The title of Eugene Peterson’s book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction has its origins in a quote from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Raised in a Christian family, Nietzsche turned to atheism and later surprisingly wrote, “The essential thing in heaven and earth is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results . . . in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”
A wise man once said, “Conflict is never about what’s happening on the surface—there’s always much more at stake.” Chances are that Job would have agreed with that statement. He found himself thrust suddenly and forcefully into heartbreak of catastrophic proportions. His livestock, fields, servants, and children were all destroyed in one day.
In the children’s book series How to Train Your Dragon, the protagonist Hiccup has a cousin named Snotlout who’s as mean as they get. Snotlout is determined to inherit the tribal chieftaincy in Hiccup’s place, and embarks on a number of schemes to sabotage his cousin. But Hiccup consistently chooses to reach out to Snotlout. Even after Snotlout’s father rejects him for his wickedness, Hiccup doesn’t give up on him. Eventually, Hiccup’s faith is rewarded as Snotlout shows the colors of a true friend.
I had plans for how my life was supposed to work out,” my friend David said. “And when things didn’t go as planned, I became bitter and resentful.” Who can relate to David? I definitely can! Often I find myself imposing my expectations on God as rights, and then sulking when they aren’t realized.
In her blog, Gayla wrote about rescuing a cactus from the garbage bins of an apartment building in her neighborhood. She found a single stem that showed some signs of life. With some pruning, the seemingly dead plant blossomed once again and is now thriving. She shared the details of the cactus transformation in order to help those who think that their cacti are beyond hope.
Howling winds, booming thunderclaps, and lightning flashes tend to make me nervous, even when I’m sheltered in a safe, dry place. Gentle rain showers I can handle. It’s the clamor and din of an intense storm that get me. So Jesus could well have been speaking to me when He asked His disciples, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40).
My friends in my Bible discussion group chuckled when I shared how I was trying to avoid God. I smiled, but it was no joke. His promptings to overlook my demands for justice and extend grace filled me with resentment. I felt like shaking my fist (as the prophet Jonah might have done) and screaming, “You want me to go where, and do what?!”
I know a couple who share freely about a devastating time in their marriage. But the focus of their story isn’t the hurt or the wounds they inflicted. Instead, they talk about how God used that experience to reveal deep-seated issues that needed to be addressed and dealt with. As a result, they emerged from the painful pruning closer to each other and to Him. Amazingly, they’re grateful for it and the good that has come from it.
I sat in church with my head bowed and eyes lowered. I’ve failed God so, I thought. He must be very disappointed. Then my pastor said, “Look into Jesus’ eyes. See how He looks at you, how He sees you.” So I did. And in that moment, I wore the Samaritan woman’s shoes . . .