How WORDS Can Change a Life
Lucinda Secrest McDowell
The year I was twenty-nine (serving as missions pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian in California’s Silicon Valley) a small band of fellow pilgrims and I discovered a new book called “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” by Eugene Peterson. We gathered weekly in my little parsonage to read and discuss its implications on our (very young) lives. Over time, our perspectives were challenged and our souls were knit together in pursuit of all God would call us to (and away from) in the years ahead…
As I peruse that well-worn volume today (with underlining on almost every page) I realize that Eugene Peterson’s words quite literally changed my life.
And this was even before he wrote The Message Bible!
Today I read the New York Times Obituary of this remarkable servant of God. And I am in awe of the power of words…
Originating from God, filtered down through the Holy Spirit, processed amidst the ordinary and splendor of our daily lives, and then (often through nothing more than obedience and sweat) typed or written or spoken with the presumptive hope of redemption, reconciliation, or restoration towards a broken world. WORDS.
In honor of his life, on today’s Encouraging Words blog I’d like to share some of my favorite words from Eugene Peterson, and perhaps they will become yours as well…
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 MSG
“It is this ‘long obedience in the same direction’ which the mood of the world does so much to discourage. In going against the stream of the world’s ways there are two biblical designations for people of faith that are extremely useful: disciple and pilgrim. Disciple (mathetes) says we are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ. We are in a growing-learning relationship, always. Pilgrim (parepidemos) tells us we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ.” ― Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
“And yet I decide, every day, to set aside what I can do best and attempt what I do very clumsily–open myself to the frustrations and failures of loving, daring to believe that failing in love is better than succeeding in pride.”
― Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
On Soul Care, Eugene Peterson notes that the primary sense of cura in Latin is “care,” with undertones of “cure.” “The soul is the essence of the human personality. The cure of souls, then, is the Scripture-directed, prayer-shaped care that is devoted to persons singly or in groups, in settings sacred and profane. It is… a way of life that uses weekday tasks, encounters, and situations as the raw material for teaching prayer, developing faith, and preparing for a good death… It is also a term that identifies us with our ancestors and colleagues in ministry, lay and clerical, who are convinced that a life of prayer is the connective tissue between holy day proclamation and weekday discipleship.” – Eugene Peterson in “Curing Souls, the Forgotten Art,” Christianity Today 1983
“Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless.” 1 Peter 3.8-9 MSG
Stories: “There are no shortcuts in growing up. The path to maturity is long and arduous. Hurry is no virtue. There is no secret formula squirreled away that will make it easier or quicker. But stories help.”
― Eugene H. Peterson, Practice Resurrection
“When they were off by themselves, those who were close to him, along with the Twelve, asked about the stories. He told them, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom—you know how it works. But to those who can’t see it yet, everything comes in stories, creating readiness, nudging them toward receptive insight.” Mark 4:10-12 MSG
“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.”
― Eugene Peterson Eat This Book – A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading
“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.” Psalm 18.20-24 MSG
“Grab the promised Hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God, where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent position as high priest for us.” Hebrews 6.18-20 MSG
“Hoping does not mean doing nothing… It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying. And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident alert expectation that God will do what He said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith. It is a willingness to let him do it his way and in his time. It is the opposite of making plans that we demand that God put into effect, telling him both how and when to do it.”
― Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
My Own Life Verse: “If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places— firm muscles, strong bones. You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past.” Isaiah 58:9-12 MSG
Receive this Prayer in closing: “I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” Ephesians 3:14-21 MSG
under the mercy, Lucinda
“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”
©2018 Lucinda Secrest McDowell www.EncouragingWords.net
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