A couple of years ago I was looking for a new book and a title caught my eye. The book was “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction,” by Eugene Peterson. I had been thinking about the topic of spiritual discipline for some time and ordered the book. It was one of the best purchases I have ever made.
In the book Peterson writes:
“One aspect of world that I have been able to identify as harmful to Christians is the assumption that anything worthwhile can be acquired at once. We assume that if something can be done at all it can be done quickly and efficiently. Our attention spans have been conditioned by thirty-second commercials.”
“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.”
“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.”
Peterson continuously points out that the life of a Christian is a daily arduous journey. It is not a quick trip, it is not a goal that you achieve and finish. No, it is a constant pursuit towards God and you take one step at a time.
Psalm 121 is a Psalm of ascents. It was sung by pilgrims on their way up to the temple at Jerusalem to remind them of God’s truth at work in their lives.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains —
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip —
he who watches over you will not slumber . . .
In our context, we may picture the awe-inspiring Rocky Mountains when this verse is read. However, although the Rockies do inspire awe at the works of God, that is not what the author is referencing here. In the ancient near east, hills, and mountains were viewed as areas that were spiritual “hot spots.” Due to these “hot spots,” many times along the road, pagan temples and altars would be built. If it was raining you may stop and offer a sacrifice to that god to make it stop. If it was dangerous you may stop and offer a sacrifice to that god, and so forth and so on. As the pilgrim journeyed, they would see all of these other opportunities for things to trust and to seek help. Their answer is in verse 2. The Sovereign Lord is our helper, the maker of all that is in heaven and on the earth.
So many times I am tempted to look at other things. Coincidently, on my drive to work, there is a huge lottery billboard. I find myself constantly daydreaming about winning it and all of the good that I could do with the money. It is a modern-day version of me looking to the pagan temple and thinking that just maybe that god may be able to help. What am I trusting in other than God? What am I looking to for help?
In our culture, we are bombarded with false promises of help and hope from high places. It is a constant battle to try to remember, focus and believe the truth that our help comes from the Lord and not other (often tangible) things around us. The daily fight to believe and hold on to this truth is what we call spiritual discipline.
I have struggled with the area of spiritual discipline ever since I became a Christian. I grew up in a very legalistic environment that tainted the term for me. I viewed it as a performance to win the approval of God. This could not be further from the truth.
Spiritual discipline is the active and continual pursuit of the application of the truth and grace of the gospel of Christ in our lives.
It requires vulnerability and an awareness of need - something legalism usually lacks.
Spiritual discipline is the stewardship of what God has given and of what God has asked us to do.
It is the daily work of the manifestation of the grace and truth of Christ in our broken and dying world. Yes, it can be trying not to cuss, but it can also be trying to speak truth into hard situations. It is not only about what not to do but about what to do.
It is an active working out of our faith, the active expansion of the kingdom of God in our lives and communities.
It is grueling, it is tiring but God will provide to where He has called. Spiritual discipline will take you beyond your limits and reveal how and why you need the gospel in your life, both to apply but also to give away.
We are not alone on this journey. As the body of Christ, we join this pilgrimage towards God. We can speak truth and encouragement to each other. We can pick one another up as we fall and challenge each other to keep going. We can help bring one back who may be starting to wander off to a hill offering false help and promises. This journey takes place in a community.
Spiritual discipline is not competitive, you do not train to beat the others in your community. It is growing together into the church that displays the love of God to the world around us. Our growth is not for personal glory or gain, it is for God’s glory in our broken world.
Father, may you guide us to you. May you help us with training to one day do naturally what does not come naturally now...to love our enemies….to give without question….may you be glorified in all that we do. Place around us, O Lord, a community that encourages us to continue to develop and not sit in comfort. May you teach us to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. May you help us not only see what not to do but show us what to do, even when it makes us uncomfortable. May you bring light to the darkness, hope for the downtrodden and peace to those in despair. May you love with our hearts, speak with our lips, serve with our hands and create with our minds.
Where do you look for help?
How has God met you in scripture or in prayer?
How has that changed at different times in your life?
Who can you invite into the areas in which you need to grow?