Eugene Peterson on Why the Prophets Help Us Obey the Lord

In our sermon series, Follow Me: Jesus’ Call to Authentic Discipleship, we’ve been listening to God’s Word instruct us about what it means to be disciples of Jesus. Last Sunday we heard Jesus’ surprising words to disciples like us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). Many of us may be surprised to know that Jesus links loving him and obeying him so tightly.

But Jesus isn’t just anyone, he not only commands our unqualified, perpetual obedience, he’s wise and powerful and loving enough to make a life of obedience to him the best life possible. We know we can’t obey our way into his kingdom; we come in by faith. That faith is an obedient faith (Romans 1:5), leading to a life of growing obedience. In our efforts to love Jesus by obeying him, I want to offer an unexpected ally. Actually, it’s a team of sixteen unexpected allies. Who are they? The prophets. They are sitting there in your Bible, from Isaiah to Malachi, enormously skillful and powerful at guiding God’s people into lives of obedience to God and waiting to be brought into the fray of our lives.

Eugene Peterson makes a persuasive case for why we need these prophets and how they help set us on a path of faithful obedience. Here’s what he has to say in his book, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” beginning on page 115.

“Over a period of several hundred years, the Hebrew people gave birth to an extraordinary number of prophets, men and women distinguished by the power and skill with which they presented the reality of God. They delivered God’s commands and promises and living presence to communities and nations who had been living on god-fantasies and god-lies.

“Everyone more or less believes in God or gods. But most of us do our best to keep God on the margins of our lives, or failing that, we refashion God to suit our convenience. Prophets insist that God is the sovereign center, not off in the wings at our beck and call. And prophets insist that we deal with God as God reveals himself to be, not as we imagine him to be…

“Sixteen of these prophets wrote what they spoke…These sixteen Hebrew prophets provide the help we so badly need if we are going to stay alert and knowledgeable regarding the conditions in which we cultivate faithful and obedient lives before God…

“The prophets purge our imaginations of this world’s assumptions on how life is lived and what counts in life. Over and over again, God the Holy Spirit uses these prophets to separate his people from the cultures in which they live, and to put them back on the path of simple faith and obedience and worship in defiance of all that the world admires and rewards.  Prophets train us in discerning the difference between the ways of the world and the ways of the gospel, keeping us present to the presence of God.

“We don’t read many pages into the Prophets before we realize there was nothing easygoing about them. Prophets were not popular figures. They never achieved celebrity status. They were decidedly uncongenial to the temperaments and dispositions of the people with whom they lived. And the centuries have not mellowed them. It’s understandable that we should have a difficult time coming to terms with them. They aren’t particularly sensitive to our feelings. They have very modest, as we would say, “relational skills.” We like leaders, especially religious leaders, who understand our problems, (“come alongside us” is one idiom for it), leaders with a touch of glamour, leaders who look good on posters and television.

“The unrelenting reality is that prophets don’t fit into our way of life. For a people who are accustomed to fitting God into our lives or, as we like to say, “making room for God,” the prophets are hard to take and easy to dismiss. The God of whom the prophets speak is far too large to fit into our lives. If we want anything to do with God, we have to fit into God.

If it’s been a while since you’ve read the prophets or if you’ve never made their acquaintance, I want to recommend them to you. They are a gift to set us on the path of obedience and worship. If you’d like to start small, try Hosea or Malachi. Ready for a bigger bite? Give Isaiah or Jeremiah a try. A chapter a day may keep lukewarmness away.

Mark Mullery

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