Eugene Peterson on how life slowly, almost unnoticeably leaks.
I love the stuff Eugene Peterson writes. He’s best known perhaps for his recent work, translating/paraphrasing the Scriptures in The Message. When I was in seminary I read some of his books; in fact, his book, The Contemplative Pastor, was one of the most impacting books I read back in the early 1990s.
Now that he has completed The Message, Peterson has returned to writing, and he’s churning out the books like crazy. We have three of them (I think there are currently four), so far, but may not get to them till after graduation next spring. However, Joleen and I are occasionally reading together a little from one of his latest books, Living the Resurrection. A section we read last night especially grabbed my attention (emphasis added):
It’s a curious thing but not uncommon for Christians to begin well and gradually get worse. Instead of progressing like a pilgrim from strength to strength, we regress. Just think of the Christians you really admire. Aren’t most of them recent converts? Isn’t it exciting? Then think of the Christians that you’re just bored to death with. Aren’t they people who have been Christians for forty or fifty years? They are wearing out—not just in body but in everything else too. There are exceptions, of course.
We lose our vitality. We become dull. We continue to go through these life-affirming, Christ-honoring motions, but our hearts are no longer in it.
The regression is rarely dramatic. It’s not sudden. We start out with life, life, life, and more life. God is primary and present in all we do. But then while we’re happily and innocently going about our work, our feet get tangled up in those cords of Sheol, those ropes of death. It is so casual at first that we hardly notice. But then one cord gets attached—who knows how?—to an ankle by a double half hitch. Then there’s another and another. Before we know it, we are regressing. We are hobbled. We become less. We lose the immediacy, spontaneity, and exuberance of resurrection life.
Interestingly, this often takes place at the same time we’re becoming successful in the eyes of our peers, associates, employers, or congregations. But the life is leaking out. God and life have become disconnected.
As we read that, I thought about the necessity of both gifts and character. In the beginning, we have only undeveloped gifts and we know we need God. But as our gifts develop, if we’re not careful, we begin to rely more and more on our own gifts, and therefore, rely on God less. As the life leaks out, our gifts outpace our character and that leads to all kinds of problems!
Like all leaders, I want to continually grow and develop my (God-given) gifts, but no matter how much my gifts develop, I must be intentional about maintaining my connection with God and growing/developing my character. Truth is, my (God-given) gifts are only of real value when my character is at least as developed as my gifts.
What are you doing to guard against the inevitable leaking of life?