Long Obedience Is Not Enough

I recently re-read what I remembered to be a hopeful book for pastors. Maybe it’s because I’m older, or maybe I’m just more naive. Whatever the reason, and with no disrespect to Eugene Peterson, “Long Obedience In The Same Direction” is not what I needed to hear. The premise of the book is pretty simple. We need to be faithful despite the results, despite our ‘success’, despite the fruit. At face value, I couldn’t agree more. It even has Biblical merit:

Hebrews 11:13 (NLT) — All these people died, still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth.

They died in faith, never received it, only ever having seen it from a distance. Well, there you have it. It’s biblical. Just live faithfully.

Unless…

They died in faith. But did they live in faith? Rather, did they live just in faith? Faith was clearly their orientation, but what about their disposition? Let’s take a closer look. Just a few verses earlier, the author says this:

Hebrews 11:1 (NLT) — Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.

Wait. Stop a second. It seems like the author is saying that part of the purpose faith serves is to facilitate hope. That while faith is the act of commitment on the part of the Christian, hope ought to be the state of being (or mind) that results.

Could it be that faithfulness provides a platform for hopefulness?  And why do these questions even matter? Why is Allen harping on this?

I’m currently reading another book. It’s about revival. In its opening pages, the author speaks a great deal about hope. He uses a helpful illustration from the movie “The Shawshank Redemption.” Morgan Freeman’s character says this to the hopeful character portrayed by Tim Robbins:

“Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You’d better get used to that idea.”

Have we? This is the same question the author of this book is asking. Have we just settled for faithful without being hopeful?  The author continues by asking whether faithful can be code for something else. Something more along the lines of:

“Hang in there because things will never change.”
“It can feel fatalistic.”


I agree. If we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s like we’ve pre-decided that we “will not receive” and we will only see “from a distance.

Well, I refuse.  

What are we even doing here if our faith isn’t fanning into flame our hope? Why labor in ministry one more day if we don’t believe some form of revival can break out at any moment? Why does God gift us for ministry if we are not facilitators of:  “Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.

Listen, I want to be faithful. No matter the results. But I also want to wake up every day hoping that what I do today has implications for today. What’s the alternative? That nothing meaningful will really come from today’s ministry, so suck it up and be faithful until you die. No thanks. I don’t feel that way. Paul certainly didn’t feel that way:

Philippians 1:21–24 (NLT) — For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.

It's easy to let ministry in hard places leave us settling for faithfulness without hopefulness. Especially in the Bay Area. But is that all that it means to "live" for Christ? It can't. Instead, I’m going to hope for "more fruitful work." Whether I ever see it and to whatever degree I see it...I'm hoping for it. I’m hoping for revival. Hoping it’s just around the corner.  

You should, too— because, in my experience, hope is contagious.

PAC

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1 Comment


Kelly - November 12th, 2022 at 12:03pm

Amen. Hope is contagious. Hope is what keeps us going on the darkest of days. What pit of despair would we fall into were it not for hope?

God is ever faithful. We have to choose to praise him regardless of the outcome.