to teach people to pray

Eugene Peterson is was a mentor of mine, though we have never met face-to-face or time-to-time. Peterson wrote about lots of things and wrote The Message, a modern language version of the Bible. He died in 2018. He once sent me a letter that made a difference in the words that you read here.

Years ago, 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.

IMG_0228One day I realized that there are more posts here about prayer than any other subject. It’s why I write posts like the one yesterday, because when I prayed with that patient, and when I described it for you, it was to help us all understand how to talk with God.

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.”


Based on a post first published in 2010.