Editor’s Note: Today, we lost a faithful man. Eugene Peterson was a beloved clergyman, scholar, and author—two of his most notable contributions being The Message paraphrase and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. This piece was originally published on Bailey Gillespie’s website, so we thought it would be appropriate to resurrect today in honor of him.
When was the last time you felt like giving up?
I think we’d all agree that, more often than not, doing the right thing is synonymous with doing the long thing. And that can be pretty maddening. Although faithfulness is a fruit of the spirit, it’s a less popular one because you can’t always tell when it’s in action. There aren’t any outward signs. And yet, God says on that final day, he will look at us and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23).
Walking in faithfulness—to our callings, our faith, our relationships—is hard when the road is long and riddled with potholes. Maybe you wrestle with depression. Or anxiety. Or estranged relationships or a sense of worthlessness. Of the thousand and one things that seem to block our hearts from God’s, they all seem to plant us in places that feel stagnant. As if this is all there will ever be. But there’s one thing we cannot forget:
There is a finish line.
Why God seems to hide himself until far past the eleventh hour is beyond any of us. When we’ve tasted of life, or see it just ahead of us, it’s confusing why the stretch of road we walk should go on for so long. But it does. And walking forward in obedience, when you can’t see the way, is the key ingredient to faithfulness.
In his memoir, The Last Sweet Mile, Allen Levi describes the process of lifelong faithfulness:
“… most of us, or so it appears to me, are called to live lives that are hardly heroic in the traditional sense of the word. Instead of courage for a short season, we are given perseverance for a long one. Rather than white-hot passion, we are given devotion that burns with a slow, steady flame… Increasingly, I am convinced that the King-dom of God moves forward most enduringly when ordinary people do small things kindly and well over a long period of time.”
This disenchantment with white-hot passion can be frustrating at first, but it gives way to peaceful acceptance once we’re a little more sobered by the journey.
Slow and steady wins the race.
If what lies before us, either on this side of heaven or beyond it, gives meaning to where we are now, then that means where we are now is pretty important. Thank goodness Jesus first showed us what a life of faithfulness looks like—a life that’s committed to the slow and humbling process of being formed to the heart of God. What does this look like? It’s serving behind the scenes. It’s being brave enough to choose your battles. It’s watching a million little things slip out of your fingers but walking forward in hope of a better day. It’s also seizing good gifts with gratitude when they do come.
In short, faithfulness is not giving up.
Visualizing life as a road with a distinct beginning, middle, and end can help give our journeys meaning, I think. As we’re caught in this long stretch of the road, it’s important to remember that there is an end in sight—with our Savior standing there, beaming. This promise gives great motivation.
But we can’t do this alone. Along with Jesus, it’s important to have other mentors on the sidelines, cheering you on. People whose own stories of faithfulness enrich our own:
What a gift it is to have writers craft words that form us in deep ways. Spiritual memoir is a genre that offers first-person accounts of brothers and sisters navigating their own struggles and joys within the faith. Elisabeth Elliot and Eugene Peterson are two whose stories of perseverance challenge our own and remind us that, as Peterson says in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, “All suffering, all pain, all emptiness, all disappointment is seed: sow it in God, and he will, finally, bring a crop of joy from it.”
Another gift is music. As troubadours for the faith, hope-infused songwriters sing for us when we are speechless and raise our hearts to higher places. A beautiful example is folk duo Jenny & Tyler’s “Walk with You.” Music takes the weight off the soul in a way few things can. Whether it’s an anthem of delight or a ballad of lament, songwriters can serve as valuable counselors along the journey, immersing us in waves of truth, even if we aren’t cognizant of it.
It’s wonderful to have mentors in your life who speak truth, challenge you spiritually, and offer life guidance. These can take the form of counselors, pastors, career coaches, professional mentors within your field (or outside of it!), or wise friends and family members.
We must remember that when our faithlessness prevails, God’s faithfulness is there to rescue us. If our desire is to be formed to the heart of Christ, he will be faithful to find us, no matter where we’re camped out along the road. How glorious it will be on that final day to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” It is for this reason we’ve been called heavenward.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” –Hebrews 12:1-2