Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Book Review: “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” by Eugene H. Peterson


By Rev. Dr. Joseph Harris

Occasionally you pick up a book—particularly a devotional book—and the contents not only speak to you, they often shout at you. Eugene Peterson’s “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in An Instant Society” was such a book for me. He wrote this book nearly forty years ago but its contents are as relevant today as when it was first written.

We are still a society that looks too often for quick fixes and instant gratifications. Peterson’s book examines Psalms 120-134, also called the Song of Ascents, and teaches the reader how they may grow in Christian discipleship. Topics in the 15 psalms include repentance, worship, service, joy, work, happiness, humility, community and blessings. Peterson quotes biblical writers, theologians, an atheist (Nietzsche, from whom he borrows the title of the book), novelists and testimonies of Christians who pursued God at all costs.

Peterson begins the book with the statement that Christian disciples too often navigate this world as tourists rather than as pilgrims. We think anything worthwhile can be acquired once, so we develop the lifestyle of a tourist and only want the high points. When we become a pilgrim, we become a person who spends their life going someplace, going to God, and our path for getting there is the way of Jesus.

The psalms used in this book provide support, courage and inner direction for getting the reader where God is trying to lead them in Christ. This book is meant to be a guidebook and map for those who are looking to maintain a mature, growing, active and meaningful lifestyle of a disciple in today’s cultural milieu.

Peterson has said that seventeen publishers rejected his manuscript, saying there was no “niche” in the market and it was irrelevant to the concerns of the contemporary North American. One asked, “Who wants to purchase a book with the words ‘long’ and ‘obedience’ in its title?” Yet “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” has become one of the new classics of devotional and spiritual growth studies.

I have read this book more than four times, and I glean something new for my personal growth each time. In fact, I highly recommend that persons read the book then purchase the audio book, which is narrated by Lloyd James whose voice is pleasant, moving and emotive.

The depth of information and inspiration in this book will stay with you for some time as you realize that this walk we have with Christ involves a long obedience in the same direction.


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