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Influential Books: Leap Over a Wall

Lord, you light my lamp;
my God illuminates my darkness.
With you I can attack a barricade,
and with my God I can leap over a wall.
God—his way is perfect;
the word of the Lord is pure.
He is a shield to all who take refuge in him.

Psalm 18:28-30; 2 Samuel 22:29-31


I love this image of David running towards a stone wall and leaping! Imagine God beside you; how confidence flows from Him! David had the humility to realize that he could do nothing without God. And he was confident enough to think that he could do even the most difficult undertakings with God on his side.

Book cover, Leap Over a Wall, reflections on the life of David

Sure, David was flawed; he sinned.  David’s life is egregiously inadequate. Peterson makes this the book’s main argument rather than avoiding it. David serves as an illustration of how God works in and through the weakness of man. The title of this book, Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians, encapsulates its theme. In his book, Peterson aims to illustrate how we can encounter God’s power and presence in our ordinary lives, just as David did.

Eugene Peterson explores the life of David in Leap Over a Wall, each chapter focusing on one story in David’s life and its applications to our lives. Peterson points out that David’s life is not given to us as a morality tale, nor are we to emulate David. Instead of seeing a superhero larger than life as the book progresses through the narrative portraying David’s friendships, desert wanderings, loss, love, suffering, sin, and last days, the reader instead sees a God who is both present and active in every facet of life. David is not our conquering king, but he points to the “real” King!

“This is perhaps the place to note that the story of David isn’t set before us as a moral model to copy. David isn’t a person whose actions we’re inspired to imitate. In the company of David we don’t feel inadequate because we know we would never do it that well. Just the opposite: in the company of David we find someone who does it as badly as, or worse than, we do, but who in the process doesn’t quit, doesn’t withdraw from God. David’s isn’t an ideal life but an actual life. We enter the company of David not to improve our morals but to deepen our sense of human reality” (pg. 72).

I remember first reading this book about 20 years ago. The doctor had just explained that I had an autoimmune disease. It was discouraging – mostly because I didn’t feel well and could see no light at the end of that tunnel. I was also in a challenging position at work, where I struggled to make wise choices. Peterson’s words ministered truth to me when I was particularly aware of my weaknesses and needed to know the power of God that was mine.

Quotes to Share

On Stories

“One of the great impoverishments of many adult lives is the absence of children’s stories, whether read or told or listened to” (pg. 37).

“Stories are as important as toys” (pg. 38).

“There’s something just beneath the surface of everything, something invisible and inaudible but just as real, maybe even more real, than what we’re seeing and hearing and touching. Stories are our primary means for exploring these beneath-the surface, behind-the-scenes realities that are as present and immediate to us as anything we have access to through our five senses” (pg. 38).

“Story is the primary way in which the revelation of God is given to us. The Holy Spirit’s literary genre of choice is story” (pg. 3).

“Story is the most adequate way we have of accounting for our lives, noticing the obscure details that turn out to be pivotal, appreciating the subtle accents of color and form and scent that give texture to our actions and feelings, giving coherence to our meetings and relationships in work and family, finding our precise place in the neighborhood and in history” (pg. 4).

“Story is the gospel way” (pg. 4).

“Story. To get this revelation right, we enter the story” (pg. 3).

So just a sidebar, this is why I read both fiction and non-fiction. Of course, the Bible is essential 101 reading – without it, we don’t know the truth. We must be careful how we absorb the truth. In addition to scripture, we read books by men and women who have insight into scripture, like these influential books I share with you weekly. But we also learn from fiction, fairy tales, adventure stories, and mysteries. Russell Moore wrote an excellent short essay on why Christians should read fiction – check it out!

On Wilderness Experiences

“An hour or so into the wilderness, my perceptions began to sharpen–sights, sound, smell. This happens in the wilderness. You see more, hear more, yes, believe more, which is why it holds such a prominent place in our traditions of spirituality. … Yet in the solitude, awareness develops of your part in this intricate and precarious web of life. A sense of holiness take shape; the sacred surfaces” (pg. 72).

“Everybody–at least everybody who has anything to do with God–spends time in the wilderness, so it’s important to know what can take place there” (pg. 72).

“This means that while Saul was the occasion for David’s being in the wilderness, Saul neither defined nor dominated the wilderness. The wilderness was full of God, not Saul” (pg. 79).

“Wilderness, in itself, makes nothing happen. Saul and David were both in the wilderness. Saul was running after David, obsessed … David was running to God and finding himself in His God-refuge praying … We can’t be naive about the wilderness; it’s a dangerous place. But we must never avoid the wilderness. It’s a wonderful place” (pg. 80).

On Friendship

Friendship is a much-underestimated aspect of spirituality. It’s every bit as significant as prayer and fasting. Like the sacramental use of water and bread and wine, friendship takes what’s common in human experience and turns it into something holy” (pg. 53).

“The greatest thing any person can do for another is to confirm the deepest thing in him, in her–to take the time and have the discernment to see what’s most deeply there, most fully that person, and then confirm it by recognizing and encouraging it” (pg. 54).

“And then someone enters our life who isn’t looking for someone to use, is leisurely enough to find out what’s really going on in us, is secure enough not to exploit our weaknesses or attack our strengths, recognizes our inner life and understands the difficulty of living out our inner convictions, confirms what’s deepest within us. A friend” (pg. 54).

“But [friendship’s] spiritual quality does make it rare and, for those who enter into it, exquisite” (pg. 118).

On Sin, the Gospel & Worship

“The precise details of our sin may not correspond to David’s, but the presence and recurrence of sin does. The moment we recognize our common sin bond with David, we’re ready for the real surprise here — the gospel story that develops out of the sin story” (pg. 184).

“This is the gospel focus: you are the man; you are the woman. The gospel is never about somebody else; it’s always about you, about me. … The gospel is never a commentary on ideas or culture or conditions; it’s always about actual persons, actual pain, actual trouble, actual sin, you, me who you are and what you’ve done; who I am and what I’ve done” (pg. 185).

“Insiders to the gospel know that the sentence ‘I have sinned against the Lord,’ is a sentence full of hope. It’s full of hope because it’s a sentence full of God” (pg. 186).

“In the Christian life our primary task isn’t to avoid sin, which is impossible anyway, but to recognize sin” (pg. 186).

“David’s sin, enormous as it was, was wildly outdone by God’s grace. … It is always a mistake to concentrate attention on our sins; it’s God’s work on our sins that’s the main event” (pg. 186).

“Worship is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God. [It’s the] time and place that we assign for deliberate attentiveness to God … because our self-importance is so insidiously relentless that if we don’t deliberately interrupt ourselves regularly, we have no chance of attending to him at all at other times and in other places” (pg. 153)

A Song of Praise

Come Thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise

Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy redeeming love

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here by Thy great help I’ve come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home

Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

Oh, that day when freed from sinning
I shall see Thy lovely face
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace

Come my Lord, no longer tarry
Take my ransomed soul away
Send Thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless days

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Here’s my heart
Oh take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Robert Robinson

In reviewing Leap Over a Wall, I realize there is so much more I’d like to ponder for a while. That’s what is fun about reviewing these books for you.

I don’t keep every book I read – the house won’t hold those. I keep only a few shelves of books – ones that, for some reason, ask to be kept! They are books that resonated deeply in a particular season of life.

Reference: Peterson, E. H. (1997). Leap over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everday Christians (1st ed.). Harper San Francisco.

Next Up … The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner

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