We Need a Bucket

c943651e1b6ed8028509f66de7af2bd1There is no lack in us of the impulse to pray. And there is no scarcity of requests to pray. Desire and demand keep the matter of prayer before us constantly. So why are so many lives prayerless? Simply because “the well is deep and you have nothing to draw with.” We need a bucket. We need a container suited to lowering desires and demands into the deep Jacob’s Well of God’s presence and word and bringing them to the surface again. The Psalms are such a bucket.

–Eugene Peterson

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Published in: on 05/25/2017 at 9:05  Leave a Comment  
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The Most Creative Act

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Challenging the system

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Prayer: a subversive activity
[that] involves a more or less
open act of defiance
against any claim
by the current regime.

–Eugene Peterson

Knowing God

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We do not know God
by defining him
but by being loved by him
and loving in return.

–Eugene Peterson

Meeting God through matter

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Jesus was the master sacramentalist. He used anything at hand to bring us into the awareness of God and then into a response to God. The moment Jesus picked up something it was clear it was not alien but belonging, a piece of God’s creation that was a means for meeting God. Jugs of water at Cana, the sound of the wind in Jerusalem, Galilean sea waves, a paralytic’s pallet at the Bethzathan pool, the corpse of Lazarus. Things. “There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He used material things like bread and wine to put new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He like matter. He invented it” [C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity]

–Eugene Peterson

Too Much Religion

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It seems odd to have to say so, but too much religion is a bad thing. We can’t get too much of God, we can’t get too much faith and obedience, can’t get too much love and worship. But religion—the well intentioned efforts we make to “get it all together” for God—can very well get in the way of what God is doing for us. The main and central action is everywhere and always what God has done, is doing, and will do for us. Jesus is the revelation of that action. Our main and central task is to live in responsive obedience to God’s action revealed in Jesus. Our part in the action is the act of faith.

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But more often than not we become impatiently self-important along the way and decide to improve matters with our two cents worth. We add on, we supplement, we embellish. But instead of improving on the purity and simplicity of Jesus, we dilute the purity, clutter the simplicity. We become fussily religious, or anxiously religious. We get in the way.

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That’s when it’s time to read and pray our way through the letter to the Hebrews again, written for “too religious” Christians, for “Jesus-and” Christians. In the letter, it is Jesus-and-angels, or Jesus-and-Moses, or Jesus-and-priesthood. In our time it is more likely to be Jesus-and-politics, or Jesus-and-education, or even Jesus-and-Buddha. This letter deletes the hyphens, the add-ons. the focus becomes clear and sharp again: God’s action in Jesus. And we are free once more for the act of faith, the one human action in which we don’t get in the way but on the Way.

–Eugene Peterson
Living the Message

Surrounded by glory

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Even a bare-bones
human existence
contains enough glory
to stagger anyone of us
into bewildered awe.

–Eugene Peterson

Published in: on 03/31/2015 at 17:27  Leave a Comment  
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Reverence and intimacy

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The two elements come together in worship . . . The acts of reverence and intimacy need each other. The reverence needs the infusion of intimacy lest it become a cool and detached aesthetic. The intimacy needs to be suffused in reverence lest it become a gushy emotion.

–Eugene Peterson
Living the Resurrection

It doesn’t fluctuate

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The mistake
we so often make
is thinking that
God’s interest
and care for us
waxes and wanes
according to
our spiritual
temperature.

–Eugene Peterson ‏

The communal life of God

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Trinity is a conceptual attempt to provide coherence to God as God is revealed variously as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our Scriptures: God is emphatically personal; God is only and exclusively God in relationship. Trinity is not an attempt to explain or define God by means of abstractions (although there is some of that, too), but a witness that God reveals himself as personal and in personal relations. The down-to-earth consequence of this is that God is rescued from the speculations of the metaphysicians and brought boldly into a community of men, women, and children who are called to enter into his communal life of love, of emphatically personal life where they experience themselves in personal terms of love and forgiveness, of hope and desire.

Under the image of the Trinity
we discover that we do not know God
by defining him but by being loved by him
and loving in return.

–Eugene Peterson
Christ Plays in a Thousand Places
(emphasis added)

The soaring life of grace

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Giving is what we do best. It is the air into which we were born. It is the action that was designed into us before our birth. Giving is the way the world is. He makes no exceptions for any of us. We are given away to our families, to our neighbors, to our friends, to our enemies—to the nations. Our life is for others. That is the way creation works. Some of us try desperately to hold on to ourselves, to live for ourselves. We look so bedraggled and pathetic doing it, hanging on to the dead branch of a bank account for dear life, afraid to risk ourselves on the untried wings of giving. We don’t think we can live generously because we have never tried. But the sooner we start the better, for we are going to have to give up our lives finally, and the longer we wait the less time we have for the soaring and swooping life of grace.

–Eugene Peterson
Running with the Horses

Following Jesus

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Following Jesus is the yes that comes after the no. We have renounced self-initiative for Jesus obedience. We have renounced clamoring assertion and replaced them with quiet listening. We watch Jesus work. We listen to Jesus speak. We accompany Jesus into new relationships, odd places, odd people. We pray our prayers in Jesus’ name. Keeping company with Jesus, observing what he does, and listening to what he says develops into a life of answering God, a life of responding to God, which is a life of prayer.Page-divider

Following Jesus is not a robotic lockstep, marching in a straight line after Jesus. The following gets inside of us, becomes internalized, gets into our muscles and nerves. It’s much more like a ramble, and it becomes prayer.

Prayer is what develops in us after we step out of the center and begin responding to the center, to Jesus.

–Eugene Peterson
Living the Resurrection

Higher ground

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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 the long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness… (That seems to be why) dissatisfaction – coupled with a longing for peace and truth – are the only way we set off on the pilgrim path of wholeness in God…

As long as we think that the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another scientific breakthrough might save the environment or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety into a life of tranquility, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith. A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he or she acquires an appetite for the world of grace.

–Eugene Peterson

Getting into the story

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Stories are the most prominent biblical way of helping us see ourselves in “the God story,” which always gets around to the story of God making and saving us.

Stories, in contrast
to abstract statements of truth,
tease us into becoming participants
in what is being said.

We find ourselves involved in the action. We may start out as spectators or critics, but if the story is good (and the biblical stories are very good!), we find ourselves no longer just listening to but inhabiting the story.

Eugene Peterson

Published in: on 10/17/2013 at 14:01  Leave a Comment  
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Listening for His voice

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The Christian’s interest in Scripture
has always been in hearing God speak,
not in analyzing moral memos.

–Eugene Peterson

Spirituality, intimacy and illusions

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Many people assume that spirituality is about becoming emotionally intimate with God. That’s a naïve view of spirituality. What we’re talking about is the Christian life. It’s following Jesus. Spirituality is no different from what we’ve been doing for two thousand years just by going to church and receiving the sacraments, being baptized, learning to pray, and reading Scriptures rightly. It’s just ordinary stuff.

This promise of intimacy is both right and wrong. There is an intimacy with God, but it’s like any other intimacy; it’s part of the fabric of your life. In marriage you don’t feel intimate most of the time. Nor with a friend. Intimacy isn’t primarily a mystical emotion. It’s a way of life, a life of openness, honesty, a certain transparency . . .

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It involves following Jesus. It involves the Cross. It involves death, an acceptable sacrifice. We give up our lives. The Gospel of Mark is so graphic this way. The first half of the Gospel is Jesus showing people how to live. He’s healing everybody. Then right in the middle, he shifts. He starts showing people how to die: “Now that you’ve got a life, I’m going to show you how to give it up.” That’s the whole spiritual life. It’s learning how to die. And as you learn how to die, you start losing all your illusions, and you start being capable now of true intimacy and love.

–Eugene Peterson
Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons
Interview by Mark Galli, Christianity Today

Expect good surprises

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“Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them
stretch out the curtains of your habitations;
do not spare; lengthen your cords,
and strengthen your stakes.”
(Isaiah 54:2)

The prophet was telling the people that their tents were far too small. They needed to enlarge them, and quickly. God was coming, so they needed to let their tents be stretched as far as they could be. They needed to lengthen their ropes, deepen their pegs, for they were going to need one mighty big tent to accommodate the gifts of God.

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The same is true for us. We’ve constructed personal and theological dwellings for ourselves that are far too small. Then God comes to us, and there’s no room for him, for we’ve poured foundational habits, framed rigid attitudes, and rooted our lives with limited goals that are inadequate to contain him.

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When God comes to us,
he gives us life — abundantly.

This continues to be one of the great Christian surprises. All the stories in the ancient world about the gods were very different. When the gods came down among humans, which they did with some frequency, they robbed them. Life diminished in contact with the gods. People never knew whether some stranger might be a god in human disguise, ready to cheat them out of something that was important to them.

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Can you see how fresh and liberating the prophets words were to a people conditioned to expect the worst from divinity? Every one of Israel’s contemporaries, hearing that God was coming would have put a padlock on the door. Israel did the opposite. And so should we.

We should expect the best from God, not the worst —
to be blessed, not cursed, to be surprised
by his generosity, not by his chicanery.

–Eugene Peterson

Let’s get on with life

Some time ago, my friend Brenda flew to Chicago for a visit with her daughter’s family, and especially with her granddaughter, Charity. Charity is five years old—a plump, cute, highly verbal little girl. Charity’s paternal grandmother had been visiting the previous week. She is a devout woman who takes her spiritual grandmothering duties very seriously, and she had just left.

That morning after Brenda’s arrival, Charity came into her grandmother’s bedroom at five o’clock, crawled into bed, and said, “Grandmother, let’s not have any Godtalk, okay? I believe God is everywhere. Let’s just get on with life.”

I like Charity. I think she is on to something.

“Let’s get on with life” can serve as a kind of subtext for our pursuit of spiritual formation and how easily and frequently the spiritual gets disconnected from our actual daily lives, leaving us with empty Godtalk.

It’s not that the Godtalk is untrue, but when it is disconnected from the ordinary behaviour and conversation that make up the fabric of our lives, the truth leaks out.

A phrase from Psalm 116:9 “I walk before the Lord in the land of the living”—clears the ground and gives some perspective on Charity and “let’s just get on with life.”

–Eugene Peterson

Overflow



No life of faith
can be lived privately.
There must be overflow
into the lives of others.

–Eugene Peterson

His livingness

The Word of God is not my possession. The words printed on the pages of my Bible give witness to the living active revelation of the God of creation and salvation, the God of love who became the Word made flesh in Jesus, and I had better not forget it. If in my Bible reading I lose touch with His livingness, if I fail to listen to this living Jesus, submit to this sovereignty and respond to this love, I become arrogant in my knowing and impersonal in my behaviour.

–Eugene Peterson

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