Disciples, Pilgrims, and Tourists

One of the most influential books I read early in Christian walk was A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson.  There is no quick fix or easy formula for Christian discipleship; becoming a disciple of Christ is a lifelong commitment of living with Christ as King rather than living in our own kingdom only to flirt with Christ-centered commitments and occasionally experiencing Christian renewal.  Here’s a great quote from Peterson’s first chapter:

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 abridgements.

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.

Religion in our time has been captured by the tourist mindset. Religion is understood as a visit to an attractive site to be made when we have adequate leisure. For some it is a weekly jaunt to church; for others, occasional visits to special services. Some, with a bent for religious entertainment and sacred diversion, plan their lives around special events like retreats, rallies and conferences. We go to see a new personality, to hear a new truth, to get a new experience and so somehow expand our otherwise humdrum lives. The religious life is defined as the latest and the newest: faith healing, human potential, parapsychology, successful living, choreography in the chancel, Armageddon. We'll try anything--until something else comes along.

...Everyone is in a hurry. The persons whom I lead in worship, among whom I counsel, visit, pray, preach and teach, want shortcuts. They want me to help them fill out the form that will get them instant credit (in eternity). They are impatient for results. They have adopted the lifestyle of a tourist and only want the high points...The Christian life cannot mature under such conditions and in such ways.

Friedrich Nietzsche, who, at least, saw this area of spiritual truth with great clarity, wrote, "The essential thing 'in heaven and earth' is...that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted, in the long run, something which has made life worth living." It is this "long obedience in the same direction" which the mood of the world does so much to discourage.

For recognizing and resisting the stream of the world's ways there are two biblical designations for people of faith that are extremely useful: disciple and pilgrim. Disciple says we are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ...A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a school-room, rather at the work site of a craftsman. We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith.

Pilgrim tells us we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ. We realize that "this world is not my home" and set out for "the Father's house."