A Long, Slow Obedience
A woman was in the throes of labor giving another push for what seemed to be an eternity. “How much longer is this going to last!?” the mother to be screamed at her obstetrician. “Another 18 years,” he said.
This is a good analogy for the Christian life. The job of parenting doesn’t end at birth; it’s just beginning and will continue for another eighteen plus years. In the same way, your life with God wasn’t finished when you were baptized, “got saved,” were “born again,” finished confirmation class, or had a powerful religious experience at a retreat. It’s just beginning.
Following Christ is “a long, slow obedience,” as spiritual theologian & Pastor Eugene Peterson puts it. It is not so much lurching forward as it is making conscious choices to say “yes” to some things and “no” to others. On one level, it means choosing to respond with a kind word to someone who is surly and harsh or taking someone to visit the doctor who is without transportation even if it might be an inconvenience for you. Those simple acts are the salt and light that Christians can bring to the world even if their recipients don’t know why you are doing them.
Yet being a Christian is more than being “nice.” There are loads of “nice” people in the world. My dogs are nice. Being a Christian is immersing yourself within a tradition and a body of teaching. Those traditions shape us, in much the same way watching television and listening to commercials shape us. We make choices about where we will place our ears, eyes, and hearts.
If, for instance, week after week you share in a worship service or liturgy that reminds you of the greatness of God, your need for repentance and renewal, and that you are the beloved of the most High God, that will shape the way you think about yourself, your work, and your world. If, week after week, you sing from a hymnal that reminds you that before the worlds began, God planned to come to us in Jesus Christ to overcome this world of sin, death, and privation, and has done so decisively, that will impact how you see everything—from how you raise your kids, to how you deal with your heart attack, to how you understand world events. For that to happen, you need to show up.
The Christian life is not about just “showing up.” (Although Woody Allen did once say that 90% of life was about “just showing up.”) It’s about living out the reality and the dream that we speak about every Sunday—the dream of a kinder, more peaceful, more just world, where the glory of God is seen everywhere.
Paul wrote to the Colossian church, “just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:6-7). How did you receive Christ Jesus as Lord? By faith. How do you continue to live in him? By faith. By daily committing to, clinging to, and abiding in the Christ-life. And by practicing the faith in study, prayer, worship, service, and witness.