Tag Archives: prayer

Q Practices and Eugene Peterson – Day One

Today was Day One of Q Practices with Eugene Peterson, and it was an honor to be there with 98 others from around the country to learn from Peterson, a seasoned pastor and prolific author.

Peterson is most well known for his translation/paraphrase of the entire Bible (called The Message), and he’s written several other books on a wide range of topics, though mostly in the areas pastoral work and spiritual theology.

It's been a great day learning from Eugene Peterson and Gabe Lyons

Q is a fantastic organization founded by Gabe Lyons, author of the terrific book The Next Christians (I’m currently reading it).  I’m really grateful for Q’s work in forging a new way for Christians to think about culture and engagement with the world.  I scour the Q website regularly to learn from some really thoughtful Christians.

The relatively small group of us (99 – most conferences I have attended are at least 300) had a chance to hear Peterson’s reflections on his life, Sabbath-keeping, Simplicity, and Prayer, mostly by way of interview by Lyons.

Here are some of my reflections from today.

1)  There is Much to Learn from Age – As a relatively young pastor in my 30s, there’s much to learn from people who are older.  There’s a depth that I personally experience listening to an older sage like Peterson, a man who seems to have pressed more deeply into God and Scripture as he’s aged.  There is something uniquely profound listening to someone who has practiced “a long obedience in the same direction.”  Peterson could be talking about the difference between blue and red M & Ms and he’d have my rapt attention as a result.

I once heard Richard Rohr once say, “there are many elderly people, but very few elders.”  That phrase has stayed with me since I heard it, mostly because I long to be an elder, not simply one who grows old.

To be an elder, I’ve learned, one must be willing to learn from elders.

Peterson, through his writing and today, has been a tremendous elder to learn from.

2)  Peterson’s Values are so Counter-Cultural to the Western Church – I know, this is a pretty strong statement, but I’ll explain why I believe this to be generally true.

I think the Western Church tends to inordinately celebrate fast-growing, numerically large churches.  I don’t think this is the fault of any person or church – I think we simply live in a culture which values big things (hence, this is not a critique of mega-churches – I actually really like megachurches!).  Big events, big crowds, big buildings, Big Macs.

Most conferences and learning opportunities for pastors err this way too – celebrating and offering platforms for large church leaders and their churches.

Whether intentional or not, big churches with big budgets and big programs are highlighted and uplifted more than other churches.

Again, this is not a critique – it’s simply an observation.

There have been many times in my brief ministry career when I’ve been swept up into this thirst for “big” too, and I think as much as I might say it’s to “reach more people” (which really is true), I think there’s also been some mixed motives of wanting to be “known” as somebody, too.

But the values that Peterson highlighted today – Sabbath-keeping, simplicity, and prayer – are really counter to growth, expansion, and becoming widely known.

In fact, Sabbath, simplicity, and prayer are all practices that lend one toward more obscurity and scaling down, not up.

In this respect, these values run counter to the Western Church.

I was moved when Eugene spoke of his visit to Israel a couple of years ago.  He walked through different areas of Judea, and he noticed the non-descript desert where the Patriarchs walked and the smallish size of towns around Galilee where Jesus grew up and did most of his ministry.

In comparison, the Egyptians had their spectacular pyramids and Herod had his grand palaces.

You see, God works in small, obscure places too.

For every large, miraculous moment in Scripture like the Pentecost (which seemed pretty mega to me), there are also small, obscure practices of retreat, solitude, and obscurity in the life of Jesus.

Peterson’s trying to counterbalance the overwhelming tilt toward bigger, larger, and more… to remember the values of mustard seed living.

Sidenote: Throughout today, I kept thinking of Pete Scazzero as a mini-me of Eugene Peterson.  They talk about so many of the same topics!  I’m fortunate to have learned, taught, and implemented many similar principles of Sabbath-keeping, prayer, and simplicity, throughout the years, and Pete has certainly had a big hand in that. Pete would be another great voice for Q, I think.

This is not to say that I’m an expert by any means – I’m simply very fortunate to have been exposed to these principles early in my ministry career.

Laura Speiller was also the first to introduce me to many Contemplative Prayer Practices that I use to this day.

As you can see, New Life has been a key part of my formation as a practitioner and a leader, and I pray that Hope Church NYC can share similar values.

3)  I’m Really Diggin Q – I love what Gabe’s doing, and what many other Christians are doing in being culturally relevant yet counter-cultural.  Very cool.

As for this event in particular, the organizers have done a great job and actually got a Sweetery NYC food truck to be stationed outside the venue where we’re gathering.  We get unlimited goods from the food truck whenever we want.  Holla!

4)  It’s Been Fun Hangin’ with my buddy Jared Howard – I didn’t think I’d know anyone here, but when I heard Jared was coming, I was ecstatic.  Fun times raiding the Sweetery truck together, Jared.

5) I’d be Remiss if I Didn’t Mention the Participants – I’ve met some really cool people here, and I have tons of respect for the fellow pastors and leaders that I’ve met.  I even had a chance to meet some leaders from Reality Santa Barbara, a church movement in California that I’ve visited once and absolutely loved!

Another interesting observation, though, is that the participants here are largely white and male.  I think I expected this, but not in terms of the volume I’ve experienced.

It’s fairly easy to do percentages because there are 99 participants, and I’d guesstimate that 80-85 of the participants are white males.

I’m saddened by this because I know so many other women and minority leaders in NYC (and beyond) who would benefit from this event and have much to contribute to the discussion.

Maybe next time!

6)  All in all, it’s such an extraordinary gift to be here.  I also love that Q Practices is happening in our own backyard in NYC, IMHO the best city in the world.

Lastly, I think I’m going to ask Eugene Peterson what he thinks about Linsanity.

Boom!

Advice From My Mother and Mother-In-Law

Having time off has given me the luxury of spending time with family that I otherwise would not have been able to do had we still been in NYC.  I spent a week in Los Angeles with my mom and my brothers Phil and Steph (and their lovely families), and Tina and I have also been in Houston spending time with her parents and Tina’s brother David and his family.

Thankfully, we’ve been able to stay in these places rent-free, which is nice.  I try to pay back their kindness by helping move stuff and washing dishes, but I’m not a very good worker, I’ve realized.  I’ve been learning how to be a more efficient dishwasher in Houston though, thanks to David and his mom.

Anyhow, I thought I’d share two pieces of advice that I’ve heard repeatedly, one from my mother, and the other from my mother-in-law.  God has used them both as prophetic sages for me as we discern what’s next.

1)  “Pastors need to read the Bible.  A lot.” – My mom.  

Almost every day my mom was asking me, “How much of the Bible did you read today?  Do you know why the blessing by Jacob found in Genesis 49 is so important? Do you know why Terah is an important figure in the Old Testament?”

Her questions were relentless.  Almost every time we talked, she would tell me more insights she was gleaning from Scripture, and urged me to love how God speaks through Scripture.

Both amazed and slightly annoyed, I would receive her words as best I could.

And I realize she’s right.

“You cannot stand on your own word,” she says, “you must stand on the Word of God.”

My mom is a wise, awesome woman.

2)  “Pastors need to pray.  A lot.” – My mother-in-law.  

My mother-in-law tells me this almost every day.  The rest of the time she’s showing me how to be more effective in my dish-washing.

But of so many other wise words she’s given to me, the ones about prayer have hit me the most.  She’s repeatedly asked me to continue to depend on God to remain humble, and that prayer is the best work that I can do as a pastor.

Prayer is the best work I can do.

I like that.

I’m beginning to realize that as a pastor, indulging in prayer and Scripture is NEVER a “waste” of time.  It’s always first on the “to-do” list, and nothing gets checked off until this is done.

Pete Scazzero was great at drilling this too (and modeling it), and I admire him greatly for that.

As intentional as I’ve been to focus on these areas of my life (especially the last few months), these words from my mom and mother-in-law have continued to come to me, urging me to press in even more toward whatever God might have for me.

And I’ve learned a profound spiritual lesson throughout my years of life.

God often speaks through moms.

So there you have it.  I didn’t even need to go to seminary or work at a church to discover these simple truths:

Pastors should read a lot of Scripture, and pastors should pray a lot.

And for that matter, our lives would all be better off if we read more Scripture and prayed more than we do.

Thanks, mom(s).

A Prayer From Thomas Merton

MY LORD GOD,

I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Amen.

Praying as the Middle Voice

My reading to start 2011 has included an eclectic array of books, and they’ve ranged from business/management oriented (Jack Welch’s Winning and Daniel Pink’s Drive), to spiritual (Eugene Petersen’s The Contemplative Pastor, Walter Brueggemann’s Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth, Ronald Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing, Howard Thurman’s Search for Common Ground) to practical parenting (Daniel Silk’s Loving our Kids on Purpose).

Very rarely do I get on a string of books this good, but each one of the titles above might be the best I’ve read in their respective fields.  Obviously each of the fields are so broad that it’s tough to say these are “the best”, but I dare say these are all “must-reads”.

For parents especially, I’d recommend Daniel Silk’s book.

Anyhow, one point that Petersen makes in The Contemplative Pastor is that prayer is similar to what grammarians would refer to as “the middle voice”.  For those of you who have learned a language other than your native language (and for those who haven’t), here’s a refresher on “the middle voice”.

1.  Active Voice (my action) – “I counsel.”

2.  Passive Voice (action done to me) – “I am counseled.”

3.  Middle Voice (I actively participate in an action done to me) – “I receive counsel.”

Sometimes we can revert to prayer being one or the other – active or passive, and so it becomes a rote tradition that is either really tiring (constant intercession, no contemplation) or not very meaningful (constant silence, constant dozing off).

But prayer is one of those “middle voice” realities where I am actively passive in communion with God.

I’m trying to be as mindful of this as possible, and I think the Psalms are a good model for what this middle voice looks like.

This is just a hunch, but I think we’d probably all be better off if we practiced praying in the middle voice when it came to management, spirituality, and parenting.

How to Pray in a Noisy, Crowded City

As I’ve talked to many folks in the city, one of the biggest challenges in nurturing a contemplative, godward spirit is the constant noise and distraction found in the city.

In other words, people constantly remark how much easier it is to focus in the Poconos Mountains as opposed to Main Street Flushing.

I’ll never forget having a small group practice lectio divina, a guided meditation on a text in Scripture that involves silence and centering, and in the midst of silent reflection, horns and sirens were blaring all around us.

We were meditating on “He leads us beside quiet waters.”

Funny.

Anyhow, I came across this resource a year or so ago, and I’ve been experimenting with different ways to center in the midst of our oft-frantic city.

The urban contemplative guide goes over different exercises to use on the subway, in marketplaces, at historical sites, etc.  I highly recommend you try these exercises!

Here’s what I especially found helpful:

1)  Imagine Jesus Traveling along with you – Yes, wherever you go, to imagine Jesus traveling along with you, seeing what you’re seeing, inviting you to notice what he wants you to notice.

2)  Pray for People - In crowded cities, it’s so easy to see most people as a nuisance, rather than a gift.  This doesn’t mean we have to hop on over to Times Square every day, but we all come across hundreds of people every day just living in the city (quite frankly, NYC is much different in this regard than Los Angeles).

What if we began to notice people – real people (in a non-stalker way) – and we began to pray for them.

In other words, whenever I see people, this can be an opportunity for me to pray.

Anyhow, please check out the guide when you have a chance… and experiment with ways to leverage all the gifts of the city (sights, sounds, and people) to nurture your walk with God.

I love NYC.