Jesus Forsaken For Us

On Maundy Thursday I was interviewed on JCN’s “The Platform” by Wendell Jones and Godfrey Eneas. I was asked to explain why Jesus exclaimed “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” while hanging on the cross. The video above provides part of my answer. The audio below is a more comprehensive answer from my Good Friday message, delivered at St. Andrew’s Kirk, “God Forsaken For Our Sake”.

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I Need Thee, O I Need Thee

As a part of our congregation’s desire to promote theological education, we produce a recommended reading list for our congregation a few times a year. The list of 9 books that we recently recommended were all about the church. (Transformational Church, Simple Church, The Irresistible Church, The Purpose Driven Church, Being The Body, Nine Marks Of A Healthy Church, Onward Christian Soldiers, The Trellis and The Vine, 7 Practices Of Effective Ministry).

All nine of the books we recommended have been helpful in shaping me as a pastor and as a leader of a local congregation. I am grateful for these resources and for those who have produced them. One of the common features you’ll find when reading books about the church is there often is a prescribed number of activities or habits—”9 Marks”, “7 Practices”, “12 Traits”, 5 steps, and so on.

I recognize that such numbers are intended to focus our effort, rather than serve as an exhaustive list of things needed for ministry. Allow me then to weigh in with this brief post, offering but one trait to pursue: desperation.

Yes, desperation.

Of all the things that have served me well in my 15 years of ministry, desperation for God’s presence in my life has been the most vital asset.

That’s not to suggest that nothing else matters. Leadership matters. Good preaching is a must. There is value in strong administration. Wise delegation is critical. A mission emphasis is needed. The list is long. I get why some want to boil the list down to 12, 9, 7, etc.

There are times, however, when it has been helpful for me to focus on one thing. The pressure of pastoring effectively can be intense, and the responsibilities set before us are often numerous. What keeps my anxiety at bay is the notion that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

Accordingly, I find that the one thing I must do is seek God with all that is within me. I am quite literally desperate for His help, remembering the words of Jesus, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

I’ve been reading the Book of Exodus lately and I’ve found myself resonating with Moses who, by every appearance, was also desperate for the presence of God. Moses is struggling to lead the Hebrew people through the desert and is constantly coming to God for assurance of His favor. Accommodating Moses’ desperation, the Lord replies, “My presence will go with you” (Exodus 33:14).

I love Moses’ response: “If Your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” (Exodus 33:15).

Moses understands that it would be a complete waste of time to attempt to lead, or do anything, without God’s help.

I long for every Christian pastor to come to that same realization. That, before we seek to implement our 24 step plan, before we launch that new outreach program, before we seek to do anything…we seek God first.

Friend, I urge you: Be desperate for God.

Few hymns capture such a spirit the way the hymn, I Need Thee Every Hour, does.

I need thee every hour; stay thou nearby;
temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.

I need thee every hour, in joy or pain;
come quickly and abide, or life is vain.

We want our efforts to count for something. We don’t want anything that we do to be in vain. There is a way to make things count. There is a particular way to go if we want to make a lasting difference. We need to go with God…Every step of the way.

As a pastor, one of the best things I can do for the congregation entrusted to my care is to model desperation. Model desperation for the One “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

Stay desperate my friends!