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    Entries in Eugene Peterson (7)


    Guides and Companions

    A Christian’s need for personal spiritual direction cannot be delegated to books or tapes or videos. The very nature of the life of faith requires the personal and the immediate. If we are going to mature we need not only the wisdom of truth, but someone to understand us in relation to this truth.

    - Eugene Peterson, "On Spiritual Direction"

    For a three year period while serving in ministry I met monthly with a spiritual director. Martha is a faithful Christian, a Presbyterian, enjoys gardening, radiates joy, and is a person of prayer. Martha listened to my story and helped me to pay attention to where God was at work. Her ministry was a gift to me.

    I know many people who are following Jesus. They listen to sermons, take part in a Sunday School class or a midweek study, read their Bible, and pray. The most crucial concern for Christians, however, is not how much knowledge we accrue or how many practices we take up as a matter of convention, but instead the overall health and maturation of the soul. These things can help, and skilled teachers and preachers can inspire us from afar. But as my teacher Howard Hendricks observed, "You can impress from a distance, but you can only impact up close."

    What our lives often lack are guides who can speak to us concerning our inner life and do so in a personal way. We lack those who will help us face ourselves and ask if our actions align with our held convictions. We are masters of self deception, and without an outside observer who listens and tends and prays alongside us, a person with whom we can be vulnerable and who assists us in remaining accountable to God, we will often choose to serve the gods of our own making rather than the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

    Good guides always know where they are heading, and they also know those they are leading. A good guide knows the destination and discerns exactly what is required to deliver those in their company safely to the end of their journey. Good guides are familiar with the terrain and carefully observe those who traverse it with them, seeking to help along the way. They know when to rest, when to push, when to lend a hand, and when to change course. Good guides also know the names and faces of those in their company, and as they travel together, they learn something of their story, abilities, temperament, dreams, struggles, fears, and hopes. They are able to apprehend the context of their companions, and are thus better able to help.

    With Martha, I was better able to see and discern where I stood on the path. I was also able to see and understand that the path of discipleship, of following Jesus, is not only meant to be perceived and comprehended, but is foremost meant to be walked.

    We all do well when we have such guides.


    Teach Us to Pray

    I do not recall who taught me to pray.

    Somehow, some way, I learned. And I am learning.

    My family was a starting point. Church and Sunday school were secondary settings. Together, we prayed. Or, at least I listened. Through listening, I learned reliable words I could try for myself. I also learned there is a God who hears and who is actively engaged with this world, and there is nothing beyond the purview of that God’s care.

    In his essay “Teach Us to Care, and Not to Care,” Eugene Peterson writes:

    Teaching people to pray is teaching them to treat all the occasions of their lives as altars on which they receive his gifts. Teaching people to pray is teaching them that God is the one with whom they have to deal, not just ultimately, and not just generally, but now and in detail.

    Peterson also writes that teaching other people to pray is an expression of care and is “the most central thing,” claiming that access and intimacy with God is “our genius as Christians.” Most often, teaching opportunities emerge when there is need. When there is need, we care, and in caring we enter “a school of prayer.”

    During family gatherings we prayed for one another, for our neighbors, and our nation. We prayed that the will of God would be done. Hardship often led to an increase in letters received, as loved ones would write and offer advice and encouragement, but mostly prayer. Accomplishments and celebrations were given over to thanksgiving and gratitude. Needs were lifted up.

    The church would also pray, that we might know God more fully and completely, and be given the grace and strength needed for obedience and holiness and maturity. The church also taught the great prayers of Scripture. We would pray for the infirm and the dying, the poor and the anxious, who would often be no further away than the next pew. In praying, our hearts would become more attentive to God, and our eyes would be opened to the reality of our neighbor, whom we are called to love. God’s action--God’s response to prayer--often came through the body of Christ, the people called to care.

    In Luke 11:1, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. I am asking him still. As we practice what we have learned, we teach, not only in praying but through caring. Our needs are great, but as Christians we serve a God who is greater still. In praying we are taught not only how to speak to God but are given knowledge of the God to whom we are speaking. We are invited to address God “now and in detail,” whatever the circumstances, and to trust in his eternal care.

    Prayer is God’s great gift to us, indispensable for spiritual growth and maturity, and absolutely necessary for the practice of sustained care. But it must be taught, and learned.

    Lord, teach us to pray.


    Bono, Pastor Pete, and the Psalms

    This short documentary is a gem. Fuller Studio teamed up with Fourth Line Films to present this conversation between Eugene Peterson and Bono about the Psalms. David Taylor asks questions and guides things along. The result is nothing short of fantastic.

    In 2011, Molly and I saw U2 in Saint Louis during the U2360° Tour. It was memorable.

    Nathan Clarke and friends with Fourth Line have been sharing their wonderful work in the Box Canyon Sessions, which I've enjoyed tremendously.

    I'm really glad to share the documentary above. Eugene Peterson has helped me, and so many others, imaginatively enter the story of the Bible, and to experience the words found there afresh. He has done so through his paraphrase translation, The Message. And the Psalms are such a treasure, meant to be internalized and turned to prayer. They provide a vocabularly for conversation with God, and tie us to those who have gone before us and experienced the same exuberant joys and deep sorrows of life.

    The Psalms, rightly read and faithfully redirected in prayer, engender in us texture and depth and realism, or density. They help us to embrace the magnificence of this world, of creation, and of God, and invite us to worship. But they also help us to face the violence, hurt, confusion, and felt injustice, and to cry out to God. The Psalms invite us in to the fullness of life as it is experienced before God, and sharpen our perception of the ways in which God is working, or, at the very least, our confidence therein.

    Watch this film. Revist the Psalms. See how they have shaped two profound voices of our time, both poets.



    TheMessage100 :: New Format, Same Bible Paraphrase

    This month, NavPress re-released Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of the Bible, TheMessage, in a new format. It is called TheMessage100I received a copy for review. Here are a few important highlights, and my thoughts:

    1. The books of the Bible are arranged chronologically, rather than traditionally.

     begins with Genesis, but is followed by Job. The New Testament leads with Matthew, Mark, Luke, but then we read Acts. John directly precedes Revelation, as John is traditionally believed to be the latest account of Jesus' life and ministry.

    Yet, in this chronological ordering, books of the Bible are kept together as wholes, rather than interjecting a Psalm, for example, to accompany an event in the life of King David of Israel.

    The chronological presentation results in a different encounter with the story.

    Recently, in a conversation with someone who is very new to Christianity, I offered this thought: sometimes, in attending a Bible study or a worship service, you might feel as though you have walked into a movie that is well underway. Placing that moment in sequence, then, is a challenge. There are key moments that have come before that particular encounter, and other events on the horizon that will bring the story to a new turn. The important thing is to remain patient with oneself, and with the story.

    A chronological reading of the Bible, in some ways, can help with sequencing. Placing the prophetic books between 2 Kings and 1 Chronicles brings new light to those historical accounts, by allowing other voices to be incorporated into the narrative, and new connections can be made.

    2. The 100 in TheMessage100 refers to the reading divisions within the text.

    1 Corinthians 14:40 says, "But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way." (NIV)

    The context there is the gathering of the church, or congregation, for worship, edification, and the Lord's Meal.

    But the same can apply to reading the Scriptures. It helps to have a plan.

    TheMessage100 is divided into 100 readings, meant to be read at one's own pace. Each reading portion is prefaced by a very short introduction, to set the context and focus the mind. The divisions can be used to pace one's walk through the Bible.

    3. TheMessage100 is a Bible meant for reading, and should be accompanied by other tools.

    As has long been known, TheMessage is a paraphrase translation of the Bible. This means that Rev. Peterson worked with the original texts, as well as within the cadences and rhythms of contemporary speech, to offer a rendering of the biblical text that imaginatively presents the message found there in modern form.

    Some people prefer a word-for-word rendering of the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic manuscripts in English, assuming that continuity between languages can be established clearly, apart from the interpretive slant of the translator. I understand that preference, and sympathize with it. If that is your preference, you may wish to acquire another translation of the Bible for devotion and study.

    Nevertheless, I find TheMessage helpful, knowing that it is a paraphrase. The shadings and nuances offered by Peterson expand the imagination, and can spark fresh insight. When I read TheMessage, I often have another translation of the Bible nearby. If there are significant differences, I might engage in a word study, to discover what choices were made by translators to try to present the original languages in a way modern readers of English can understand.

    And I would recommend that other readers do the same--having a good commentary, Bible dictionary, or study Bible to read alongside a paraphrase--or any translation of the Bible--is a wise practice.

    Keep in mind that this translation is meant for reading, and is presented in a way that is intended to help the reader get into the flow of the story, and to remain there till its culmination.

    4. I plan to use TheMessage100 for devotional reading in 2016.

    This year, I've been reading through the entire Bible with the help of an iPad app. Each day I am assigned a portion of the Old Testament, New Testament, a Psalm, and a Proverb or two. When I have missed days (and sometimes, I have missed multiple), I have taken time on my sabbath day or over the weekend to catch up. This has been a good practice for me, and I am on track to finish this year.

    When the new year begins, I plan to use TheMessage100 for my devotional reading, which takes place most mornings at home with a cup of coffee, or in my study at the church as the day begins.

    Check out TheMessage100. If you're a member of my congregation, I'll have it on hand in the office if you'd like to take a look.


    Prayer is Primal Speech

    Growing up as part of congregation, I grew up around people saying prayers. It was strange speech. In Sunday School and worship, before meals and at family gatherings, a respected elder would call upon everyone to pray. Someone would lead us in a petition for help, blessing, or thanksgiving. We would pray for neighbors, friends, family, community, church, or nation. Prayer was modeled before it was ever taught.

    Only in retrospect can I look back and call such speech strange. But the day eventually came when I was not expected to listen and attune my heart and mind to our collective petition, but to give voice and speak to God on behalf of the community. To my recollection, the earliest opportunities came as part of a Sunday School. I do not remember if I was an eager volunteer as a young boy. But I do remember that I was one of the few willing to give it a try during the middle and high school years. When a teacher asks for a volunteer and no one speaks up, someone has to step up and do everyone a favor, for we all know that until someone prays, we won’t be dismissed. And after you pray once, your peer group begins to look to you for leadership, since you’ve braved the voyage of prayer before and achieved safe passage.

    My first forays into prayer were not undertaken with a sure knowledge or unshakeable confidence. I simply spoke from my heart and relied upon the patterns of speech that I had received. Every prayer I recall being offered in the Baptist congregation of my youth was of the spontaneous sort. Scripture may have been quoted, but formality was not present or expected. Simple speech. I was trained to pray with simple speech.

    But as the years passed I realized I had much to learn. Prayer in public was one thing. Prayer alone, in the hidden place was quite another. What was I to say? When I gave voice to the cry of a community, I could articulate hopes and desires, or fall back on the reliable petitions of the people of God in all times and places. But when I was alone, I was not sure where to begin, or what to say in a world filled with trouble, speaking to a God who surely had other, more important matters to attend to than the trivial concerns of little old me. 

    Things changed when I offered a simple prayer, asking God to teach me to pray. That was my beginning. When I was alone before God I turned my being toward the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and began with that bit of simple speech, “Teach me to pray.”

    On some days, that was all that could be said. At other times, my private prayers, either written or spoken, stretched a little further. It was like I had discovered a muscle I had never really flexed, so the least bit of activity was a challenge. But I persisted in the knowledge that the strengthening of this muscle was vital for the well-being of the entire body, my entire self. No transplants were available. I was going to have to practice, to exercise, and build endurance.

    Eugene Peterson* was one of my guides along the way. He says it well:

    [W]hen we engage in the act of prayer itself, there is no preparing, no getting the right words, no posture to take, no mood to assume. We simply do it. Prayer is primal speech. We do not first learn how to do it, and then proceed to do it; we do it, in the doing we find out what we are doing, and then deepen and mature in it.

    That’s where we begin. We “simply do it.”

    Along the way I’ve figured a few things out. I have learned that God’s greatness is found in his lowliness. God can give ear to the concerns of “little old me,” because God is “great old God.” I’ve learned that my small, trivial concerns are not unworthy of a true friend, and I’ve become aware that it is self-centeredness and attempts at self-preservation that have kept me from crying out for help. I think I can handle my problems. I think I am the center of my own universe.

    Through prayer, God teaches us that this is not true. Through prayer, we suspect we will discover the One who rightfully belongs at the center of our lives, and of course, this displaces us. We think we belong at the center. Therefore we resist. Eugene Peterson states:

    In prayer we intend to leave the world of anxieties and enter a world of wonder. We decide to leave an ego-centered world and enter a God-centered world. We will leave a world of problems and enter a world of mystery. But it is not easy. We are used to anxieties, egos, and problems; we are not used to wonder, God, and mystery.

    I have also learned to rely on the Psalms. The psalmists have become my certified personal medical and training staff. Why?  Many of the Psalms are laments, and our world is filled with trouble. Each cry of despair only confirms that those who have been faithful through the centuries have been acquainted with grief, just like their Lord. But there are also psalms of petitions and celebration and remembrance. The Psalms teach us to pray, and to do so within the community of the prayerful. In joining my voice to theirs, God helps me discover my own deep need for salvation, redemption, healing, and restoration. I discover who God has made me to be, and who God is calling me to become. In prayer, my life is aligned with God’s life. My deepest desires are uncovered, revealed, and fulfilled.

    Peterson again:

    The Psalms train us to pray with others who have prayed, and are praying: put our knees on the level with other bent knees; lift our hands in concert with other lifted hands; join our voices in lament and praise with other voices who weep and laugh. The primary use of prayer is not for expressing ourselves, but in becoming ourselves, and we cannot do that alone.

    Peterson insightfully adds that “We must pray who we actually are, not who we think we should be,” and that “The regular place of prayer is the ordinary life.” The Psalms reinforce this discovery, and as we learn their rhythms and patterns, and adapt them to our own realities, they train us to rely on God in the same fashion as those saints of old.

    There are still lessons to learn. My training is not complete. But if prayer is something you are seeking to learn, begin, even if your first efforts appear to you as weak. The Word precedes your words. It is God who calls us to pray. When you cannot pray for yourself, rely on others to give voice to your cry, either in the Psalms, or in the congregation.

    “The Spirit searches all things,” Paul writes, “even the deep things of God.” (1 Cor. 2:10b) The Spirit searches our hearts, and reveals to us the unfathomable nature of God’s love. Prayer is our response. Let us learn from the One who will teach us.

    *All quotations are taken from Eugene Peterson’s Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer.