Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Personal Conversation With God Intersects With Everything (Prayer Summer)

Lake Erie
I once told one of my doctoral students at Palmer Theological Seminary this: "If you don't have time to pray I would never want you to preach in my church." This student was a famous preacher. But they were resisting my course assignment to pray at least one hour a day.

Eugene Peterson, in his wonderful autobiography The Pastor: A Memoir, tells a similar story  (Note: If you are a pastor this book will kill the "mega" within you.)

Peterson writes of attending, as a young pastor, a seminar led by a Presbyterian professor who was a leader in the field of pastoral theology. "He was absolutely brilliant. I was absolutely impressed. He appeared to know everything and fluently articulate everything."

The professor talked about the life and work of a pastor. "I was totally awed by the clarity and probing insights he brought the the subject. For the first hour or so I was under his spell." But then something happened. Peterson "began feeling that something was not quite right." This great professor didn't have a clue about real pastoring, and about what real pastors really needed. When Peterson asked him a question, he responded: Read my books. "He kept referring to his pioneering writings in the field." But he had almost no experience in the field. "It turned out that he had been an associate pastor for one year in a town in Connecticut."

When Peterson returned home the seminar he bought all eight of the scholar's books. Peterson writes: "If he was the person who knew the most about pastoral theology in America, I wanted to be informed. After the second book and starting on the third, something didn't seem right. I looked in the index under the heading of "prayer." Nothing. Not a single reference to prayer. Nor was there anything about prayer in the other seven books. "I took the books to the landfill and dumped them. Pastoral theology without prayer and without congregation? Nobody in my neighborhood was going to read these books if I had any say in it."

Somewhere, in a landfill in Baltimore, there are eight free books by a "great scholar." I know I won't be going to look for them. I'm with Peterson here. "I knew one thing for sure: the work of prayer was at the heart of everything. Personal conversation with God had to intersect with everything I thought or said, whether in the sanctuary or on the street corner."

After teaching courses on prayer at various theological seminaries for the past 35 years I find it rare to see a Westernized pastor who has a prayer life.