Eugene Peterson and a review of “A Burning in My Bones”

My Reading of Eugene Peterson

As a seminary student, I first introduced to the writings of Eugene Peterson. I don’t remember the class, but I had to read Working the Angles. Later, a girlfriend during my senior year gave me a copy of Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. Shortly after graduating, I read The Long Obedience, which focuses on the Psalms of Ascents (Psalm 120-134). I would later read Under the Unpredictable Plant (a commentary on Jonah), Reverse Thunder (commentary on Revelation), among others. This was all before Peterson began to publish his own translation of Scripture which, when completed, came out as The Message. Shortly after its publication, I meet Peterson at a pastoral conference for those serving in Utah (where I was at the time). I remember him being willing to sign any book but The Message. He didn’t feel he should sign a book as he didn’t write it. It wasn’t his book, he just translated it. I also found myself surprised that he didn’t have the big booming voice one assumes of preachers. His voice was high pitched, but his words drew you in.

Peterson has been influential in my pastoral life. In 2013, after having completed a major building campaign and church relocation, I considered leaving the ministry. About this time, I read Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Leaving Church. In the past, I had always found Taylor’s writings supportive and insightful, but read this book reinforced my thoughts of abandoning the ministry. Then, thankfully, I picked up Peter’s recent memoir, The Pastor. I again found purpose and encouragement for continuing the ministry. I am indebted to Peterson. 

My Review of A Burning in my Bones

Winn Collier, A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson (WaterBrook, 2021), 339 pages including some photos and notes.

Eugene Peterson is from Montana and the West played a major role in his life. His father was a butcher and his mother often served as a Pentecostal preacher. From this background, Peterson was nurtured for what became his ministry. After college in Seattle, he attended seminary in New York City. While there, he begins to attend a Presbyterian Church and later even worked as a student at a Presbyterian Church. A student of languages, he started work on a doctorate with some of the top Old Testament professors in the country (Albright and later Childs) but felt the call to ministry.

Peterson was ordinated by the Presbyterian Church and sent to Baltimore, Maryland where he and his wife would help organize a new Presbyterian congregation. He would serve this church for 29 years. There were exciting times, especially in the beginning, followed by a period of doldrums, till finally Peterson understood his calling. Unlike many with his skills, he resisted the temptation to build or seek a larger church. He wanted to be a pastor. And in Scripture, he found solace. With his skill in language, he would often translate passages for Bible Study and preaching. These became the beginnings of The Message.

Much of Peterson’s life until he left the ministry is also told in his memoir, The Pastor. However, Collier provides a more critical view of his life. In addition to having access to this former volume and to his papers, Collier spent time talking to Peterson and interviewed his wife and family, along with colleague and friends. 

As a pastor, Peterson began to write books and would take an extended yearly vacation to Montana. After retiring, he devoted himself to completing his translation of scripture in addition to teaching five years at Regents in Vancouver. Then he returned to his beloved Montana for the last years of his life. During this time, he began writing a series of books on pastoral theology. The last section of the book, from where Peterson left Baltimore to his death, was the most enlightening to me. I especially liked the sensitivity Collier shows in Peterson’s apparent flip-flopping on the issue of same-sex marriage. Sadly, his mind was becoming muddled. Shortly afterwards, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  


Peterson has left behind a great volume of work that will benefit the church for years to come. His life was devoted to God’s word and God’s people. In many ways, he was both embraced and rejected by those on the ideological extremes, for Peterson refused to be used as a political pawn in church wars. I am thankful that Collier has provided those of us who found much to appreciate in Peterson’s writings an insight into his life.  Last spring, at HopeWords Writer’s Conference in Bluefield, West Virginia, I met Collier. At the time, I had to admit that I had his book (it was a Christmas present) but had not read it. He signed my copy anyway. Now, I have read it!

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 1

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
October 16, 2022
“Lord, teach us to pray: The Lord’s Prayer, Part 1”
Luke 11:1-4

Thoughts at the beginning of worship

It’s good to be back with you this morning. While gone I did a lot of reading including Winn Collier’s biography of Eugene Peterson. Starting back in seminary, I began reading Peterson’s writings and have found them insightful. Peterson, who died a few years ago, is best known as the translator of The Messageversion of the Bible. Before that, he primarily wrote for pastors and his writings display a pastor’s heart. 

My preaching plan between now and Advent is to focus on the Lord’s Prayer. Prayer is one of our primary responsibilities as disciples and we’ve been talking about discipleship a lot. Through prayer, we develop a relationship with the Almighty. The Lord’s Prayer is a logical place to start teaching prayer. In Collier’s biography of Peterson, I found myself encouraged in this task as Peterson envisioned two essentials for a pastor’s job description: teaching people to pray and to have a good death.[1] As you can image, I have more personal experience with the first. I do try to pray and haven’t yet died. But if any of you need to talk about a good death, I’ll be here for you. We can learn together. 

John Calvin on Prayer

Today and for the next six weeks, I’ll discuss what it means to pray? Some might ask if God knows all, who are we to pray and to tell God what we need? John Calvin dealt with this question. 

Calvin begins his discussion on prayer, which he calls the chief exercise of faith, with an acknowledgment that we don’t have all we need. In other words, we’re not self-sufficient. So, we are instructed by faith to realize that “whatever we need and lack is in God, and in our Lord Jesus Christ, in who the Father willed all the fullness of his bounty to abide, so that we might draw from it as an overflowing spring.” “God “the master and bestower of all good things” invites us into prayer.[2]

Before the Reading of Scripture:

The prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer can be found two places in Scripture, in the gospels of Matthew and in Luke.[3]Both are short prayers, especially when compared to other known prayers of the time and from the Old Testament. In the Greek, Matthew’s prayer contains only 58 words. Luke, as we’re going to hear today, is even shorter at 38 words.[4] As a comparison, my pastoral prayers tend to run 300 to 400 words. Maybe I should be a bit more concise. After all, Jesus does condemn the long rambling prayers of the Scribes.[5]

However, we know Jesus’ prayers were often longer than the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus spent the night in prayer up on the mountain before he appointed the disciples.[6] He prayed long enough that the waiting disciples fell asleep.[7]

Prayer involves a relationship

So, it’s not about the length of prayer that’s important, it’s about us acknowledging our own insufficiency and trusting in God. Prayer draws us into that kind of relation, but it’s a relationship in which God has already spoken. While I won’t get into this today, prayer is not just us talking, it’s also involves listening.

Eugene Peterson says this about prayer: “At regular intervals we all need to quit our work and contemplate his, quit talking to each other and listen to him.[8] That’s what happens in prayer.

The traditional way of saying the Lord’s Prayer

While I am going to read the Lord’s Prayer today from Luke’s gospel, I will speak of the prayer as we say it. Traditionally, the Lord’s prayer has been divided into six petitions, three that deal with the praise of God and three that deal with our need. You only get all six in Matthew’s version of the prayer. In Luke’s gospel, we only find five of the petitions. However, since today I am going to stick to the first petition, which both versions share, we’ll be okay. 

Read Luke 11:1-4

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…. 

This rolls off our tongues so naturally, but do we ever stop to think what we are saying? 

Our Father

Consider how this prayer begins. Luke’s shorten version has “Father, hallowed be your name.” From Matthew’s gospel, we get “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” 

It’s important to know that we don’t say, “My Father,” but Out Father. Think of it this way. God is not a personal god, as if I could stash god in pocket as some good luck charm to pull out when I am in trouble. As the Apostles’ Creed proclaims, God is the creator of all: heaven and earth. God doesn’t belong to any of us. Instead, all of us belong to God, for he has created us in his image. To claim God as mine borders on idolatry. To say, “my God,” risks taking God’s name in vain. It’s as if we claim God to be on our side instead of us being on God’s side. So, we acknowledge from the beginning God as the Father of all who believe. 

Second, we can call God our Father not just because we’ve been created by God. God is our Father because through God’s son, Jesus Christ, we are cleaned up—justified and sanctified—so that we can be adopted into God’s family. By praying to God as Father, as Jesus’ teaches, we are invited into an intimate relationship with the divine…. So yes, we have a personal God, but only because God acts first to invite us into a relationship. 

But we also begin our prayer acknowledging our position in the pecking order of creation. Just as a child stands under his or her parents’ authority, we stand under God’s authority. 

In heaven

In Matthew’s gospel, God is given a place: “in heaven.” This doesn’t mean that God is out there and not here. After all, John foretold Jesus’ ministry proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven has come near.[9] Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God coming near, which means essentially the same thing.[10] Jesus also promises the coming of God’s Spirit, which was poured out upon the disciples and believers at Pentecost.[11] Yes, God is near, but God also has a place to observe all that happens until heaven and earth are wedded together.[12] As the Psalmist reminds us:

The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all humankind.
From where he sits enthroned he watches
    all the inhabitants of the earth.[13]

Praise and our role in creation

In this prayer, we acknowledge God and our relationship to the divine. But our role in creation is also important. We have been created to praise God. That’s what we do with the ascriptions of praise at the beginning of this prayer along with the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s now consider the first one: “hallowed be your name.” 

We’re to honor God alone

We could also say, “God alone is to be honored.” This petition relates to the Ten Commandments, especially the third one which says, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.”[14] When we pray the way in which Jesus taught, we keep our priorities in line. We worship an awesome God whose glory we need to reflect in our lives.

One commentator on the Lord’s Prayer says: “this pray teaches us, in all that we do, to hallow the name of God and, in doing so, we discover our true being.”[15] In other words, when we pray the way Jesus taught, we don’t just go to God with a shopping list. Instead, we acknowledge God’s rightful place in the universe and in our lives.  

Through this prayer, Jesus teaches us that we are blessed. Yes, we have a God who already knows everything, but God wants to draw us into a relationship. So, we address God as Father, in a personal manner. We acknowledge God’s role over our lives, and we seek to praise God’s name. 

In writing about prayer in Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Eugene Peterson, whom I spoke of earlier, equates prayer with intimacy. “Intimacy is no easy achievement. There is pain—longing, disappointment, and hurt. But if the costs are considerable, the rewards are magnificent.”[16]

Concluding suggestions

This week take time to pray. Prayer is not just for when you have a need. Begin your prayers in praise. Prayer helps nurture our relationship with God and forms our minds so that we live as God intended. And that’s a good thing. Amen. 

[1] Winn Collier, A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook, 2021), 268.

[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559), III, xx, 1. 

[3] In addition to Scriptures, the prayer can also be found in the Apostolic Father’s Didache. However, this is essentially the same as in Matthew’s gospel.  James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 330.

[4] Edwards, 330. 

[5] Mark 12;38-40, Luke 12;38-40.

[6] Luke 6:12-13.

[7] Luke 22:39-46.

[8] Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angels: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 57.

[9] Matthew 3:2. 

[10] Mark 1:15, Luke 10:9.

[11] John 16:5-15, Acts 2.

[12] Revelation 21.

[13] Psalms 33:13-14. 

[14] Exodus 20:7.

[15] William H. Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, Lord, Teach Us: Th Lord’s Prayer & the Christian Life (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996), 44. 

[16] Eugene H. Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1980), 49.

Chestnut Creek (Behind the Blue Ridge Music Center)