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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

How to keep going, despite everything.


“This is what they do every time and that is what they are going to do now, but this isn’t going away because we have almost 1,000 pages of damning evidence about what has been going on.”


I’ve just finished watching, along with 9.2 million so far, “Mr Bates vs The Post Office.”  To begin with I found it too harrowing to watch but later decided that it was my public duty to stay with the series. 


One thing the drama found it difficult to convey was the sheer time scale for the programme. In one scene we were informed that it would take 12 months for the case to be considered in court – and yet ten seconds later, there we were. 


The series begins in 2003 when Mr Bates had his contract terminated for refusing to comply with Post Office policy. He refused to accept this gross miscarriage of justice and decided to fight his corner.  For the next 18 years he just kept on going, against enormous odds, until the Court of Appeal in April, 2021 quashed the convictions of 39 postmasters. 


What made all the difference was the dogged determination of Mr Bates, his resolve to keep going despite numerous setbacks and against well-resourced opponents.  And it is this tenacity of purpose is inevitably an ingredient in the success of any worthwhile venture.


When I was vicar of Christ Church our vision to build the ministry centre took some 16 years.  The first five years was simply the PCC acquiring the site, followed by the next eight years trying (and failing) to be given planning permission for our first building.  We started afresh and wonderfully the new building was finished in just three years – we had learned many useful lessons en route.  And even then it took another three years before the ministry centre was functioning as we had hoped. 


It wasn’t easy keeping going.  Often – I’m sure as Mr Bates himself experienced – nothing seemed to be happening. There were long pauses, especially when lawyers got involved.  Then sudden bursts of activity – before once again returning to a steady slog. 


There’s a wonderful phrase from Eugene H. Peterson, the very man who gave us the Message translation of the Bible: “a long obedience in the same direction.”  In fact, it is the title of his book published in 2000.  A fascinating fact for you – –his book was originally rejected by 17 publishers!


It seems that Peterson borrowed the title from the last person you would expect, the 19th century philosopher Friedrich “God is Dead” Nietzsche, who  observed that “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 which has made life worth living.”


And in scripture we have countless examples of people, believers, who kept on going despite everything.  Often, like Moses, they do not experience for themselves what they are working towards but simply see the promised land at a distance.  But like Moses they have learnt to keep on going despite setback after setback.


The prophet Jeremiah had a rough ride, to say the least.  Called to be a prophet when young, his ministry covers at least 40 years, over the reigns of five kings of Judah no less.  And it ends in what appears to be failure, being forced into exile in Egypt where he dies. 


And Jeremiah tells God how it is.  “You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived, you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me.” (Jeremiah 20:7).  And yet he keeps on going.  “But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name’, his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (v9)


He was never to know that his ministry was to be so formative for God’s purposes and that the book bearing his name was to be the longest book in the entire Bible!


So what’s the secret of having a long obedience in the same direction? 


The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews devotes a whole chapter to those believers who kept on going, who learned perseverance against much opposition.


Taking Moses as a role model, he tells us: “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” (Hebrews 11:27)  Or as Peterson translates for us: “He had his eye on the One no eye can see, and kept right on going.”


In other words, “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honour, right alongside God.” (Hebrews 12:2f, the Message translation)


In the words of the 1943 spiritual classic:

When the road is rough and steep

Fix your eyes upon Jesus;

He alone has pow’r to keep

Fix your eyes upon Him.

Jesus is a gracious friend,

One on whom you can depend.

He is faithful to the end

Fix your eyes upon Him.

So keep going!


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