A Long Obedience In the Same Direction

When a person decides to rededicate themselves to physical fitness after a long period of time away from it, they will usually see pretty drastic improvements in a relatively short amount of time. (Assuming they really stick to a well designed plan.) Whatever their goals- weight loss, faster running times, improved strength- they’ll make large strides in that initial stretch. Then comes the grind.

Those rapid results drop off, and you have to start thinking and training smarter. Be a little more disciplined. Learn more about how your body responds and functions to certain routines and nutrition. To get to that ‘last 20 percent’ of your goal, you really have to dig in.

If that’s not frustrating enough, if you take a break from those routines for or month or two then come back to pick up where you left off, you realize you’ve lost a little bit of the strength, endurance, conditioning you had. You’ve got to build it back up. Getting your health in order isn’t an overnight success story. You’ve got to be in it for the long haul.

The same can be true for our spiritual journeys. Many of us, when first reorienting our life to Jesus’, are excited, motivated, and see big shifts and changes in our lives. Then comes the grind.

Life keeps happening. Day after day. It becomes easier to let certain disciplines slip and fade. We can get out of spiritual shape. As leaders, there are two key takeaways here:

  1. Your spiritual maturity is a lifelong work in progress. You haven’t fully arrived. Stay curious. Keep tweaking. Keep grinding. Dig in for those incremental improvements. Those small things add up over time to a life well lived. Eugene Peterson calls this journey “a long obedience in the same direction.” Paul says it this way in 1 Timothy 4:7–8: “Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and the life to come.”
  2. The people you are leading are also on that long journey. Because so much of our spiritual lives is unseen and hidden, it can be really hard to evaluate whether you are making that much of an impact in a person’s life. And because the journey to spiritual maturity is ongoing, it can be hard to see the ‘big picture’ or that person’s life. Your time spent with them might not lead to ‘massive gains’, but it might lead to small incremental growth. That, combined with other things that help bring growth, over a long period of time, can make a huge impact. Keep investing in others, it will probably pay off in ways that you yourself might never see.