This week’s chapter in Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, deals with Psalm 129. The theme is Perseverance.
“I have also found that [perseverance] is one of the marks of Christian discipleship and have learned to admire those who exemplify it” (p. 125). The first word he uses is “stick-to-itiveness,” which I like for its clumsiness and clarity. Peterson compares Christian faith to “a tough perennial that can stick it out through storm and drought” (p. 126) with something fragile, in need of weather conditions that are “just right.” I know something about perennials after being married to a gardener for a few years now. He asserts that “the person of faith outlasts all the oppressors.” Jesus and Paul are lifted up as examples (pp. 126-127). I wonder what examples each of us calls to mind as exemplars of perseverance…
“The life of the world that is opposed or indifferent to God is barren and futile” (p. 129). Peterson lifts up two images from the psalm–that of “evil plowmen” seeking to do great damage only to find that their ability to enact that damage has been cut off my God, and that of the shallow rocky soil in which the grass withered. This seems to be a larger picture kind of vantage point that helps us see how God is being faithful even while we endure some sufferings as people of faith.
“What we will do is admire [the angry passage in the Psalm]’s energy” (p. 130). He’s writing in reference to the outburst, tame by Psalm standards actually, in verse 5, “Oh, let all those who hate Zion grovel in humiliation.” Peterson declares that we cannot explain or excuse the psalmist’s rantings but we can appreciate the energy and forceful nature of it: “The anger may not be the most appropriate expression of concern, but it is evidence of concern” (emphasis mine). The key is in harnessing that energy toward the forward progress of the kingdom work in our souls. When we get weary of maintaining patience, and express ourselves with an angry or worn tone, we can offer up “our anger to God, who trains us in creative love” (p. 132).
“Perseverance is not the result of our determination, it is the result of God’s faithfulness” (pp. 132-133). Our success at sticking it out in our journey of faith is founded upon God’s gracious promise to us and provision for us. It isn’t all, or even mainly, about us. God plays the greater role and he is trustworthy. Perhaps, like the comparison of faith and the mustard seed, we could say that just a small amount of determination to persevere is enough to engage the power of God who wants us to persevere. Speaking of the role models of faith described in Hebrews 11, Peterson says, “But God stuck with them so consistently and surely that they learned how to stick with God.” May the same be said of us.