Monday, March 16, 2009

Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way

A book that has had a profound impact on me over the last year is The Jesus Way- a conversation in following Jesus (Eugene Peterson). We have been using it as a basis for study in the evening congregation I am a part of. I have learnt so much and seen many things anew since starting to read it, but one chapter stands out for me in the journey.

Even as I committed my life to God (aged 7) I had a deep sense of my own sinfulness and my need for God. At best, this can be a strength which keeps me humble and reliant on God. In weaker moments, this always spills into a cycle of setting unrealistically high standards for myself, inevitably failing to reach them, then condemnation, new resolve, new standards, etc. In my teenage years I heard many sermons unfolding the simple 3 points to a more effective passionate Super-turbo boosted-Christian life which I could only copy at best for a few days. And so the cycle continued…

Although I felt like I had gained some understanding of this “thorn in my side”, reading the chapter on David was a revelation to me. Peterson defines the way of David as “…from start to finish, the way of imperfection.”
It was all too familiar to me as I read his descriptions of perfectionism: “It is a way of perceiving Christians in two categories: carnal and spiritual Christians…Perfectionism has a way of claiming the term “spiritual” for itself- some Christians are spiritual, and by implication the others are not.”

He states in the strongest terms: “Perfectionism is a perversion of the Christian way. It is responsible for disabling countless sincere Christians for common usefulness in the company of their neighbours on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.”

Peterson underlines that fact that David, despite flashes of brilliance- e.g. slaying Goliath, cutting Saul’s cloak instead of a revenge killing- was continually messing up. David did some pretty terrible things. And yet not only is he recorded as a man after God’s own heart but Jesus was not embarrassed to be called the Son of David.
The big lesson David has to teach us is not his good acts or his great faith, but his relationship with God and his honest desire to be close to God through confession and repentance. Many of his psalms contain such prayers.

As Peterson says in the chapter, “The story David lived and the psalms he prayed provide us with an imagination that is capable of understanding the operations of God to do his perfect work in us, not our capacities to perfect ourselves.”

For me, this chapter not only gives a healthy framework with which to view sin and imperfection- where there is plenty of conviction but no condemnation- but it is also extremely salutary in thinking of what we communicate to others. We all have the responsibility to encourage our fellow believers into the freedom of relationship with God- to understand how to journey with “God working with the raw material of our lives as he finds us”.
Let me never by my words or example disable my sisters or brothers but let me live and pray and model a life which gives God space to be God and do his perfect work in me.

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