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FIRST-PERSON: A long obedience

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 3.

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.”
Joe McKeever is director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans.

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  • Joe McKeever