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A Long Obedience

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A long obedience

By Joe McKeever

NEW ORLEANS (BP)--"I'm quitting," my friend said. He had held that job two whole

days and now was walking away. "They want me to work in an office with

unbelievers and I just can't function in that kind of atmosphere."

I suspect it's not that at all. Jack's problem is he cannot take a job and stay

with it.

You and I live in a culture of quitting. People try marriage, find it hard, and

quit. They try jobs, find them difficult, and walk away. They take up diets and

discover they were expected to exercise their body and their common sense, and

they quit. They take up fitness programs for a few weeks, then quit. They start

to church and they quit.

Half the members on many church rolls rarely darken the doors of the church.

What happened to them? They quit.

Eugene Peterson wrote a book on the Psalms with the intriguing title of "A Long

Obedience in the Same Direction," borrowing the line from a German philosopher.

What Peterson calls "a long obedience in the same direction," the Bible calls

variously steadfastness, faithfulness and perseverance. It means to get on the

road and stay there. To hang in there. To keep on keeping on, as the old folks

used to say.

If you start a diet, for example, and don't see any quick results or you go off

the diet at a party or family get-together and feel so guilty that you trash the

whole plan -- bad decision. God has so built us that we lose weight slowly. It's

a built-in protection against starvation. Maybe it doesn't mean much to you, but

countless millions of others owe their existence to God's creative genius in the

way He made us. Get on the diet and stay with it for the long haul. Let others

rush from one diet fad to another. Not you.

The goal should not be to lose so much weight. The goal is good health. That

does not come in a weekend.

If you start on a fitness program, visiting the gym or walking or working out,

and you drop it when you don't see quick results -- very foolish. Physical

changes come slowly, but they last a long time. Since the goal is good health

and long life, quit looking in the mirror. Stay with the program. Give it a

couple of years before you start checking your statistics.

So, you're reading your Bible, are you? And trying to get started going to

church? But so far, you're not getting much out of it? Of course not. This is a

foreign land to you. Give it time. Stay with the program. A long obedience is

what you are looking for.

Mack and Melissa were new believers. They were baptized and were bringing their

infant daughter to church. And they were making an effort to read their Bible

together. "It's hard," one said.

Mack said, "A lot of the time we read things in the Bible that we don't

understand." Melissa said, "I just tell him, 'Keep on reading.'" Great counsel.

When Carole decided she wanted to begin tithing her income to the Lord through

her church, she said to her friend, "But I don't see how I can afford it." She

was quiet a moment, then said, "But I'm going to do it regardless."

That is how the Christian life is lived: regardless. Regardless of

circumstances, opposition, feelings, discouragements and hardships. Regardless

of emotions, put-downs, doubts and obstacles. Day by day, one step at a time,

persevering to the end.

Want to do a quick Bible study on reasons not to quit? The fourth chapter of 2

Corinthians has several. Verses 1 and 16 state emphatically, "we do not lose

heart," meaning to grow discouraged and quit. Why do we not lose heart?

First, because of what the Lord has done in the past. In verse 1, the Apostle

Paul said the Lord has a) shown us mercy and b) given us a ministry. Those two

forces ought to keep us in the game.

Second, because of what the Lord is doing in the present. In verse 16, Paul says

even though our outer man is wasting away (through age primarily), yet our inner

man is being renewed day by day. That is, as we serve the Lord and walk with

Him, we become more and more like Jesus every day. See the last verse of chapter


Third, because of what the Lord has promised us in the future. In the verses

surrounding verse 16, we see Paul taking comfort in three great assurances we

have from the Lord:

-- The resurrection (v. 14).

-- A reaping. A harvest of people turning to Jesus (v. 15).

-- Our rewards (v. 17).

Okay, that's the why, the good reasons not to quit. But what is the "how." How

do we make sure we hang in there? Paul gives us one answer in verse 2. "Renounce

the hidden things." Come clean. Harbor no secret sins and no hidden doubts in

your life. Deal with them or they will sabotage your life.

A long obedience in the direction of the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. It's the

only way to go.

As Churchill said, "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never --

in nothing, great or small, large or petty -- never give in except to

convictions of honor and good sense."

There is an immense difference between training to do something and trying to do something." - John Ortberg

“We cannot possibly flatter the Almighty by hurrying into his presence, flinging a song and prayer at him, and hurrying out of church back into our hassled lifestyles. God is never flattered by our sanctified exhaustion." - Calvin Miller in Into the Depths of God (Bethany, 2001)

I'm not alone in this … am I? All of us say and do things we regret. Those silly, stupid things that stubbornly cling to us like skunk scent; a pungent odor of lingering embarrassment only diluted by time. Then there are those words or actions from the past that exceed the bounds of foolishness. The weighty mistakes that reach up from the depths to shackle us, threatening to hold us under forever.

In the 1988 U.S. presidential race, Donna Rice became a household name. Rice was caught in an affair with Gary Hart—a senator from Colorado, potential Democratic nominee, and married man. When the story broke—complete with a photo of Rice sitting on Hart's lap—the Senator's bid for the 1988 Democratic nomination was over, and Rice's reputation trashed. Rice was labeled as the woman who brought Hart's campaign to an end. Of that time Rice says, "I felt trapped and hopeless, a prisoner of public perception."

Years later, Rice re-surfaced, passionately committed to God. In 1999, she was appointed by Congress to the Child Online Protection Commission and wrote a book about protecting kids from web pornography. Now happily married and running a website called, Rice is most thankful for God's work in her life. In an interview with Today's Christian Woman she said, "God loves us, but he doesn't grant us immunity from the consequences of our choices. However, when we mess up, if we ask his forgiveness, he'll redeem those choices … . He has brought purpose to my pain."

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