Learning about Prayer from Eugene Peterson- Clay Shelor

On October 14, 2018, I read that pastor and writer, Eugene Peterson, had entered hospice care and was near the end of his journey on this earth. He entered into the presence of his Good Shepherd just a few days later on the 22nd. Though I had never met Peterson, I was deeply saddened to hear of his death and felt and enormous indebtedness for the things I learned from him.

Eugene Peterson and his wife Jan

Eugene Peterson and his wife Jan

Through his little book, “Answering God,” I learned the simplicity, beauty and joy of praying the Psalms. Why the Psalms?

“If we are willfully ignorant of the Psalms, we are not thereby excluded from praying, but we will have to hack our way through formidable country by trial and error and with inferior tools. If we dismiss the Psalms, preferring a more up-to-date and less demanding school of prayer, we will not be without grace, but we will miss the center where Christ worked in his praying. Christ prayed the Psalms—the Christian community was early convinced that he continues praying them through us as we pray them: "we recite this prayer of the Psalm in Him, and He recites it in us." (page 4 quoting Augustine)

From “Eat this Book,” I was stirred in fresh ways to read the Bible, not to accumulate facts and theological data, but for my very life itself.

“Christians don't simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus' name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.”

As I am now reading his translation of the Bible, “The Message,” I am often startled and amazed at the big picture of creation, fall, rescue and new creation that Scripture tells. I am amazed yet again at God, who is "so good! His love never runs out” (Psalm 107:1, MSG), at the wonder of the gospel, that "The Word became flesh and blood,  and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, MSG).

Some of his final words just before death were, “Let’s go.” 

So I thank God for the faithful life of Eugene Peterson and how he has brought me back again to the beauty of Scripture, the wonder of the gospel of Jesus, and the astounding promise and joy of praying Scripture. I’m forever grateful. 

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Clay Shelor is an elder at Trinity Park. He lives with his family in Cary.