to a rugged pilgrimage of discipleship in faith.' - Eugene Peterson.
Pain, suffering and disappointment in life is inevitable. Hopelessness, cynicism and dejection isn't. Psalm 130 puts suffering front and centre. Eugene Peterson suggests that we must immerse our suffering in God. Pray it. Bring it to Him. We watch and wait, which ultimately means we must hope. And hoping is not in vain, it is 'based on the conviction that God is actively involved in his creation and vigorously at work in redemption'.
Psalm 131 is described by Eugene Peterson as a 'maintenance Psalm' which is active in 'pruning away unruly ambition and infantile dependency'. Jesus showed us throughout the gospels that God isn't interested solely in what's happening in our external world, but was deeply interested in our internal world. Discipleship to Jesus requires regular heart-checks. As Nicky Gumbel says 'are you focused on your promotion or on exalting Jesus? Is your ambition more for yourself or for Jesus?' Taking up our crosses and following Jesus isn't a road to exaltation, it's the road of humility; the same one Jesus led the way in (Philippians 2:8). It is this same road that we must walk in our long obedience in the same direction.
The next key to our long obedience in the same direction makes the journey of long obedience more pleasurable. Eugene Peterson suggests that '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.' Joy is a fruit of the spirit meaning because we are in relationship with God others should expect to see 'love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control' (Galatians 5). We get joy when we decide to live in response to the abundance of God. And because our joy is from God's abundance, even in the midst of suffering and disappointment, we can be real about the pain, whilst also knowing a supernatural joy.
We need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We need to be seen and known and heard and to do these things for others. We are created to draw life and nourishment from each other. Community not only nurtures our humanity, but also our spirituality. Community is the place where God meets us. When we say yes to Jesus, we get adopted into his family and automatically become part of his church. And so, as Eugene Peterson suggests, the question we ask changes from 'am I going to be part of a community of faith?' to 'how am I going to live in this community of faith?'