Every so often, you meet someone who gives you a new lens. Who offers a new way of seeing the things that seem so familiar, the things you look at and think about and work with every single day.
Every so often, you encounter a person who refuses to follow the status quo and defies that status quo in the exact spot where your vocational passion is longing to be released. And when this happens, a new world of possibilities opens. New colour is thrown onto the palette of the imagination, and you are given new material with which to answer those most important questions each of us ask – questions about what it might mean for me to live life in a way that matters.
Maybe it was a 10th grade science teacher who invited you into the wonder of the physical world. Or a friend’s dad who showed you the joy of fixing a car. Maybe it was a mentor who really listened to you, and gave you the freedom of being seen and known for the first time. It’s the sort of people who stop and make you think, “That’s it! I want to offer that gift to others. I want to be that sort of person, too.”
This is the sort of person I encountered when I met Eugene Peterson. To clarify, I never met Eugene face-to-face; I never had the privilege of an audible conversation with him. Yet Eugene mentored me through his writings and reflections on Scripture, prayer, and the pastoral vocation. Through times filled with questions and doubts about the direction my life was going, Eugene served as a sounding board. As I grew more and more accustomed to the idea that the Holy Spirit was nudging me in the direction of pastoral ministry, Eugene helped me have an idea about what that could actually mean – who Preston, as a pastor, might be.
On October 22nd, Eugene Peterson died and finally met Jesus Christ face to face. It is with deep gratitude for his life and ministry that I want to share a few thoughts I think Eugene would want to say to me as a pastor and to us as a small church, joining God in the renewal of Vancouver.
“Shut up and listen.”
First, to Holy Scripture. God has spoken to us; stop talking and consuming and scrolling your feed long enough to listen. Listening is different from reading, by the way. In reading, we use our eyes – in listening, our ears. Resist the temptation to approach Scripture with a scalpel, to cut out the pieces you don’t like, or a gavel, to proclaim judgment on what you think is right or wrong. Instead, bring to it your expectant ears. As you converse with Moses, Mark, Isaiah and Paul, ask God for ears to hear his Word come to you (yes, you!) through Jesus Christ, the “word made flesh” (John 1:14). And he will: “God, like Isaac who dug again the wells that the Philistines had filled, redigs the ears trashed with audio junk. The result is a restoration of Scripture: eyes turn into ears” (Working the Angles, 102).
Second, to people. Rarely are people listened to these days. When was the last time someone listened to you without distraction? Without picking up their phone, or without minimizing your words with their own experience? Give one another this gift – take the time to do the inefficient work of listening, with undivided attention, to others. I also like how Susan Scott put it: when you listen, “be there, prepared to be nowhere else.” Remember names; value details. Each person plays a unique role in God’s story, and often the unexpected details really matter.
We discover these details by searching for evidence of God’s work amidst everyday, ordinary of life. Often people don’t see God in their “normal lives.” But if you’re patient, and listen, and pray, you’ll begin to detect the hidden sins and the works of the Spirit in people’s lives. Both will be there and both are often taken for granted as “just the way I am” or “just the way things are.” Don’t let people live in this lie – God is at work, and people do need deeper repentance. But look for God’s work first: “it is easier to look for sin. The variants of error are finite. The ‘deadly sins’ can be numbered; it is virtue that exhibits the endless fertility of creation” (Working the Angles, 163).
“Beware of Tarshish.”
Tarshish was the “distant paradise” in the ancient world, the city of exciting opportunity, new ventures, rising fame. This is the destination Jonah the prophet set out for, instead of where God commanded him to go: Nineveh. “Nineveh was an ancient site with layer after layer of ruined and unhappy history. But Tarshish was something else. Tarshish was exotic. Tarshish was adventure” (Under the Unpredictable Plant, 15). Tarshish represents for us the exciting future of our own imaginations; the one that is built on our hopes and dreams – without God.
This is dangerous territory for those in ministry, yet Tarshish is all too common these days. Celebrity-status pastors; churches who are celebrated for accommodating Scripture to be relevant; church growth that is about marketing strategies instead of fruitful works of the Spirit. The allure is real, so remember: you are called to Nineveh, to faithfulness and commitment in the place God has granted. The ‘next best thing’ is a lie.
“Don’t take yourself too seriously.”
If you don’t rest, you’re taking yourself too seriously. If you neglect prayer, you think you matter too much. Get your role right! God is God, not you. The Jewish day starts at sundown, in part, to remind people that when the morning dawns, the day is half over. We come into what God is already doing that day; he works 12 hours before we get to participate. The God-ordained week grants 6 days for working and one for rest. On the rest day, the Sabbath, try spending your time in the most non-productive manner possible: namely, by praying and playing. Pray – replace yourself in God’s story, about who He is and who you are because of his glorious grace. Play – delight in the good gifts of God’s creation, with thanksgiving (Working the Angles, 75).
Thank you, Eugene, for inspiring many to a life of prayer and faithfulness. May you rest in the full peace of Christ, as you enjoy the eternal presence of our glorious God and Savior.