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A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society

24th June 2013 Christian Books 17 Comments

As a society, we are no less obsessed with the immediate than when Eugene Peterson first wrote this Christian classic. If anything, email and the Internet may have intensified our quest for the quick fix. But Peterson’s time-tested prescription for discipleship remains the same–a long obedience in the same direction. Tucked away in the Hebrew Psalter, Peterson discovered “an old dog-eared songbook,” the Songs of Ascents that were sung by pilgrims on their way up to worship in Jerusalem. In these songs (Psalms 120-134) Peterson finds encouragement for modern pilgrims as we learn to grow in worship, service, joy, work, happiness, humility, community and blessing. This 20th anniversary edition of A Long Obedience in the Same Direction features these Psalms in Peterson’s widely acclaimed paraphrase, The Message. He also includes an epilogue in which he reflects on the themes of this book and his ministry during the twenty years since its original publication.

“All of the marks of a classic–profound, timeless, life-impacting.” — Leith Anderson, author of Leadership That Works

“I’ve never read a book by Eugene Peterson that didn’t stir and challenge me.” — Max Lucado, author of In the Grip of Grace

“Wonderful book, one of the very best guides to the Psalms! Peterson’s combination of passion and insight match the psalmists” — Tim Stafford, author of Knowing the Face of God

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society

  • 17 responses to "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society"

  • Kyle Lyles
    1:36 on June 24th, 2013
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    this book was my first experience with eugene peterson and it nearly blew me out of the water. it exposes so much of the lie that is in the american church. living the christian life is not easy. i used to feel so guilty because it was for me and all around was this lie that life would be easy if you just followed jesus. and also that following jesus was about me and my life. peterson takes us out of ourselves and frees us to experience true joy in this difficult endeavor of following god.

  • nagihan
    3:53 on June 24th, 2013
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    A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

    This is one of Eugene Peterson’s earlier books, published about twenty years ago. During a lecture in May of 1999 in Vancouver, B.C. he remarked that many people had said to him that they loved the title, but hadn’t quite gotten around to reading the book. This, of course, might be a sign that it’s a bad book. Or it could be an indication that it simply doesn’t deliver what some folks are looking for. I would suggest that it’s a very good book indeed, but that you need a certain orientation in order to read it.

    You need to love the Bible, for one thing. I don’t mean love the Bible sentimentally. You need to be one who is willing to embrace the Bible for exactly what it is as it defines itself. It is not a promise book or a guide to “effective” living. Nor is it a book on how to keep out of hell. It is rather an immensely frank compilation of writings that point out God’s presence in human history as a whole and God’s presence in each person’s life. It becomes God’s word to us by virtue of its insistence upon God’s “take” on reality at all points. That may not be so popular. In fact, I’m sure of it. It is certain that this reading of the Psalms of Ascent will not go down that well with the North American Christian who is looking for inspiration or solace or affirmation or any of the other self-gratifications we tend to require.

    On the other hand, if you like to get to the bottom of things, Peterson’s your man. Witness this excerpt:

    “A common but futile strategy for achieving joy is trying to eliminate things that hurt: get rid of pain by numbing the nerve ends, get rid of insecurity by eliminating risks, get rid of disappointments by depersonalizing your relationships. And then try to lighten the boredom of such a life by buying joy in the form of vacations and entertainment. There isn’t a hint of that in Psalm 126.”

    These psalms chronicling the rhythm of yearly pilgrimages to Jerusalem, a return to the presence of God, are handled with such grace by Peterson that one wonders how we’ve read them all these years without hearing the humble clumps of singing Jews walking along the dusty, gradual incline of the shephelah to the holy city. Speaking of the pilgrim path that we share with the Jews of the first millenium A.D., Long Obedience includes the following:

    “A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way. As long as we think that the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another scientific breakthrough might save the environment or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety into a life of tranquility, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith. A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace. Psalm 120 is the song of such a person, sick with the lies and crippled with the hate, a person doubled up in pain over what is going on in the world…”

    Peterson is no enterprising preacher repackaging his sermons in volumes of garish luminosity for eager visibility in the local Christian consumer shop. He is at once an authentic pastor and a poetic, writing scholar. So hitch up your pants, turn your head sideways, spit, and step into the gracious grit of Eugene Peterson.

  • Byron B
    7:06 on June 24th, 2013
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    Peterson is not just a pretty good paraphraser of Scripture in his “The Message”, he is a powerful interpreter of Scripture, too. “A Long Obedience . . .” (a phrase from Nietsche, of all people) is a real meat and potatoes feast for hungry souls desiring to feed on the Word. Summarizing a single theme within the general context of discipleship in each of the Psalms of Ascent, Peterson provides an uplifting devotional for those ready and able to be inspired by it. His writing in this book is more Lewis than Lucado, so readers must be prepared (by spiritual training and maturity, not just emotionally) to dive in to the depths to derive the full delight from Peterson’s expositions. I spent most of summer, ’06 in “A Long Obedience . . .” and highly recommend it to others.

  • Johannes Irfan
    10:25 on June 24th, 2013
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    When you fall you will learn it is ok as long as you get up brus yourself off and keep going Stick-to-it ness as Peterson states

  • Jaime Dowker
    18:40 on June 24th, 2013
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    This book has the same kind of C.S. Lewis wisdom that makes you want to read, underline, and re-read the book. It is insightful, encouraging and full of new perspectives on life that are applicable to the world we live in today. His words challenged me as a disciple of Christ.

  • Kerfan
    19:24 on June 24th, 2013
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    If you find yourself in need of a reminder of the basics of Christianity, or needing to learn them for the first time, then read this book. It makes a really good devotional book because it’s based on Psalms 120-134…

    The only reason I gave it 4 stars instead of five is that it tends to get a little repetitive in spots. Otherwise it’s a great book.

  • Lourie Kalhorn
    0:55 on June 25th, 2013
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    This update to a classic writing on spritual formation is much needed in Christian church life. The companion workbook is also an excellent guide for group study.

  • mudfarmer
    2:15 on June 25th, 2013
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    From the title, A LONG OBEDIENCE IN THE SAME DIRECTION would seem to be a book full of deep spiritual insight for the committed Christian. However, that’s not really the case. A LONG OBEDIENCE IN THE SAME DIRECTION is an examination of a collection of Psalms in the Bible that are known as the Songs of the Ascent. After having the book recommended to me, I thought it would delve deep into the meaning of discipleship and perhaps provide insight on my Christian walk. The book provided neither. I believe there are two reasons for this.

    1. Eugene Peterson uses his own translation of the Bible (which later became THE MESSAGE) as the scriptural references for the entire book. Now, I don’t deny that it took Peterson a very long time to write The Message. However, The Message is really more akin to a paraphrase of the Bible and than an actual translation. In seeking to put the Bible in a dialect of post-modern American English, I find that much of the history, poetry, and sustenance of the original texts is forsaken. Therefore, much of the original meaning of the psalms examined is lost and the reader has to trust Peterson’s interpretation without any way of gauging his translation against other, traditionally more reliable translations.

    2. The book could have been a great piece of scholarship and reference (like Chamber’s MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST), but it fails to actually dive deep into the text and remains more like a summary of scripture, sprinkled with a few historical facts. Had Peterson fully explored the text (and perhaps the reason he didn’t is because he was relying upon his own paraphrase), the book could have been much more meaningful than it is.

    Overall, this is a book that I would recommend for Christians that haven’t been walking with Christ for long. It does not work as a piece of scholarship, but does work rather quite well as a monthly devotional.

  • Guyver
    3:51 on June 25th, 2013
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    This exposition of the Psalms of Ascent was so rich on a personal level. Expositional, full of tremendous references and stories and honest understanding of the reality that discipleship takes time. Peterson is a blessing to God and to His people. This foundational work of his is a must-read for all believers and especially leaders.

  • iambitly
    5:07 on June 25th, 2013
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    This book was recommended to me, but I was disappointed. Although it is a good book, it wasn’t great. Perhaps my level of expectation for religious books has risen. The ideas seemed to be too general, although the first part of the book was good.

  • Kyla Tablada
    6:15 on June 25th, 2013
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    This is a classic book in the sense that its information stands the test of time and that it is one that can be read multiple times. I would go so far as to say I’d recommend reading it more than once due to the amount of information in this book.

    I found it both deeply encouraging and inspiring. When I first considered purchasing it I was concerned that it might be “over my head” but Peterson speaks in such a way that really helps you “get” it- both with his language and illustrations of everyday examples. It is a very easy read but still meaty enough to help you really learn more about your relationship and walk with Christ.

    If you are looking for encouragement along your walk with Christ or if you want to delve further into your relationship to Him, I strongly encourage this book! I can’t say enough good about it.

  • ChicagoadamOK
    11:46 on June 25th, 2013
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    Eugene Peterson uses selections from the book of Psalms to examine old truths of the Christian walk in fresh and sometimes jarring ways. Each chapter explores topics such as “Perseverance” or “Joy” according to Peterson’s sometimes peculiar (but thoughtfully appropriate) perceptions. Christians who have been walking for a while will appreciate a new and intelligent slant on “old” news. Those newer to the faith may find themselves somewhat frustrated by the lack of clear and basic theological information. This book works well for group discussions; chapters are relatively short and there is always something pertinent and provocative to talk about.

  • Yoybel Frimme
    12:30 on June 25th, 2013
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    Peterson’s work here is spectacular. In a society that wants everything fast–include the mature fruit of Christianity spent years in the making and gestating–one cannot biggy size this or get it while speeding through the window. There isn’t even a toy surprise inside! However, these serious, thought provoking, careful reflections into the shape and heart of discipleship bear patient reading, perhaps only a page or two at a time, and then more patient reading, and thinking on–and then more. If you want a quick fix–this book ain’t it (I’m by nurture a Southerner, so ain’t is quite appropriate), but if you want something to sit for a spell with and chew on a while–read this book slowly and learn…you’ll be the better for it.

    16:42 on June 25th, 2013
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    tvtv3 says in his review, “Eugene Peterson uses his own translation of the Bible, The Message, as the scriptural references for the entire book.”

    This is incorrect.

    Quoted from the copyright page of the book: “Biblical quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, 1973, and are used by permission.”

    This book was written in 1980 – a long time before Mr. Peterson finished his own translation, The Message.

  • Merlyn Jencks
    3:13 on June 26th, 2013
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    This book is a classic. Everything Eugene Peterson writes speaks to me in terms I can easily understand. This book is no exception. If you are serious about your Discipleship to Jesus, read this book!

  • Kirby Khamo
    4:50 on June 26th, 2013
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    Peterson wrote A Long Obedience in the Same Direction thirty years ago and it’s fifteen chapters are based on the Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134), Psalms that were most likely sung as Jewish pilgrims made their ascent to Jerusalem for their holy feast days.

    Each chapter begins with one of the fifteen Psalms in The Message translation which provides the framework for the chapter. In fact, it was actually the work done during the writing of this book that, as Eugene says, “provided the impetus for embarking on the new translation”.

    This form is at times refreshing and at other times distracting. Refreshing because it reads a bit like an expository sermon, dealing with the text as it is written and in sequence, chapter by chapter. Distracting because, as far as a book on discipleship goes, it doesn’t have a simple list of logical steps to follow. But, after all, when does discipleship ever work like that?

  • ImARocketPro
    8:47 on June 26th, 2013
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    The author discusses the impact of an instant gratification mentality on chrisianity. A good look at what the benefits are of staying in a long term relationship with God leading the way.

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