Eugene said “Slow Down…”

Eugene Peterson had a stated purpose to “change the pastoral imagination of pastors today,” to urge them “to slow down and to be present to their lives” so that they could help their congregations do the same. Eugene died this week.

There are some people I would love to have met. He is definitely one of them. Quite probably I would have been reduced to embarrassed mumbling and shamefaced excuses, because Eugene Peterson had a way of getting to the heart of big issues. That encounter would have exposed my shortcomings and excuses. Alongside that dread, I get the strong impression he would have been gracious and understanding: and would have done his best to help and encourage me. Peterson knew God and His ways: and he would have blessed me as I know he blessed many who did encounter him directly. He lived to bring Christ to many. His books helped me.

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I first read his book “Contemplative Pastor” at a time when the crazy pressures of ministry were burning out my soul. Complex problems needed solutions I couldn’t find, and rushing from A to B to X was grinding my heart to dust.

It wasn’t about losing faith, and there were blessings around in plenty. But… there was just too much of everything, and I needed help. Christian ministry is a calling that draws on the deepest part of the heart, and if we are not wise we can find that we are drying up on the inside. Preaching in the name of Jesus is a joy and a heavy responsibility. Pastoring people is a huge privilege and challenge. You get to share the whole gamut of human experience.

The emotional and spiritual cost of pouring yourself into the blender where real life mixes with heavenly Truth, and then trying to distil precious living words so others may draw closer to the Lord, is terribly high. Faced with the expectations of the congregation, the community, yourself, and what you think God expects- the spirit reels in shock and dread. I needed to learn that God is more gentle and patient than expected. He is also utterly Holy, amazingly gracious, and awesome beyond words.

There is a very unfunny “joke” about ministers only working one day a week. If people only knew how much that “joke” makes pastors want to throttle the jester! It is an act of grace to smile gently and refrain from applying the “right knee of fellowship.” (Let the reader understand!)

Most ministers I know work too long, too often, and too hard. It’s because we know that our words can be life or death. We don’t want to let anyone down. God called us, and we said “Yes.” It demands commitment of a high order.

“Slow down.” Recover the heart of your calling. Seek God for Himself; seek God because of love given and received. Seek God, because apart from Him we can do nothing.

Jesus took time out to be with his Heavenly Father. Jesus went into the wild places, the mountains, the lakeside. When He came back to the disciples and the crowds He knew His Father’s will- and obeyed it totally.

Reading “Contemplative Pastor” was refreshing if challenging. It was a lifeline to a weary soul because it put my hand back into the hand of Jesus. My mind was opened again to the dynamic rhythm of the Psalms and the Gospels. I re-learned the importance of retreat, of quiet, of silence and solitude. I discovered that there is a loving Father awaiting the “prodigal pastors” who run off to do God’s work for Him… and then find out they can’t and weren’t intended to. (I realise I have to be careful here- please don’t think I intended to draw a parallel between pastoring a church and tending the pigs!!!) 

Eugene’s life work taught many of us to slow down, not to be caught up in the folly of rushing, competing, or manipulating. He pointed me to Jesus again. Through Jesus, the Open Gate, I was able to come into the Presence of Holy Almighty God, Father, Son and Spirit.

One day I hope to thank Eugene Peterson. It will be a long queue!  Thank God for this fellow-servant, this deep well of Spirit-filled wisdom, and for the writings that still point to Jesus.

Oh yes- this advice to “slow down” doesn’t just apply to pastors. How is your rush-ometer doing? Seek God. Here is Eugene’s paraphrase of  Matthew 11:28-30 (Message)
“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.” 

Slowing down… sounds good to me!

 

 

Head for home…

The RAF display team, the Red Arrows, featured at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last weekend. World famous and superbly skilled, the nine crews went through a routine of dramatic formation flying. At the end of the show, they split and scorched away at low altitude – one flew almost overhead, streaming smoke to mark passage.

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At such high speeds the timing of every manoeuvre has to be calculated to a fraction of a second – and practised for hours to remove error. Mistakes could be lethal for pilots and spectators.

Watching such high-speed flying is thrilling and edge-of-the-seat stuff. The crews make it look easy. Only the best of the best get to fly in the Red Arrows.

How would we like it if the Airbus flight to Tenerife was piloted like this?

Pilots don’t push their planes and skills to the limit all the time. Only for special occasions or in life-or-death combat.

We live in an age suffering from “hurry sickness.” Permanently on edge, rushing from panic to deadline, and suffering dreadful levels of stress as a result. Even pastors and churches rush around too much and “put on a good show.”

It’s been almost a year since I retired. Years of busyness and caring for people meant my body was cracking up. I don’t blame anyone else: I did what I could for as long as I could, and should have done some things differently. I’ve slowed down, and my health has improved to some extent. Oh boy, though, the year has zipped by!

I am gradually working out what I can and should do in retirement. I am very grateful that I can exercise by riding my e-bike, even if I still can’t walk very far. Photography and gardening, reading and  study keep my brain active, and I am taking opportunities to mentor and support others. There are some exciting possibilities coming up!

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I’m also trying to continue the life-long process of becoming a better human being and becoming a bit more like Jesus Christ. Some of the struggles are still there: my faults, failings and dumb choices still inflict damage on my peace of mind. Perfect, I am not!

Going slower helps. Dallas Willard, a writer and wise mentor to many, advised that those who wanted to live a significant life should do all they could to eliminate hurry from their lives.

Like the Red Arrows, I aim to finish the remainder of my days by flying the big finale to leave the audience gasping… but now I am flying for an audience of One, and not at permanent breakneck pace. Then in due time, heading Home, with the work done and spirit at peace.

I hope to help others to live to a better rhythm and at a sensible speed. I discovered Eugene Peterson’s lovely translation of Matthew 11:28-30 and heartily recommend spending some time to take it on board. Let it sink in, then accept Jesus’ invitation.
“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.”

 

 

The odd one out…

Swans on the Thames at Windsor… with an odd one out. A single Canada Goose mingling with the majestic and elegant swans.

I was a strangerBeing the odd one out can be very uncomfortable, even threatening. God’s instruction is clear: those who claim to follow Him have a duty to care for the strangers, the refugees, the elderly, the orphans. The Old Testament reasoning was straightforward: care for the stranger, because YOU were once a slave in Egypt. As they were liberated, so they were to be liberators and welcome the “others.”

Jesus upped the stakes. Every time you give water to the thirsty… you are doing it to ME. The exiles, the suffering, the poor, hungry, prisoner… the odd one out.

Strangers need to be welcomed, accepted, and loved. It’s what Jesus would do.

Challenging, isn’t it.

Matthew 25:35 (NLT)
“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.”