The following excerpt is from the devotional book, “Living the Message,” by Eugene H. Peterson. This pastor-professor is probably the person I want to grow up to be like; he has a gentleness and eloquence that is seldom seen–and highly respected.
Dr. Peterson died in 2018.
Author of many books, and his great translation of the Bible, titled “The Message” is regarded by many as a masterpiece of the English language.
Additionally, he has recently focused on the pastor, and on the many issues, a pastor might face. He understands being a servant of the Gospel and the Church.
I encourage you to read his stuff.
“When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does. Outsiders, on observing this, conclude there is nothing to this religious business, except perhaps, business…and a distant one at that. Insiders see it much differently.”
“Just as a hospital gathers the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the Church collects sinners.”
“Many people outside are just as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised. It is similar with sinners outside the church.”
Some other quotes by Eugene Peterson:
“All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us.”
“When we submit our lives to what we read in scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves. “
“When we sin and mess up our lives, we find that God doesn’t go off and leave us- he enters into our trouble and saves us.”
“American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition.”
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”.
Ephesians 6:12, ESV
Satan attacks us in two distinct and recognizable ways.
First, he stirs up our desires and inflames our appetites for sin. He is very good at this. He knows all about you, and what you like.
Second, he accuses us of committing evil against God. Scripture identifies him as “the accuser of the brethren.” He condemns us as perverse, rebellious, seditious, and evil. “See what an evil wretch you are, your heart is small, black, and hard.”
But the believer will run to the cross, and hold on. He will hear the blood of Jesus cry out for his soul. In this simple act of obedience and faith, he allows Jesus Christ to deliver him/her from the darkness. There is absolutely nothing to be done except this, and this is enough.
My sinfulness can never hold me as a broken believer, as long as have a child’s heart of humility.
I read this the other day.
“And thus I shall always do, whenever you leave me to myself.”
I cannot fight this dark battle in and of myself. I have neither the armament nor the understanding to take on “cosmic powers”. I must become broken, and weak, and then the Spirit will shelter me. Being manic-depressive can actually be of help. I know my own weakness, and it lays me at the feet of my Lord, with no pretenses of strength.
Romans 8:31-32, The Message reads like this,
“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen?”
It seems like a dream, but I’m absolutely protected from my tormentors by someone with superpowers. And Scripture makes it clear that this is not far from the truth. God defends us not just because he loves us, he protects us because his reputation is on the line.
“Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture“
(verses 33-34, the Message)
Oh struggling saint, you cannot battle alone. Apart from him, you can do nothing. Spiritually, cover yourself with the righteousness of Jesus. Do not venture out against these dark forces, when you have the love of One who cannot fail.
“The glory of God is a person fully alive” said the church father Irenaeus.
Psalm 18 shows David exuberantly alive with the life of God. It is filled with rich imagery of God’s deliverance and blessing upon people the people of faith.
I want Psalm 18 to become my story! I want it in my heart so it can stir my spiritual imaginations and strengthen my confidence of God and his kingdom in my midst all the time – in stress and disappointment and injustice and waiting for prayers to be answered.
1-2 I love you, God— you make me strong.
God is bedrock under my feet,
the castle in which I live,
my rescuing knight.
My God—the high crag
where I run for dear life,
hiding behind the boulders,
safe in the granite hideout.
3 I sing to God, the Praise-Lofty,
and find myself safe and saved.
4-5 The hangman’s noose was tight at my throat;
devil waters rushed over me.
Hell’s ropes cinched me tight;
death traps barred every exit.
6 A hostile world! I call to God,
I cry to God to help me.
From his palace he hears my call;
my cry brings me right into his presence—
a private audience!
7-15 Earth wobbles and lurches;
huge mountains shake like leaves,
Quake like aspen leaves
because of his rage.
His nostrils flare, bellowing smoke;
his mouth spits fire.
Tongues of fire dart in and out;
he lowers the sky.
He steps down;
under his feet an abyss opens up.
He’s riding a winged creature,
swift on wind-wings.
Now he’s wrapped himself
in a trenchcoat of black-cloud darkness.
But his cloud-brightness bursts through,
spraying hailstones and fireballs.
Then God thundered out of heaven;
the High God gave a great shout,
spraying hailstones and fireballs.
God shoots his arrows—pandemonium!
He hurls his lightnings—a rout!
The secret sources of ocean are exposed,
the hidden depths of earth lie uncovered
The moment you roar in protest,
let loose your hurricane anger.
16-19 But me he caught—reached all the way
from sky to sea; he pulled me out
Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos,
the void in which I was drowning.
They hit me when I was down,
but God stuck by me.
He stood me up on a wide-open field;
I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!
20-24 God made my life complete
when I placed all the pieces before him.
When I got my act together,
he gave me a fresh start.
Now I’m alert to God’s ways;
I don’t take God for granted.
Every day I review the ways he works;
I try not to miss a trick.
I feel put back together,
and I’m watching my step.
God rewrote the text of my life
when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes.
25-27 The good people taste your goodness,
The whole people taste your health,
The true people taste your truth,
The bad ones can’t figure you out.
You take the side of the down-and-out,
But the stuck-up you take down a peg.
28-29 Suddenly, God, you floodlight my life;
I’m blazing with glory, God’s glory!
I smash the bands of marauders,
I vault the highest fences.
30 What a God! His road
stretches straight and smooth.
Every God-direction is road-tested.
Everyone who runs toward him
31-42 Is there any god like God?
Are we not at bedrock?
Is not this the God who armed me,
then aimed me in the right direction?
Now I run like a deer;
I’m king of the mountain.
He shows me how to fight;
I can bend a bronze bow!
You protect me with salvation-armor;
you hold me up with a firm hand,
caress me with your gentle ways.
You cleared the ground under me
so my footing was firm.
When I chased my enemies I caught them;
I didn’t let go till they were dead men.
I nailed them; they were down for good;
then I walked all over them.
You armed me well for this fight,
you smashed the upstarts.
You made my enemies turn tail,
and I wiped out the haters.
They cried “uncle”
but Uncle didn’t come;
They yelled for God
and got no for an answer.
I ground them to dust; they gusted in the wind.
I threw them out, like garbage in the gutter.
43-45 You rescued me from a squabbling people;
you made me a leader of nations.
People I’d never heard of served me;
the moment they got wind of me they listened.
The foreign devils gave up; they came
on their bellies, crawling from their hideouts.
46-48 Live, God! Blessings from my Rock,
my free and freeing God, towering!
This God set things right for me
and shut up the people who talked back.
He rescued me from enemy anger,
he pulled me from the grip of upstarts,
He saved me from the bullies.
49-50 That’s why I’m thanking you, God,
all over the world.
That’s why I’m singing songs
that rhyme your name.
God’s king takes the trophy;
God’s chosen is beloved.
I mean David and all his children—
The musical group U2’s Bono quotes Eugene Peterson from the stage. Readers of the best selling Bible, ‘The Message,’ find themselves holding onto lines from his ‘fog-slicing’ Bible paraphrase, and many other works. For several years now, TheHighCalling.org has provided a daily prayer and reflection by Eugene Peterson. Recently, we asked the man himself: What are devotions and why do they matter in our daily work?
Why do so few people who believe in God bother to know Him?
The most obvious answer is that we’re in a hurry and not used to listening. We’re trained to use our minds to get information and complete assignments; but the God revealed to us in Jesus and our Scriptures is infinitely personal and relational. Unless we take the time to be quiet, in a listening way, in the presence of God, we never get to know him.
The same question is why so few married couples really know their spouses. People get divorced after 20 years of marriage, and the rejected spouse says, “I never knew this was coming. I thought everything was fine.” But there was not much listening in those 20 years. Devotions are the discipline of being quiet and listening for what we don’t hear in the streets, in the media, in the workplace.
What about people who sincerely set apart time, read the Bible, stay still, and hear nothing? They ask themselves whether God’s voice is anything more than their own thoughts.
We’re not good at this. We’ve had no practice doing it. No wonder we only hear our own thoughts. This is why the church is so insistent that we do this whether anything happens or not. Supported by 2000 years of history, we know that God does commune with us in our listening. But because we’re so unused to this way of communion, we don’t hear it. So it takes time.
How would you direct someone trying to start?
I would say: Get your Bible and find a place. If you can’t do this daily (some people can’t because of their life circumstances; mothers with young children are obvious instances), try for at least 20-30 minutes, two or three times a week, or four. Don’t make demands on yourself too high. Don’t ask questions about, “How long is this going to take?” Believe that something does happen in that silence—usually through Scripture, but not always—in prayerful, attentive listening, knowing that you’re in the presence of God.
I ask for a commitment of six months; so don’t come back in three weeks and say nothing’s happened. I’ve never had anyone who’s done this at least six months who came back to me and said, “I did it and nothing happened; I’m going on to something else.” Not many who give this a fair test ever say that nothing happens. Also, when I’ve asked people to do this as their pastor, I also ask them to worship regularly. This is a place where the whole community is gathered and listening and being in the presence of God.
Is that how you started?
I was lucky. In the family I grew up in, I started when I was about 14 …mostly with the Psalms, but all the Scriptures become part of it.
In your writing and speaking, you must have seen moments when a person realizes, “Yes, I want more and I want God.” What turns on the light for people?
Often the motivation is that people are tired of the way they’re living. They think there’s got to be more than just the motions they’re going through and the work they’re doing. There’s a craving and hunger that they identify with God. There’s enough pain or boredom or something to motivate them to do something that the culture’s not telling them to do. I got a letter recently from a friend of 40 years. She had been a parishioner of mine for a long time. Then she was ill, and divorced; and she quit, just gave up. She quit reading the Bible, quit going to church. Six months ago she wrote me a lovely letter that she was sitting with a group of friends and, in her words, “a rooster crowed”—it all came back and she was a Christian again and aware of the presence of God. Isn’t that a wonderful phrase? ‘A rooster crowed.’
Who knows what went into that statement of hers? Twenty years of unhappiness, pain, suffering, disillusionment …but still there was the need.She would have said during that time she didn’t believe in God. But the rooster crowed. That’s why we use the term the Holy Spirit to explain times like this. Given that it’s hard to discipline ourselves to silence, listening—and to daily time in quiet—tell us about your devotions on this website. I wrote those in the early morning for 20 years, maybe 25 years. And what I was trying to do was be present to the Scripture, listen to God, and to write as honestly as I could. I wasn’t thinking about anybody else but me.
It’s really hard to be honest as a writer. You get these wonderful ideas, and you love to manipulate words and see if you can make it sound good. It’s hard to be honest, especially working for God. That was the thing I was most aware of. “Eugene: Don’t say anything that is not relational, immediate, honest; stay present to the text and be honest before God.” I believed if I could be honest, I could draw some other people to honesty, too.