I had lunch yesterday with a guy who is new to our church. He admitted that the “spiritual disciplines” like going to church, reading the Bible at home, etc. are hard to keep consistent.
“I bet you don’t struggle with that, Pastor,” he said (in all seriousness).
My reaction? First, I burst out laughing, an odd sort of confession. Second, I told him about my wife.
My wife is a wonderful example of the title of Eugene Peterson’s book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. By God’s grace, she has chosen her direction—to seek God with her heart and mind. As a result, she daily, habitually, and consistently structures her days toward Jesus. Every night, she sets out her Bible, her journal, and her pen. Every morning (before I’ve hit snooze for the fourth time), she reads, she writes, and she prays.
My wife gets it right.
So often, we can be faddish about our faith. There’s always a new Christian podcast, a new Christian book, a new Christian app, a new whatever. There’s nothing wrong with new, but faith doesn’t grow much on fads.
It grows through a long obedience in the same direction.
“That [blessed] person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers” (Psalm 1:3). Fruitful Christians, like healthy trees, don’t pop up like stalls at a farmers market. They grow ring by ring, year by year, day by day, step by step.
So, let me provide a warning, an encouragement, and a word of good news:
Warning—When you get bored and sore in your spiritual life, don’t change directions. In time, every church stops feeling fresh and reveals its flaws. After enough days, every Bible reading plan falls short of the I-have-to-read-this description that hooked you when you first read it. Even the strongest Christians say prayers that feel pointless, that seem to evaporate in the air before they reach our Father in heaven.
But please don’t let the enemy use that monotony to undo your theology. The Word works. Prayer works. Even when you don’t feel it. Those habits are taking you in the right direction.
Encouragement—To all of you who are like my wife, recognize the sacred road you are on. You may have lost count of all the services you’ve attended, songs you’ve sung, sermons you’ve taken notes on, journal entries you’ve scribbled, podcasts you’ve washed dishes to, and prayers you’ve prayed at your kids’ bedsides. But that obedience has taken you toward God. You might not feel it, but that road has gotten you closer to Jesus. So, thank God for the progress and realize what a big distance all those small steps have amounted to.
Good News—Jesus faithfully walked the long road of obedience for us. It wasn’t flashy. The Bible barely mentions his first 30 years on earth. He did no miracles. Instead, he just took step after step in the Father’s direction. “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to [Mary and Joseph]. . . . And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:51,52). Jesus’ obedience is the reason his epic weekend means so much to us—through cross and empty tomb, Jesus had a perfect life to offer us, an obedient life to exchange with us, a holy life to gift to us. Through that same Jesus, we stand in God’s approval. His face shines on us and is gracious to us, despite all our spiritual ups and downs (Numbers 6:24,25).
This morning, I pulled out my dusty journal. My last entry, unlike my wife’s, was pre-Easter. Yikes! But God isn’t mad at me. He’s not mad at you either. Jesus made sure of that.
Instead, God urges us to take another step in the right direction—on the long road that leads to our Savior.
Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 in Madison and, most recently, at The CORE in Appleton, Wisconsin. He also serves as the lead speaker for Time of Grace, where he shares the good news about Jesus through television, print, and online platforms. Mike loves seeing people grasp the depth of God’s amazing grace and unstoppable mercy. His wife continues to love him (despite plenty of reasons not to), and his two daughters open his eyes to the love of God for every Christian. When not talking about Jesus or dating his wife/girls, Mike loves playing soccer, running, and reading.
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