to teach people to pray

Eugene Peterson is a mentor of mine, though we have never met face-to-face or time-to-time. Peterson writes about lots of things and wrote The Message, a modern language version of the Bible.

Recently, I read The Contemplative Pastor, subtitled “Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction.” In the middle of the book, Peterson writes of how he moved out of seminary and into being a pastor.

“I had been on an exuberant foray into the country of Scripture and theology in my years of study and was eager to take other on safari with me. I knew I could rescue the Arian controversy from textbook dullness and present the decipherment of Ugaritic in such ways that would enhance appreciation for the subtle elegances of biblical language and story.

But these people I was now living with were coming … not to get facts on the Philistines and Pharisees, but to pray. They were hungering to grow in Christ, not bone  up for an examination in dogmatics.

Out of that recognition a conviction grew: that my primary educational task as a pastor was to teach people to pray.

The more I worked with people at or near the centers of their lives where God and the human, faith and the absurd, love and indifference were tangled in daily traffic jams, the less it seemed that the way I had been going about teaching made much difference, and the more that teaching them to pray did.

One day I realized that there are more posts here about prayer than any other subject. But maybe it’s because Eugene and I share a good teacher:

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

7 thoughts on “to teach people to pray

  1. Curt Liechty

    So true. But those “dogmatics” are the thing that distinguish which “God” we are praying to. The Mormon god is not the Christian God. Without doctrine we could be praying to a demon god—a god Satan would love.

    And doctrine is not opposed to intimacy with God, but enriches that relationship.


    1. Jon Swanson

      and Peterson goes on to say that he is not opposed to teaching doctrine. And will continue to do it.

      And it is very interesting that you use the word intimacy, because that is a kind of language that Peterson moves to next. Maybe you just gave me tomorrow’s post.


  2. Rich Dixon

    To borrow from one of your earlier metaphors–you didn’t learn about your wife by having someone else tell you of her character. You learned (and still learn) by talking to her, spending time with her, being vulnerable with her.

    God is who He is (I think He even said something like that.) When we fuss about others’ “wrong” notions about God we don’t give His spirit much credit. After all, Jesus didn’t spend much time eith doctrine, but He did talk a lot about love.

    Personally–I think you made God smile this morning.


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