We try to live the good life and not the God life, and it doesn’t work.Eugene Peterson
Most of us want, in one way or another, to live a good life. But how? Eugene Peterson begins his book, “Run with the Horses,” with the statement, “The puzzle is why so many people live so badly.” It is a puzzle, isn’t it? No one I know wants to live badly, but we all do. We all fall short of our own expectations again and again. Paul’s famous words in Romans 7 ring true for generation after generation: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
So, what’s the answer? It’s simple, writes Peterson. If we want to live the good life, we must live the God life. Simple, but not easy. So, how do we learn to do this? And who shall we learn this from? In a time when “we have celebrities but not saints,” when “neither the adventure of goodness nor the pursuit of righteousness gets headlines,” where shall we turn? Peterson turns to a more ancient source: the prophet Jeremiah. For fifty years, Peterson writes in this book, Jeremiah had been example and mentor for him. And Peterson offers us the same gift in this wonderful book. He takes us through Jeremiah’s life, not just his words but his life, “and reflects on them personally and pastorally in the context of present, everyday life.” His goal: “to stir up a dissatisfaction with anything less than our best. I want to provide fresh documentation that the only way to live at our best is in a life of radical faith in God.” His goal was met, at least for me.
But, still, we might wonder what we can learn from a great biblical prophet like Jeremiah. After all, Jeremiah was born to be great. He famously heard this word from the Lord: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:6). Most of us are obviously not called to be prophets to the nations. But Peterson argues that “God’s call to Jeremiah to be a prophet parallels his call to us to be a person.” We are not all called to be prophets, but we are all known by God; we are all consecrated; and we are all called “to live in God’s image, alive to all that is God, open and responsive to all he is doing.”
If we are to do this, if we want to do this, we can find guidance in the “ancient paths” of scripture, “where the good way lies.” (Jeremiah 6:16) With Peterson’s book in one hand, and the Book of Jeremiah in the other, we can be reminded of where this good way lies; we can find again this ancient path to which we all are called. In chapter after chapter, each fairly short and with a specific theme, Peterson takes us through Jeremiah’s life and helps us to learn from him how to live our life at its best.
“What a waste,” Peterson writes, “it would be to take these short, precious, eternity-charged years that we are given and squander them in cocktail chatter when we can be, like Jeremiah, vehemently human and passionate with God.” That is where the good life lies – not in being perfect, but in being “vehemently human and passionate with God.”
Like all of Peterson’s books, this one is written well, with passion and conviction, and with sentences that simply leap off the page. Here are a few more of my favorites:
Believers argue with God; skeptics argue with each other.
Prayer is the secret work that develops a life that is thoroughly authentic and deeply human.
That was the secret of his persevering pilgrimage – not thinking with dread about the long road ahead but greeting the present moment, every present moment, with obedient delight, with expectant hope: ‘My heart is ready!’
God is not a random thought. God is not a word to fill in the gaps of what we don’t know. God is actively, energetically dealing with people in love.
A command is a word that calls us to live beyond what we presently understand or feel or want.
Scripture’s task is to tell people, at the risk of their displeasure, the mystery of God and the secrets of their own hearts.
The aim of the person of faith is not to be as comfortable as possible but to live as deeply and thoroughly as possible – to deal with the reality of life, discover truth, create beauty, act out love.
The primary interest of people of faith in Jeremiah is not in his historical impact but in his personal development. Only a few people make the historical headlines, but anyone can become human.
Hope commits us to actions that connect with God’s promises.
We cannot be whole human beings if we cut ourselves off from the environment which God created and in which he is working. People of faith live in a far larger reality than people without faith.
Jeremiah chose to live by faith. Living by faith does not mean living with applause; living by faith does not mean playing on the winning team; living by faith demands readiness to live by what cannot be seen or controlled or predicted.
If you want to be reminded of how to live the good life, which can only truly be done by living the “God life,” this book would be a terrific companion along the way.
Run with Horses is available on Amazon.
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