Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Eugene Peterson

American Pastor, Scholar, Author, and Poet, Gold Medallion Book Award Winner

"Repentance is not an emotion. It is not feeling sorry for your sins. It is a decision. It is deciding that you have been wrong in supposing that you could manage your own life and be your own god."

"It is not easy to convey a sense of wonder, let alone resurrection wonder, to another. It’s the very nature of wonder to catch us off guard, to circumvent expectations and assumptions. Wonder can’t be packaged, and it can’t be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagement."

"The only opportunity you will ever have to live by faith is in the circumstances you are provided this very day: this house you live in, this family you find yourself in, this job you have been given, the weather conditions that prevail at the ...moment."

"The witness is frequent and insistent that God is inherently relational and personal. So God cannot be either received or understood apart from our being personal and realtional as well. That most emphatically excludes the detached intellect as a way of knowing God. It excludes programmatic work as a way of knowing God. It excludes cultivation of the ecstatic and visionary as a way of knowing God. God is not an abstract idea that can be mastered, not an impersonal force that can be used, not a private experience that can be indulged."

"American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition."

"A sense of hurry in pastoral work disqualifies one for the work of conversation and prayer that develops relationships that meet personal needs. There are heavy demands put upon pastoral work, true; there is difficult work to be engaged in, yes. But the pastor must not be ‘busy.’… there must be a wide margin of leisure."

"A community of faith flourishes when we view each other with this expectancy, wondering what God will do today in this one, that one."

"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."

"All the water in the oceans cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside. Nor can all the trouble in the world harm us unless it gets within us."

"Ambition seeks to make something cheap and tawdry, sweatily knocking together a Babel when we could be vacationing in Eden."

"Another common way to avoid community is to turn the church into an institution. In the process, the church becomes less and less a community, that is, people who pay attention to each other, “brothers and sisters,” and more and more a collectivism of “contributing units.”"

"But then it begins to develop a culture and language and hierarchy all its own. It becomes first a special interest, and then a specialization. That is what seems to be happening in the circles you are frequenting. I seriously doubt that it is a healthy (holy) line to be pursuing."

"By setting the anguish out into the open and voicing it as a prayer, the psalm gives dignity to our suffering. It does not look on suffering as something slightly embarrassing that must be hushed up and locked in a closet (where it finally becomes a skeleton) because this sort of thing shouldnÂ’t happen to a real person of faith. And it doesnÂ’t treat it as a puzzle that must be explained, and therefore turn it over to theologians or philosophers to work out an answer. Suffering is set squarely, openly, passionately before God. It is acknowledged and expressed. It is described and lived."

"Given our accustomed ways of surrounding the important events with attention-getting publicity and given the importance of this event thatÂ’s a big surprise. Bright lights and amplification are not accessories to spiritual formation."

"Devotions are the discipline of being quiet and listening for what we donÂ’t hear in the streets, in the media, in the workplace."

"Classically, there are three ways in which humans try to find transcendence--religious meaning--apart from God as revealed through the cross of Jesus: through the ecstasy of alcohol and drugs, through the ecstasy of recreational sex, through the ecstasy of crowds. Church leaders frequently warn against the drugs and the sex, but at least, in America, almost never against the crowds."

"Exile (being where we don't want to be with people we don't want to be with) forces a decision: Will I focus my attention on what is wrong with the world and feel sorry for myself? Or will I focus my energies on how I can live at my best in this place I find myself?...I will do my best with what is here."

"God did not become a servant so that we could order him around."

"Forgiveness is the last word. I take no interest in eliminating the tension between justice and forgiveness by taking justice off the table."

"God does not want us neurotically dependent on him but willingly trustful in him. And so he weans us. The period of infancy will not be sentimentally extended beyond what is necessary."

"God is not stingy – providing only for bare survival."

"God is at the foundation and God is at the boundaries."

"GodÂ’s children do different things. Some run away from it and pretend that the family doesnÂ’t exist. Some move out and get an apartment on their own from which they return to make occasional visits (or raids!), nearly always showing for the parties and bringing a gift to show that they really do hold the others in fond regard. And some would never dream of leaving but cause others to dream it for them, for they are always criticizing what is done and complaining that the others in the family are either ignoring or taking advantage of them. And some determine to find out what God has in mind by placing them in this community called a church, learn how to function in it harmoniously and joyously, and develop the maturity that is able to share and exchange GodÂ’s grace with those who might otherwise be viewed as nuisances."

"Have no fear about doing so, for we have a “warts-and-all” religion."

"Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusions. It is not compelled to work away at keeping up appearances with a bogus spirituality. It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying. And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he would do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith."

"I haven't made that decision. But I would certainly welcome the superintendent of schools, instead of pointing the finger at everybody and everything, taking some accountability of what is happening on his watch."

"Help comes from the Creator, not from the creation."

"I will not try to run my own life or the lives of others; that is God's business."

"I have my doubts (that the schools will open on time). We have a law case out of Sojourner-Douglass, and at Chesapeake we have all kinds of issues."

"I wish him well. Now he can continue to pursue his dream of excellence in education."

"I was astonished to learn in one of these best-selling books (on church life) that the size of my church parking lot had far more to do with how things fared in my congregation than my choice of texts in preaching. I was being lied to and I knew it."

"If a pastor is not in touch with joy, it will be difficult to preach or teach convincingly that the news is good."

"If by spiritual direction you mean entering into a friendship with another person in which an awareness and responsiveness to God's Spirit in the everydayness of your life is cultivated, fine. Then why call in an awkward term like spiritual direction? Why not just friend?"

"I think generally we're heading in the right direction, but we still don't have enough seats for all these kids."

"If we are going to live adequately and maturely as the people of God, we need more data to work from than our experience can give us. We need other experiences, the community of experience of brothers and sisters in the church, the centuries of experience provided by our biblical ancestors. A Christian who has David in his bones, Jeremiah in his bloodstream, Paul in his fingertips and Christ in his heart will know how much and how little value to put on his own momentary feelings and the experience of the past week."

"If we define the nature of our lives by the mistake of the moment or the defeat of the hour or the boredom of the day, we will define it wrongly. We need roots in the past to give obedience ballast and breadth; we need a vision of the future to give obedience direction and goal. There must be an organic unity between past and future lived in the present."

"If we're trying to set education policy, we have to listen to the education experts."

"In the call to worship we hear GodÂ’s first word to us; in the benediction we hear GodÂ’s last word to us; in the Scripture lessons we hear God speaking to our fathers; in the sermon we hear that word re-expressed to us; in the hymns, which are all to a greater or lesser extent paraphrases of Scripture, the Word of God makes our prayers articulate."

"Instead of asking, “Why does this happen Why do I feel left in the lurch” we can ask “How does it happen that there are people who sing with such confidence, ‘God’s strong name is our help’”"

"Individualism is the growth-stunting, maturity-inhibiting habit of understanding growth as an isolated self-project. Individualism is self-ism with swagger. The individualist is the person who is convinced that he or she can serve God without dealing with God. This is the person who is sure that he or she can love neighbors without knowing their names. This is the person who assumes that ‘getting ahead’ involves leaving other people behind. This is the person who having gained competence in knowing God or people or world, uses that knowledge to take charge of God or people or world."

"Intimacy [with God] does not preclude reverence. True intimacy does not eliminate a sacred awe."

"It is a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts."

"IsnÂ’t it odd that pastors, who are responsible for interpreting the Scriptures, so much of which come in the form of poetry, have so little interest in poetry? Â… Words create. GodÂ’s word creates; our words can participate in creation."

"Instead, why don't you look over the congregation on Sundays and pick someone who appears to be mature and congenial. Ask her or him if you can meet together every month or so - you feel the need to talk about your life in the company of someone who believes that Jesus is present and active in everything you are doing. Reassure the person that he or she doesn't have to say anything wise. You only want them to be there for you to listen and be prayerful in the listening. After three or four such meetings, write to me what has transpired, and we'll discuss it further."

"It is far easier to deal with people as problems to be solved than to have anything to do with them in community."

"It is uncommonly difficult to stay centered and absorbed on our primary life-affirming, life witnessing work. We continue to perform the vast array of activities in work and conversation that I’ve listed, and more than that. but we are also under the continual threat of death, of becoming disconnected from life and people and god and just going through the biological motions – mouthing clichés and not participating in life itself."

"It is easier to find guides, someone to tell you what to do, than someone to be with you in a discerning, prayerful companionship as you work it out yourself. This is what spiritual direction is."

"I've had a number of men and women who have served me in this way over the years - none carried the title spiritual director, although that is what they have been. Some had never heard of such a term. When I moved to Canada a few years ago and had to leave a long-term relationship of this sort, I looked around for someone whom I could be with in this way. I picked a man whom I knew to be a person of integrity and prayer, with seasoned Christian wisdom in his bones. I anticipated that he would disqualify himself. So I pre-composed my rebuttal: All I want you to do is two things: show up and shut up. Can you do that? Meet with me every six weeks or so, and just be there - an honest, prayerful presence with no responsibility to be anything other than what you have become in your obedient lifetime. And it worked. If that is what you mean by spiritual director, okay. But I still prefer friend."

"ItÂ’s a wonderful formula for getting to heaven the quickest and easiest way. And virtually foolproof. There is no time to backslide, no temptations to bother with, no doubts to wrestle with, no spouse to have to honor, no kids to put up with, no enemies to love, no more sorrow, no more tears. Instant eternity."

"It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest."