Eugene H. Peterson is one my favourite biblical teachers, writers and prophetic voices. You may have read some of his work even if you have never heard of him. The Message bible is one of Peterson’s most commonly known works. Perhaps a lesser known one is this: A long obedience in the same direction.
In this commentary of selected ascension psalms, Peterson pinpoints some of the unique challenges that the people of God faced in the ancient world as they pilgrimaged with God. As pilgrims, the Israelites were a group of people who spent their lives journeying towards God, or places to meet with God. The long up and down history of the nation of Israel illustrates many things, and highlights some of the real challenges and obstacles that the people of God faced in the world. However, travelling to Jerusalem and meeting with God at His Temple was a foundational element and primary ingredient in the lives of the Hebrews.
Today, some of this ancient history is lost and foreign to our modern ears. The thought of spending days walking somewhere is not overly a positive one, let alone the idea of giving as opposed to receiving.
Peterson says that the contemporary Christian culture at large can at times be guilty of searching in order to consume the ‘newest and best’, as long as it is packaged and presented in an appealing fresh way. This can give way to what Peterson refers to as a ‘tourist mindset’.
Peterson believes that religion in the Western world has been captured by a consumer and touring mindset. Religious and spiritual seekers have often visited an attractive site in order to be treated to something adequate and appealing. In this way, attending church had become a leisurely activity that was similar to going to the movies, sporting events or other venues of entertainment. For many, the ‘Christian life’ was a pursuit of the right personality, right truth, and right experience that would bring the right return into their lives with the least amount of resistance or cost. In other words, today’s Christianity had become more about instant gratification than a long obedience in the same direction.
Peterson says that under such conditions, the Christian life will not mature and only yield a passion for the immediate and casual. The endless pursuit of the next big thing, breakthrough or big ticket item will only give rise to more anxiety and will continue to rob people of tranquility and peace. The end result will yield a people who are more like wandering nomads than journeying pilgrims. I couldn’t agree more.
Pastoring today continues to bring unique challenges with God’s people, and many of the lingering issues have been heightened by the pandemic. Before COVID everyone was in a hurry, and most people preferred short-cut solutions in hopes of spiritual satisfaction . In this way, Peterson says that most Christians desired a tour-guide who would give people the high points, instant credit (in eternity), a constant flow of new information and a bump free, user friendly ride. However, this is not what Jesus calls for. Jesus calls for disciples.
As a pastor, it is my privilege to help people grow in their relationship with Jesus. I truly enjoy helping people work through life issues and help them with questions concerning faith in this world. Having a deep appreciation for the Bible, it brings me joy to teach and challenge people along scriptural lines. However, to truly follow Jesus, we must be willing learners in all of life’s journey.
As our Master, followers of Christ are to be discipled learners who spend their lives apprenticed to Him. A disciple is a learner, but not so much in an academic setting or school. Biblically speaking, a disciple is someone who is in a growing-learning relationship with Jesus in the marketplace, job or work-site. In other words, Christianity is about growing and acquiring skills in faith outside the walls any institution or chapel building. Following Jesus is a journey plain and simple. It’s a path filled with ups and downs, and twists and turns. But through it all, it is also a constant journey and quest towards God Himself.
I will readily admit that this pandemic has shifted many things at a light-speed pace leaving many people with lingering questions, myself included. In many conversations with others, there seems to be a genuine and general ‘nomadic’ feeling to our everyday existence. In my previous blog, I mentioned that this third lock-down has perhaps been the hardest. These last few weeks have heightened feelings of restlessness, anxiety and angst that were already present and elevated in our lives. Many are feeling emotions, feelings, fears and doubts in new and unsettling ways. More people are experiencing tribulations, trials, and troubles that have shaken foundations of faith and have led to serious questions about God and His activity in the world.
What are we to do?
Peterson suggests that if you are fed up with the way things are, and have a serious appetite for something satisfying and true, then you are ready to journey the path of a pilgrim. For Peterson, such dissatisfaction with the world as it is, is preparation for traveling in the way of Christian discipleship. In other words, ‘a person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before (they) can acquire an appetite for the world of grace.’
Are you ready?
If so, may we turn to God and begin our pilgrimage back to Him.
It may be a long journey, but the path is going in the right direction.