A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time... 'To you I will give all this ...  it will all be yours. -Luke 4.5-7


We moved to San Francisco in 2003.   God called us here.  

Jeru, that year in third grade told one of her friends, "God called my dad to San Francisco."  

Her friend replied, "Is your dad a saint?"  

Jeru, "No, he's never played football.  He's like a pastor or something."

In the Fall of 2003, while I was at the little white church on Broad Street praying one night, I heard these words, "Sit down, take out your yellow tablet and pen and write."  (I had this immediate sense, almost comical, that my prayer was just entirely too much talking and God couldn't get a word in edgewise.)    After writing down what I heard, I looked up and had this vision.  I saw Jesus standing at a fork in a road, saying, "Follow me."  The road that forked off to the right was my hometown, family, home church, all the familiar.   The road that forked off to the left was San Francisco, the unfamiliar.  Jesus took the fork in the road that went left and walked into the City.  I had this immediate sense that it wasn't just about following Jesus into the City, but it was a metaphor for following him into the unknown for the rest of my life.

(I'm closing my eyes now and reliving the whole thing.   And that gentle tug is still there, I still feel like I am walking into the Unknown.).

My grandmother Olive told me a couple days before we moved.  "Jeff, move there, buy a burial plot in a local cemetery and plan on dying there."  It was her way of saying, "Always be committed to what Christ calls you too."  She knew, as I now know, that transformation happens in the 'long obedience in the same direction.'

Friedrich Nietzsche said in Beyond Good and Evil,

“The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is … that there should be a long OBEDIENCE in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living; for instance, virtue, art, music, dancing, reason, spirituality-- anything whatever that is transfiguring.

Eugene Peterson in his prophetic and classic work on discipleship, A Long Obedience, quotes Nietzsche's first line above and calls the church to the "patient acquisition of virtue" and "lifelong apprenticeship to Jesus."  The book came out 19 years before the watershed moment of The Eastbourne Consultation Joint Statement on Discipleship, where almost 100 denominations and Christian faith traditions gathered from 54 different countries and lamented a world that is largely evangelized but with few disciples of Jesus.  They repented for not obeying Christ's commission to 'make disciples'.   Each country shared where they had evangelized but not discipled.   Western Christianity talked of the event-driven and experience-driven models of church that has resulted in Christian consumerism and materialism and the Latin American church leaders talked about a machismo Christianity.  

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching moment was when African theologian Tokunboh Adeyemo stood up and lamented the Christianity of Africa.  Reminding everyone that in the 1980's Rwanda had been cited as a case-study for evangelism of the Gospel where 90% of Rwandans claimed to be Christian.  But then in 1994, The Rwanda Genocide occurred where 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered in a 100-day period, wiping out 70% of the Tutsi population.  

Many studies have been done on this and I am grateful to my dear friend, Dr. Gladys Mwiti, Member of the Board of Directors for the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and who provided the psychological evaluation for the U.N. members who were present for the Hotel Rwanda events.   She pointed out that even though most of Rwanda saw itself as Christian, their tribal identity was still primary, that is they saw themselves as Hutus and Tutsis first and Christians second.  

Coming out of the ECJSD was a renewed commitment from Christian publishers to publish more books on discipleship.  Goerge Barna three years later wrote his Growing True Disciples where he put the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of church leaders.  Pastors and Seminaries committed to offering courses and training on discipleship.  I teach one such course at Western Seminary every year.   Over the past 15-years, there have been many studies, done and redone.   Hundreds of programs, 12-week courses and 6-week courses, devotionals, and tutorials.   And the results are not encouraging.

In my professional and expert opinion, there are several reasons for this.  The primary reason is in the gap between what present-day Christians understand the word 'disciple' to mean, and what mathetes (Greek word for disciple) meant in a first-century context.   A disciple in Jesus' day was a student who learned through the ancient pedagogy of discipleship.  Disciple was NOT simply any kind of student, but a student in the methodology of mathetes.  A disciple was someone who learned, transformed, through the medium of a life-long apprenticeship--a long obedience in the same direction.  It was NOT book intensive, information-driven,--it was life-intensive-transformation-driven, where the life of the Rabbi was imitated.

Our world has little time or patience for this.  We want it now.  Instant and microwavable, fast and quick.   We multitask, have a million things going at one time so that we don't miss anything.  We play with our phones while watching a game and toggling back and forth to our work email account.  And we try to throw a little bit of Jesus in there with all of it to sanctify it.     And when we don't get the results that we want, when we want them, we chuck it and move on to the next trendy spiritual thing.

Satan knows the human propensity to seek the quick-fix, to instantly gratify.   And Jesus knows that when we make decisions based on get-kingdom-quick-schemes we forgo the real transformation of the heart.   Jesus shows us the kingdom we really want, we really long for, we already possess and that if we start chasing the kingdoms of the world we will miss out on the transformation that the kingdom is seeking to make.  This always requires letting go, trusting, and not trying to control, and we can only get that as we make a long obedience in the same direction.  

Jesus is shown all the kingdoms of the world "in an instant of time."  The wording leads us to this notion that it wasn't just that he saw the kingdoms in a quick flash, but that he was tempted to gain them in a quick flash.   Jesus is offered it all without the cross, without rejection, without the way of faith, without God.  Humanity has always wanted control over the kingdoms of the world.  And history bears out the lengths man will go to gain that power.  The temptation is to trade away the kingdom of God that is within him, for the kingdom of man that is outside of him.  To exchange the eternal for the temporal.   To try to take the kingdoms of this world to God, and not bring the Kingdom of God to the world.  

You can win the lottery in an instant.  You can become famous in an instant.  You can gain power and influence in an instant.  Any kingdom the world has to offer can be gained in an instant.  But the Kingdom of God is a way, a path, a life, a heart, a cross, a death.... and a glorious resurrection.  You can get the world's kingdom in an instant, but the Kingdom of God you possess in the Now.  You have God's kingdom within, and it is more satisfying, more real, more expansive.

Now the good news in all of this is:  Satan has to take Jesus 'up' to see the world's kingdoms.   Jesus said, "the Kingdom of God is 'within.'  We have all we really want in the Now.  

So before we discuss how Jesus overcomes I think we should just sit tonight in the waiting, in the long obedience, in the resolve, the awareness of the Kingdom that is.   Sit in my grandmother's words and resolve of "buy a burial plot in a local cemetery and plan on dying there."  Wait out with the Kingdom that you already possess.  


Conversation.  Have a conversation with Cleopas about either what you are hearing or experiencing God saying to you today.  Or about how you are responding to his voice.
Reflection.   Reflect on places you see the Kingdom of God at work in your life.
Prayer.  Pray a transformational prayer around Luke 4.5-7