All of us have influencers in our lives, people who have had a transformative effect. Somewhere around the late 80’s, as a young and rather desperate pastor, I read Working the Angles. I was still getting my bearings for this thing called ministry, and Eugene Peterson’s work drew the lines and the worked out the angles. It is perhaps his most distilled description of pastoral work. Prayer, reading Scripture, and giving spiritual direction give shape and integrity to ministry. They are the angles that inform the lines–preaching, teaching, and administration.
Lately, it seems like nothing falls into place. Nothing comes easily to me. I wrestle. I strive. I fight. And . . . nothing. There’s a little voice within that enjoys pointing out that if God were really in control of the whole universe, then it would be easy for him to change my circumstances. It would take him no effort whatsoever to make a tweak here and there and poof! my life would be fixed. That voice takes my good theology—a high view of God’s meticulous rule—and comes to poor conclusions that God is withholding something good from me.
The third major chapter of the Bible turns from history to reflection. Some scholars call Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon the “Poetic Books.” They certainly are poetic in the Hebrew sense of parallel thought or expression of ideas. But the thematic focus of these books is worship and wisdom.
The prophetic indictments against the people of God for their failure to follow his commands to care for the poor and marginalized are always chilling for me to read. This week I was struck by the simple command given through the prophet Amos, “Hate evil, and love good…”
Worldly perfectionism causes us to question whether we’re good enough, to miss opportunities because we’re afraid of failing, and to fixate on the immediate rather than eternal. It distracts us from fulfilling our mission by setting our hearts on achieving worldly gain rather than faithful gospel-centered living. In our sinful and competitive hearts, we all want to be that woman (or man): beloved and envied by all. We want to shine bright enough to attract everyone’s attention, and ensure they’re too dazzled by our splendor to notice our flaws.