Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Visiting a Christian bookstore I noticed a common trend. There is lots of books with titles or subtitles like “Lord, Teach Me To Pray In 28 Days ”, “40 Days To Discovering God's Big Idea For Your Life” or “Grow Spiritually Strong In 28 Days”. It seems that book which promise to advance your spiritual development in a certain set amount of time are a hit. I don’t wish to be critical of the content of these books- some of them have some worthwhile things to say.

What has got me wondering is what these kinds of titles and subtitles say about our approach to spiritual life. For publishers to keep using them, they must be selling books. We live in a quick gratification society. I admit I sometimes have a problem with that- I’ve been known to get frustrated that my microwave meal isn’t heating as fast as I’d like. I think these books are tapping into that tendency. We want a timeframe for our spiritual growth and we’d like that time frame to be short.

The problem is spiritual growth doesn’t work that way. We can’t decide that we are going to advance spiritually a set amount in a set amount of time anymore than we can decide that we’d like to be half a foot taller in 2 months time. Certainly we can and should do all the right things for developing spiritual health but we shouldn’t expect quick fixes. The title of a book about discipleship by Eugene Peterson, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” captures something of the reality of spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is a lifelong pursuit in which sometimes we will have growth spurts and sometimes we might not seem to be growing much but if we are spiritually healthy we will be moving at least a little in the right direction. We must be careful to not get disillusioned when the pace of growth isn’t what we have in mind. Our task is not to wear ourselves short sprints of attempting to grow spiritually but to run as steadily as we can in faith and obedience so we will still be going at the end of the race.