What Makes Life Worth Living?

Do you ever find yourself wishing for the quick fix, the easy road, the silver bullet? I know I do. I often want to travel the path of least resistance. I’m not one of those guys who wants to work all the time. In fact, I like taking all of my vacation days! 

The longer I live, however, the more I’ve been discovering the joy of what Eugene Peterson calls, “A long obedience in the same direction.” In his book, The Pastor, he writes about how he took this phrase from Friedrich Nietzsche who said, “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 that has made life worth living (247).

I wonder if Nietzsche ever found that “something.” As an atheist, Nietzsche professed that the problem of nihilism had “become conscious in him.” But that issue is for another day and another blog. 

Regardless, Nietzsche’s phrase, and Peterson’s use of it, struck a chord with me. Faithfulness to God means we are faithful to living with a long obedience in the same direction. The Apostle Paul said his “same direction” was “that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:8b-9a, ESV). Paul went on to write about how he “pressed on to make it his own,” and he had to “strain forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:12-13, ESV).

Farmers know this all too well. They have to prepare the soil, plant the seed, fertilize, and use insecticides and herbicides. They have to be patient and maintain a long obedience in the same direction. There is no shortcut to reaping a healthy harvest.

For parents to be effective, they need a long obedience in the same direction. Far more than any one big moment of parenting, success comes through the million daily decisions of love, care and discipline. 

Jim Collins calls this the “flywheel effect” where “no matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop” (Good to Great, 165). This reminds me of something Dave Ramsey used to say about his success with Financial Peace: “I was a twenty-year, overnight success.”

The lesson I’m learning is to stop looking for the silver bullet, the lottery ticket to life, the easy road to parenting, marriage or ministry success. God calls us to faithful, steady plodding day in and day out. Keep moving in the same direction to know Christ (Philippians 3:10) and to make Him known (John 17:23) and do so with a long obedience. Amen.