Formerly published as PRAYING WITH JESUS, Eugene Peterson's writing is now released as A YEAR WITH JESUS, an easy-to-read hardcover devotional divided into 365 portions. Peterson, best known as the author of THE MESSAGE BIBLE, walks readers through the Gospels of Matthew and John. Ironically, though, this book uses the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible rather than The Message as its Bible text.
Each reading opens with a portion of scripture from the Gospels, beginning with Matthew 1:1. Following the scripture is a short observation or insight on the passage and an introspective question. Concluding every devotion is a prayer based on the passage and meditation. These one-page and, at times, half-page entries take but moments to read and can be enjoyed by anyone --- even those with significant time constraints.
When reflecting on Matthew 11:7-11, the portion of scripture where Jesus reflects on John the Baptist beginning with the words, "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?", Peterson writes:
"Are we tourists, sightseeing in religion with binoculars and camera? Do we reduce the man of God to a spectacle? But the gospel is not a spectator sport; it is not window-shopping. God's rule has already broken in. The participation of the least, not the fame of the great, is what is important. Why was John important?"
Such insightful notes, though brief, provide much mediation for the reader. But as rich as the text and devotional readings are, Peterson's goal clearly is to prod people toward prayer. He believes that the goal of spending a year with Jesus is primarily to learn how to pray. He notes that prayers do not start with us, but rather they begin with Jesus. After all, before any words leave our lips, Jesus is the one who is already praying for us.
He writes, "Prayer is a way of living. It is not a subject to be studied. It is not a technique to be learned. It is a life lived in response to God. We do not learn about prayer, we learn to pray; and the prayer, as it turns out, is never just prayer, but involves every dimension of our lives --- eating, drinking, loving, working, walking, reading, singing. The way we follow Jesus must be internalized and embodied. That is what prayer does, gets Jesus inside of us, gets his Spirit into our muscles and reflexes. There is no other way."
Such is the journey of A YEAR WITH JESUS. While you could sit down and digest this book in a few sittings if you chose to read it from cover to cover, you'd miss out on the depth and the richness that come with personal reflection and prayer. That's why it is more of an invitation to deepen your relationship with God and connect with Him in a fresh, relevant way by going back to the basics: Scripture, meditation and prayer.
Like all of Eugene Peterson's work, this is one you won't want to miss.
Reviewed by Reviewed by Margaret Oines on October 31, 2006