No Instant Discipleship

I love the title of Eugene Peterson’s book on discipleship: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Following Jesus has no simple, quick formulas for success. There may be instant noodles and instant messaging, but there is no such thing as instant discipleship.

Peterson defines biblical disciples as: “…people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ. We are in a growing-learning relationship, always. A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a schoolroom, rather at the work site of a craftsman. We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith.

It is vital that we understand discipleship in this way, as a life-long apprenticeship relationship with Jesus, because we live in a culture and time that values efficiency over the long, slow work of relationship. Big and fast and glamorous almost always wins out over small and slow and mundane, yet following Jesus and making disciples most often occurs in the small, slow, mundane corners of everyday existence.

Peterson’s assessment of how this instant mindset of the world infiltrates our Christian discipleship is very sobering:

We assume that if something can be done at all, it can be done quickly and efficiently. Our attention spans have been conditioned by thirty-second commercials. Our sense of reality has been flattened by thirty-page abridgments. 

It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence for mature Christian discipleship is slim. In our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.

Will you–and will I–get squeezed like instant jello into the mold of this world system in which we live, or will we open our hearts to the small, slow process of transformation that comes through a long obedience in the same direction?

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