I am working my way through Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book. Christianity Today gave it an Award of Merit for 2007 in the area of spirituality. Peterson is a wonderful writer and if you are going to read one book about spiritual reading (or devotional reading), I would recommend this one.
Peterson is a master of the English language. He makes me feel like a writing pigmy but excites me at the same time. Eat This Book is the kind of book where I underline entire paragraphs. He has given me a new heart to want to eat the Scriptures and new eyes in which to read God’s holy book. There is too much good stuff to quote everything of value in here. Peterson does have a reoccurring theme that we are to enter into the biblical text instead of using the Scripture for practical insights for living life.
He really spoke my language when he compared exegesis to football fan discussing the game in a bar after the game (pg. 54). Football fans dissect and discuss every miniscule detail of the football game because they love it and know the rules, plays and strategies so well. Good exegetes do the same. We look at the details of the biblical text with our commentaries, Greek texts and grammars and other Bible lovers because we love it! I recently had a conversation with a pastor friend who was preaching on Matthew 28:19: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (ESV). I pointed out to him that the Greek word for “in” is not the common preposition en, but eis, meaning “into.” [The ESV has a note to that effect in their translation.] I got really excited as we discussed the difference between en and eis and what that subtle difference makes in the preaching of this text. We are not baptized in the Triune name, that is, by the authority of God’s name. We are baptized into the name, that is, into the triune community of the Father, Son and Spirit. Wow what a difference!
This morning, I was reading Peterson’s section on oratio within the practice of lectio divina. (These Latin words are pronounced o-rah-tsio and lek-tsio.) Lectio divina is the anctient practice of holy reading that dates back to the early formation of Benedictine monasteries. Oratio is the practice of praying the Scriptures.
Peterson goes into a wonderful discussion of the importance of praying the Psalms. He quotes Athanasius who said, “Most scripture speak to us; the Psalms speak for us.” Peterson goes on to say:
And oh, how they speak. They don’t simply say, “Yes, God I agree. Yes that’s right, I couldn’t have said it better myself.” Or “Yes, would you say that again so I can write it down and show it to my friends.” No, the argue and complain, they lament and they praise, they deny and declaim, they thank and they sing. On one page they accuse God of betraying and abandoning them and on the next they turn cartwheels and hallelujahs. Sometime we suppose that the proper posture of response to God as we read the Bible is to be curled u p in a wingback chair before a cozy fire, docile and well-mannered. Some of us are taught to think that reading the Bible means sitting in God’s classroom and tha prayer is politely raising our hand when we have a question about what he is teaching us in his Deuteronomy lecture. The Psalms, our prayer text within the biblical text, show us something quite different; pray is engaging God, an engaging that is seldom accomplished by a murmured greeting and a conventional handshake. The engagement, at least in its initial stages, is more like a quarrel than a greeting, more like a wrestling match than a warm embrace. (pg 104-105)
Amen and amen! I have that entire sectioned underlined in the book. It really moved me, because it confirmed a conviction that I have had for a long time. In my non-denominational/charismatic/”young-hip-and-cool-church” tradition, we pride ourselves in spontaneous prayers, prayers off the top of our heads or prayers that “bubble up” from our hearts. I typically pray these kinds of prayers, but over the years I have been helped so often by praying the Psalms, reading them in an attitude of prayer. Using the inspired words of David and others to be my words in prayer.
There was a time a few years ago when I was struggling with disappointment, frustration and anger with my ministry, my family and my life. I was complaining to God in prayer and I felt him nudging me to pray the Psalms of David and when David talks about his physical enemies that I should focus on the enemies of my soul. For six weeks I began to pray the words of Psalm 71 and I can say that I had a major breakthrough. I still fight this tri-fold enemy but when the battle gets fierce, I turn to the words of Psalm 71 to fuel my prayers.
Here is the Psalm. Read it. Chew on it. Enter into it. Pray it. Eat it!
Psalm 71:1 In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;let me never be put to shame!
2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;incline your ear to me, and save me!
3 Be to me a rock of refuge,to which I may continually come;you have given the command to save me,for you are my rock and my fortress.
4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.
5 For you, O Lord, are my hope,my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
6 Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.My praise is continually of you.
7 I have been as a portent to many,but you are my strong refuge.
8 My mouth is filled with your praise,and with your glory all the day.
9 Do not cast me off in the time of old age;forsake me not when my strength is spent.
10 For my enemies speak concerning me;those who watch for my life consult together
11 and say, “God has forsaken him;pursue and seize him,for there is none to deliver him.”
12 O God, be not far from me;O my God, make haste to help me!
13 May my accusers be put to shame and consumed;with scorn and disgrace may they be covered who seek my hurt.
14 But I will hope continuallyand will praise you yet more and more.
15 My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,of your deeds of salvation all the day,for their number is past my knowledge.
16 With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come;I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.
17 O God, from my youth you have taught me,and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
18 So even to old age and gray hairs,O God, do not forsake me,until I proclaim your might to another generation,your power to all those to come.
19 Your righteousness, O God,reaches the high heavens.You who have done great things,O God, who is like you?
20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamitieswill revive me again;from the depths of the earthyou will bring me up again.
21 You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.
22 I will also praise you with the harpfor your faithfulness, O my God;I will sing praises to you with the lyre,O Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will shout for joy,when I sing praises to you;my soul also, which you have redeemed.
24 And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long,for they have been put to shame and disappointedwho sought to do me hurt.