Archive for March, 2012

Peterson’s thoughts on prayer and scripture

Posted: March 16, 2012 by efenster in Ideas

What are Eugene Peterson’s views on prayer and the scripture?  Here are some comments he made at a recent event held in New York City that I was fortunate enough to attend.  — Ed Fenstermacher


Prayer is the pastor’s most important task.  Pray has its origin in the movement of God toward us.  God always makes the first move.  Prayer is our response to God’s action.  You’re not in charge of prayer; the Holy Trinity is.

We try to figure out prayer too much.  When someone asked Peterson how they could learn to pray, he told them to attend worship the following week.  When they asked what to do after that, he said to attend worship the week after that.  There’s no need to hold a class on prayer.  Prayer is seldom learned in the classroom but rather through relationships.  And a person doesn’t even need to lead in prayer; in worship, the congregation can do the praying for them.  This response takes a great deal of guilt off people. 


Our job is to bring our friends and our stories into the story of the Bible.  Not the other way around.  We can’t understand the Gospels simply using our heads.  We need to engage in the story.  You can’t read the Bible by yourself.  You read it with God.  If you have a question, ask God, talk with your pastor and your friends. 

Half of the Bible is poetry, much of it is metaphor.  When chapter and verse notations were added to the Bible, it turned it into a reference book.  When the Bible was distributed in print, rather than orally, it caused our faith to become more individualistic; we lost a sense of biblical community.  

He says he felt as though he was born to paraphrase the Bible.  It took him 12 years to complete The Message; he wrote five pages a day.  When asked what version of the Bible he reads, he said normally he’s reading in the orginal text.  Every now and then he’ll read from The Message.    He said that afterwards he’ll stop and ask God where those words came from.  And, with a twinkle in his eyes, he said, “They’re actually pretty good!”

Keeping the Sabbath

Posted: March 7, 2012 by efenster in Ideas

The following are notes I took while attending a two-day spiritual formation event led by Eugene Peterson.  Here’s what Peterson had to say about us keeping the Sabbath…   — Ed Fenstermacher

Keeping the Sabbath

There are more rules in the Bible about keeping the Sabbath than anything else.  Jesus was criticized for not keeping it.  Why is it so important?  Not because work is not a bad thing.  Afterall, there were six days of creation!  Keeping the Sabbath is not a cessation of work, but rather a contemplation of work.  Not keeping the Sabbath is a desecration of work.  Keeping the Sabbath permeates our lives, you lose yourself. 

Peterson defines keeping the Sabbath as shutting up and showing up.  When we don’t keep the Sabbath we’re trying to be God. Keeping the Sabbath has two activities:  playing and praying.  Playing can’t be coerced or it isn’t play; it has to be totally unessential, a non-productive act.  Sabbath allows us to see what God is doing and to enjoy it.  It’s of primary importance to the church, more important than evangelism!  Furthermore, asking your congregation for help in keeping the Sabbath is more important than in keeping it.

At the beginning of each year, Peterson would write a letter to his congregation explaining how he and his family kept the Sabbath (on Mondays) and asked the congregation to help them in keeping it.  This meant no Monday meetings, and rarely any phone calls from parishioners.  He never preached on it; he didn’t want to guilt his parishioners into keeping the Sabbath.   As the years passed, more and more of his parishioners began observing it too.  

Taking a day off without prayer is not keeping the Sabbath.  It must include prayer.  He feels his praying actually begins once he’s finished his prayers.  It’s a constant state.  Most of the time when we’re praying, we aren’t even aware of it.   

The most common comment Peterson hears from pastors is that they are busy.  We need to take charge of our own vocation and change that.  We don’t have to be busy.  “If we don’t kick the habit of ‘filling’ time, we’re lost!”  We need to keep the Sabbath and be an example to those around us.

Thoughts from Eugene Peterson…

Posted: March 2, 2012 by efenster in Ideas

This past week I had the privilege of spending two days, along with 98 other people, with Eugene Peterson and his wife Jan.  I knew him only as the writer of The Message paraphrase of the Bible, but quickly discovered that he is a Christ-filled man full of incredible humility and wisdom

Together we considered the various practices that can help us Christians deepen our walk with God.  Here are some highlights…

Be yourself.  What is an essential aspect of living out our calling?  To be the person that God uniquely created us to be.  It is easy to look at others in the church and to wish we could be more like them.  I think of people who speak so eloquently.  Others who are sharp-witted and have just the right comment no matter the issue.  I think of smart people who are able to grapple with difficult issues and come away with wise conclusions.  I think of those who have influence due to their magnetic personalities.  But, Peterson reminded me that I’m not called to be them, just myself. 

To those of you who are pastors he says, “Being a pastor is the most context-specific vocation.  You can’t copy techniques.  Your congregation is unique and you are too, so don’t wish you were someone else!” 

Know your people.  It is far more important to know and understand the people you are called to minister with than to understand church growth techniques.  Ouch!  I love church development; I’ve given my life to it!  But, I must remember that the people and relationships trump strategies and programs.  “Programs are necessary, especially in a large church, but they can replace the need for relationships.”

Be content.  Peterson told us to “be content with who you are and where you are.”  He told us about how the monks tell newcomers that their cell will teach them all they need to know.   Similarly, he said, “Be content with your congregation, it will teach you all you need to know.” 

In future blogs, I will share more.  Until then, I welcome your responses!  — Ed Fenstermacher