Monday, June 9, 2014

A Long Obedience

“California? But that is such a long way!” The responses vary little from that. The context is always the same. Someone has just asked the farthest I’ve ever ridden a motorcycle. After their incredulity subsides a bit, I share with them the story of two men, two motorcycles and a 6,898 mile, 16 day, 18 state trip of a lifetime. After sharing the story several times, I got to thinking that taking a coast to coast motorcycle trip shares some similarities with pursuing Christlikeness. Stay with me, I promise I’m not crazy. I’ve summarized these similarities into three areas.

1. Be Committed
Eugene Peterson once wrote a book on discipleship called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. I think that is a great description of what is required to ride a motorcycle nearly 7,000 miles in just over two weeks. When people asked how we did it, I tell them we headed west and rode to the ocean, then headed east and did the same. We had a long obedience – a commitment – in the same direction.

When it comes to discipleship, we know the destination: Christ-likeness. That is what we are pursuing. We need the same kind of relentless commitment to being “like Christ” that we have in other areas of our life. Sadly, I find a lot of folks are quick to quit when they do not experience results immediately. When riding coast to coast, there were a number of places I had seen before. I had to see them again, in order to get to the places I’d never seen before. I think discipleship is a lot like that. We see some of the same things over and over in order to get to a place we’ve never seen before.

2. Be Intentional
A person cannot ride across the United States on a motorcycle in one day. In order to maintain one’s sanity (and some measure of physical strength), the trip has to be broken up into smaller segments. On day one we rode 470 miles, on day two it was 510, and then on day three we rode 611. Even those days, we broke down every gas stop. We knew how far we were going to ride between each stop and which exit we were stopping at. Needless to say, a lot of intentional planning went into the trip.

I think there are similarities here, too, with growing in Christ-likeness. We know the big goal (i.e. look like Christ), but we need some markers between where we are now and that big goal. This is an area I fear the church (and too many Christians) fail. We are not very intentional when it comes to our spiritual development. We attend church, pray and hope we are doing enough. The truth is, a spiritual growth plan would be helpful. That is, a way to look at how you are spending your time, talents and treasure and then an intentional plan to increase in each area. By writing (i.e. documenting) your current level and your intended increase, you have a build in tool for accountability.

3. Be Persistent
Few trips ever go completely according to plan. Ours didn’t either. There was the crash on the bridge in North Augusta that forced us to re-route. There was the blown fuse in West Texas that delayed our arrival in Brownfield. There was the broken headlight wire that required us to bypass part of historic Rt 66 in order to make repairs. And, I could share a dozen other such alterations to the plan.

When it comes to our spiritual growth, we also have starts and stops. We have periods of tremendous obedience and growth that are sometimes followed by a moment of stupid, sinful disobedience. Here’s the deal: you can’t quit on the trip because it doesn’t work out exactly as you had planned. We didn’t turn around in North Augusta when the bridge was blocked. If we had, we would have missed out on so much. Likewise, you should not quit when you have a moment of disobedience. That is what God’s grace is all about. That is why he says to confess our sins and he is faithful and just in forgiving us and cleansing us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9).

It didn’t matter how many obstacles we encountered, because we were committed to the big goal (i.e. reaching the Pacific Ocean), we were persistent to follow the plan we had set forth (and adjust it, if necessary). We made it to California and back – by God’s grace, some careful planning, a commitment to the goal, and persistence to modify the plan when necessary. In your spiritual life I pray you would know that God has committed to you that he not only began a good work in you, but he intends to carry that work to completion on the Day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6). He also encourages you to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). I pray you would do so with a long obedience in the same direction.

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