The following excerpt is from the devotional book, “Living the Message,” by Eugene H. Peterson. This pastor-professor is probably the person I want to grow up to be like; he has a gentleness and eloquence that is seldom seen–and highly respected.
Dr. Peterson died in 2018.
“When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does. Outsiders, on observing this, conclude there is nothing to this religious business, except perhaps, business…and a distant one at that. Insiders see it much differently.”
“Just as a hospital gathers the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the Church collects sinners.”
“Many people outside are just as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised. It is similar with sinners outside the church.”
“One way to define spiritual life is getting so tired and fed up with yourself you go on to something better, which is following Jesus.”
Some other quotes by Eugene Peterson:
“All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us.”
“Suffering attracts fixers the way road-kills attract vultures.”
“When we sin and mess up our lives, we find that God doesn’t go off and leave us- he enters into our trouble and saves us.”
“That’s the whole spiritual life. It’s learning how to die. And as you learn how to die, you start losing all your illusions, and you start being capable now of true intimacy and love.”
“American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition.”
“Watch, O Lord, with those who wake or weep tonight, and give your angels and saints charge over those who slumber.“
“Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ,Rest your weary ones,Bless your dying ones,Soothe your suffering ones,Pity your afflicted ones,Shield your joyous ones,”
“And all for your love’s sake.”
Woven into this ancient ‘evening prayer’ is an idea of God meeting us with overflowing grace and kindness. There is a strong sense of God watching everyone! And there is also a “tending” sense that He has overall.
As I read this prayer, I seem to focus on the single phrase, “shield your joyous ones.” To think that these joyful people need protection strikes me as odd. Why do they even need a “shield?” Of all people, don’t they have it together?
God sees to our every need, and His flock can be incredibly needy.
As I thought it through, I started to realize that joy is its best standing in the shadow of warfare. The joyful ones are companions– “buddies” who share the same ‘fox hole’ on enemy lines. But this isn’t a grim thing, Nehemiah told those trying to build the city walls,
“The joy of the Lord is your strength”
Joy connects with the desperate need of the moment; it is the muscle of all ministry. And as a result, perhaps more vulnerable.
He didn’t say that the joy of the Lord is our happiness, cheeriness, or merriment.
But rather, joy would impart strength, and stiffen one’s ability to go to war for our brothers and sisters, our churches, and our communities. There are certain epoxy resins that will only harden when a special light is used on them. Maybe joy transforms into strength when we step toward our Father.
We need to spiritually protect and cover those who are His “joyous ones.” They can be found sprinkled throughout our churches and ministries. And they need us to shield them. They seem to be quite exceptional, and seemingly invulnerable. But that isn’t the case. We need to pray for them. Joyful people inspire me in battle.
“The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.”
“Now bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who stand in the Lord’s house at night! 2 Lift up your hands in the holy place and bless the Lord!
May the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.“
Not every Levite labored during the day. The night shift continued their work. Granted, no sacrifices were offered, but the “night priests” stood to protect the Ark, gather wood, and keep the incense burning and cleaned up the blood. But most importantly they must worship and pray for Israel.
“Servants of the Lord” is a phrase that resonates in my heart. Those words are both a comfort and a responsibility and that seems to open this passage up. We’ve got a Master, and we serve Him only. And I know and believe that worship was the main responsibility of the night watch!
“Christians believe that true worship is the highest and noblest activity of which man, by the grace of God, is capable.”
Worship is the central work of the disciple, it’s what we’re called to do. Evangelism, missions, and preaching are fine. But prayer and intercession must be the heartbeat of each believer. It’s the holy calling of the Church. When does the church service end? Never!
The service really gets going Monday through Saturday!
In this short Psalm, (just 3 verses!) we’re introduced to a group of Levites who are working the night shift. What they do is hidden–it’s not seen by others. They keep the fires stoked, gather wood, and patrol the walls. But more importantly, they stand and worship and intercede for Jerusalem.
No real recognition is given, and the spotlight is rarely shined on them.
They serve at night, vitally essential but seldom seen. And yet they intercede for the nation. They “bless” the Lord and the people of God. That’s their place and position. They must do this. Israel must be blessed. These night shift workers insist on it!
The church needs nursery workers and Sunday school teachers. So many are working behind the scenes. Often the deacons and elders of a church are rarely seen and seldom acknowledged. So much is concealed. Their work is a hidden one. But the Father sees.
In a church, someone has to clean the bathrooms and take out the garbage, and others will make coffee or shovel snow. They vacuum and straightened the chairs. They are the ones who collect the mail and prepare the overheads. There’s always something to do. And it’s a hidden work carried out with no one watching. No one, but God.
“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; 2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night,“
Serving at night can be a challenge, not all can lead worship or preach the sermon on Sunday morning. Those called to do those tasks serve in the day. But those who serve the Lord at night also labor, and sometimes that hiddenness behind the scenes has its own special challenges.
This may come as a surprise, but it takes as much of the Spirit to work the night shift as it does to stand behind the podium and preach the Word. I believe that this is true! These hidden ones carry out much of the ministry of the Church. Few notice, but God Himself sees them.
“They [Levites] are exhorted to fill the night with prayer and watchfulness and to let their hearts go up in blessing to Jehovah. The voice of praise should echo through the silent night and float over the sleeping city.”
“Those who accepted his message were baptized.” (Acts 2:41)
“Repent and be baptized.” (Acts 2:38)
“Having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God.” (Col. 2:12)
Perhaps one of the most significant decisions we’ll make is to follow Jesus Christ into the waters of baptism. This is just obedience to the Lord’s command to be baptized. It’s one of the ways that our discipleship becomes public, but it’s intensely private as well. Ideally, it will forever alter your life. At least that is the Father’s intention.
Baptism becomes a public pronouncement or declaration to the physically seen world and to the invisibly unseen world of the Spirit.
It takes faith to be authentically prepared for baptism. You will be taking a stand. By faith, you’re making public your allegiance to Christ. It is a step of something living.
“Baptism was to put a line of demarcation between your past sins when you are buried with Him by Baptism–you are burying your past sins–eradicating them–putting a line in the sand saying that old man is dead and he is no longer alive anymore and I rise up to walk in the newness of life.”
I suggest that you prayerfully attend to the steps listed below. You will find there is a big difference between truly being baptized, and just getting wet!
The interrogative process can be used to solidify the faith before man and in front of His people. In a sense, it’s much like the vows made by a husband and wife in the vows of marriage.
I. A series of questions are asked, to which the reply is always, “I renounce them.”
Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
Do you renounce the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
II. The second half also must be asked, to which the reply is always, “I do.”
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
III. The Apostle’s Creed can be recited publicly (or privately in prayer).
This is our faith boiled down to its core essence. This declaration helps set us apart from the World, the flesh, and the devil:
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, who was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell. and on the third day, He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
This needs to be understood and accepted. I suppose we will develop these into living discipleship; you’ll that water baptism is analogous to a master key that opens the door to a special joy. Obeying the command to be baptized pleases Jesus. And that is what we long to do.
“Indeed, baptism is a vow, a sacred vow of the believer to follow Christ. Just as a wedding celebrates the fusion of two hearts, baptism celebrates the union of sinner with Savior.”
Baptism is an outward expression of inward faith.
Baptism separates the tire kickers from the car buyers.
A special word to “older” believers: There may come a time when you feel that you would want to be baptized again. I believe that this is not only allowable but commendable. You may have not had a good understanding of the baptismal process, but now it makes sense. I would encourage you to follow your heart. God will honor your rededication. Ask your pastor or elder what they think.
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His Ordination Prayer as a Pastor, serving in the Christian and Missionary Alliance
August 18, 1920
O Lord, I have heard Thy voice and was afraid. Thou has called me to an awesome task in a grave and perilous hour. Thou art about to shake all nations and the earth and also heaven, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. O Lord, my Lord, Thou has stooped to honor me to be Thy servant. No man taketh this honor upon himself save he that is called of God as was Aaron. Thou has ordained me Thy messenger to them that are stubborn of heart and hard of hearing. They have rejected Thee, the Master, and it is not to be expected that they will receive me, the servant.
My God, I shall not waste time deploring my weakness nor my unfittedness for the work.
The responsibility is not mine, but Thine. Thou has said, “I knew thee – I ordained thee – I sanctified thee,” and Thou hast also said, “Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.” Who am I to argue with Thee or to call into question Thy sovereign choice? The decision is not mine but Thine. So be it, Lord. Thy will, not mine, be done.
Well do I know, Thou God of the prophets and the apostles, that as long as I honor Thee Thou will honor me. Help me therefore to take this solemn vow to honor Thee in all my future life and labors, whether by gain or by loss, by life or by death, and then to keep that vow unbroken while I live.
It is time, O God, for Thee to work, for the enemy has entered into Thy pastures and the sheep are torn and scattered. And false shepherds abound who deny the danger and laugh at the perils which surround Thy flock. The sheep are deceived by these hirelings and follow them with touching loyalty while the wolf closes in to kill and destroy. I beseech Thee, give me sharp eyes to detect the presence of the enemy; give me understanding to see and courage to report what I see faithfully. Make my voice so like Thine own that even the sick sheep will recognize it and follow Thee.
Lord Jesus, I come to Thee for spiritual preparation.
Lay Thy hand upon me. Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet. Forbid that I should be come a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling. Save me from the curse that lies dark across the modern clergy, the curse of compromise, of imitation, of professionalism. Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offering. Help me to remember that I am a prophet – not a promoter, not a religious manager, but a prophet. Let me never become a slave to crowds. Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from bondage to things. Let me not waste my days puttering around the house. Lay Thy terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Deliver me from overeating and late sleeping. Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
I accept hard work and small rewards in this life.
I ask for no easy place. I shall try to be blind to the little ways that could make life easier. If others seek the smoother path I shall try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly. I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes. Or if, as sometimes it falleth out to Thy servants, I should have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Thy kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows. Teach me to use whatever I receive in such manner that will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power. And if in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy church, let me not forget in that hour that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies, and that if men knew me as intimately as I know myself they would withhold their honors or bestow them upon others more worthy to receive them.
And now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to Thee; let them be many or few, as Thou wilt. Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly; that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could. I am Thy servant to do Thy will, and that will is sweeter to me than position or riches or fame and I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven.
Though I am chosen of Thee and honored by a high and holy calling, let me never forget that I am but a man of dust and ashes, a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men. I pray Thee, therefore, my Lord and Redeemer, save me from myself and from all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others. Fill me with Thy power by the Holy Spirit, and I will go in Thy strength and tell of Thy righteousness, even Thine only. I will spread abroad the message of redeeming love while my normal powers endure.
Then, dear Lord, when I am old and weary and too tired to go on, have a place ready for me above, and make me to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting. Amen.
“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee;and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.“