Navigating Change

All of life is change and involves change. Consider:

• the daily journey of the sun across the sky;

• the rhythms of the seasons;

• the steady progress of growth, maturing, and aging;

• the parade of people through our lives – births and deaths; transfers and moves; new neighbors and co-workers;

• the constant development of technological and medical advances;

and the list could go on and on.

But change is difficult. Even when we see the need for habit; even when we are part of the change and desire change; even when we are planning the change; even when we know change is necessary…the truth is that we are creatures of habit. We want others to change; ourselves, not so much.

So how do we navigate change? How do we handle ourselves when we find ourselves in transition? How do we maintain our peace and joy when the transition isn’t what we truly want?

Here are a few thoughts:

Pray. We all know this one. But sometimes we need to be reminded. God answers prayer. God is moved by the prayers of His people. When we are in transition, we need to be in prayer for God to move, to prepare the way, to give us wisdom, and to work in and through our circumstances. And when we have prayed, we need to…

Trust God. As my friend Rob Reimer often says, God is smarter than we are, and He knows things we don’t know. He holds us, and He also holds the future in HIs hands. He can and will take care of us. He will work all things together for our good. Even when we cannot see how that will happen, He does it. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “God is too good to be unkind, and He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace His hand, I can always trust His heart.” And as we are trusting God, we need to…

Be patient. God’s perfect timing doesn’t always seem like it to us. We are stuck in the moment, often thinking of what we are dealing with right now. But God’s perspective is eternal. It can often seem like He isn’t coming through when we need Him to (think Daniel being arrested and put in the lions’ den; Joseph in prison; Abraham living decades with no son, for example). But God knows the what’s, why’s, and when’s better than we could ever hope to. So we need to wait patiently for His moment, the right moment. But in being patient, we also need to listen to God, and when the moment is right, we need to…

Act. God still does His work through His people. Trusting, praying, and being patient don’t relieve us of the responsibility to take action, to do what we can do. We need to hear from Him on the timing; we need to be careful not to rush ahead of Him, and not to lag behind. But we need to act. Carefully, wisely, deliberately – but we need to act.

Psalm 25:9 (NIV) says, “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” May we pray, trust God, wait patiently, and then act – all with humble hearts, that we may hear from Him and receive His guidance.

Wednesday Book Review – Room of Marvels

One of the truths of life that we don’t like to admit or even talk about is that life is a journey of loss.

Over the years, as we grow up and then grow older, there are many things lost – lost innocence, lost friendships, lost loved ones, lost pets, lost prized possessions, lost opportunities, lost potential, lost seasons of life, lost vehicles, and so many more people, things, and experiences.

The realization that we can never return to a relationship or experience, that we will never again see a particular person, never again be able to drive that first car, and so on, can be devastating. As country artist Brad Paisley puts it, “there’s a last time for everything.”

Some losses are much more painful than others, obviously. James (Jim) Bryan Smith, an author and college professor, experienced three great personal losses in a very short period of time in his life.

First, his daughter Madeline. Before Madeline was even born, testing revealed severe birth defects and a rare chromosomal disorder. Jim and his wife were told to plan a funeral before their daughter was born. Miraculously, though, Madeline had a healthy delivery. She lived for about two and a half years, although she was constantly being medically monitored and treated. But following what was supposed to be a routine, simple surgery, Madeline coded and then died.

Six months after the loss of Madeline, Jim’s best friend, singer and songwriter Rich Mullins, was killed in an auto collision.

And then six months later, Jim’s mother, who was seventy but in excellent health, died of a sudden heart attack.

Room of Marvels is a fictional account of Jim’s struggle to reconcile what he taught and believed – that God is good, better than we understand – with the reality of the devastating losses he and his wife experienced in such a short period of time. It begins with a character who represents Jim taking a spiritual retreat at a monastery, searching for answers and feeling hopeless. He realizes that he feels like a complete hypocrite – while he writes and teaches that God is good, he no longer believes it because of his own pain and loss.

While on this retreat, Jim experiences an ongoing dream/vision in which he visits heaven and encounters a number of people. Some are friends, some are family. Some are people he knew, some are people he never met. Some were people whose lives he had impacted knowingly or unknowingly; some were people who had impacted his life, knowingly or unknowingly.

In the process of meeting these people, talking with them, discovering stories, playing checkers, remembering forgotten moments of his life, and discovering the beauty, grace, and love of heaven, Jim finds that his heart is being transformed. He discovers that he can be free to be his true self; that he no longer has to wear masks to try to impress God or others; and that God’s goodness and love for him are beyond what he ever even imagined.

2 Corinthians 4:17 (NJB) tells us that “The temporary, light burden of our hardships is earning us for ever an utterly incomparable, eternal weight of glory.” As James Bryan Smith puts it in the conclusion of this book, “heaven changes everything we suffer on this earth.”

If you have ever suffered a devastating loss, if you have ever wondered how God could be good and allow difficult things to come into our lives, if you have ever suffered and asked “why” then I highly recommend this book for you. Room of Marvels contains a message of hope and transformation that we all need to hear.

You can purchase the Kindle Edition here.

I’m So Tired!

“I’m tired.”

Every day, I begin my day with my Bible, prayer, and my journal.  I start each journal with the date, the time, where I am, and how I feel.  And I’ve realized how often over the past few months the “how I feel” part begins with “I’m tired.”

It’s not just me, though.  I know a lot of tired people.  In fact, as I think about it, I’m amazed at the number of people who respond, “I’m doing okay, just tired” when I ask them how they are.


We live in a time when it’s easy to be tired.  We’ve learned to be more and more efficient, to cram more and more into our days, to be busier and busier at all that we do.  Companies preach efficiency because it benefits the bottom line.  Our families have to be efficient because our kids are involved in so many activities at so many different places.  We live in a world full of opportunities, and we love to take advantage of all those good things.

But we may be killing our souls in the process.

We were created to need rest.  God Himself, in whose image we are created, rested for a whole day after creation:  By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.  Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.  Genesis 2:2-3 (NIV)

Now I know, some people take that to an extreme.  There are some who object and say, “that’s Old Testament; in fact, it’s one of the Ten Commandments.  I don’t have to do that.”  But before the Law was given, God rested.  God, in whose image we are created.  Rest isn’t a Law or commandment issue; it’s an identity issue.  Part of learning to “be” is taking care of ourselves by resting.

Other people take it to the other extreme – a religious extreme.  They make “the Sabbath” about legalistic “rest” rather than peaceful rest, forgetting that Jesus stated that “the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  There are whole segments of Christianity in which legalistic rules govern the Sabbath – no yard work, no building a deck, no gardening, etc.  And it’s all in the name of “the Sabbath.”  Might I suggest that when you work that hard at making sure people are keeping the “Sabbath” properly that it’s not really about rest at all?????

We were created in God’s image, and we need rest.  Scientific studies – I could quote a ton of them if I had the time – show that we need almost 8 hours of sleep to function optimally.  Think about that.  God created us to need rest for of each day – for of our lifetimes, if you think about it.

You were created in the image of the One who rested one day out of seven.  You were also created in such a way that to be healthy, you will sleep for of your life.

Rest restores our bodies and our souls.  Rest forces us to just “be.”

God knows that.  He often meets with us in our times of rest.  In fact, once He told Israel that if they would stop striving and rest in Him, they would be saved from their enemies – but instead, their frenetic fleeing meant that they would instead be conquered:  This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:  “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”  Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

How about you?  Do you rest one day of the week?  Do you rest enough each night (or day, depending on your shift)?

If you want a simple way to grow in just learning to “be” then learn to stop and rest.

Stop and rest.


Because God did.

And He’s stronger, wiser, better, healthier, bigger, and abler than you or me.

If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

The Power of Waiting

Waiting is hard.  It is a rare person who actually enjoys waiting.  (The lone exception I can think of is Brad Paisley, according to his song “Waitin’ On A Woman.”)

Waiting seems to be especially hard when we have received a word or calling from the Lord, giving us some direction and vision for our lives.  We tend to want to just dive in and begin.  But what we often miss is that God reveals something to us so that we will begin to pray and journey towards it.  He is giving us what some call a “preferred prophetic future” – but that’s no guarantee that we will arrive there.  There is effort required on our part, and change and growth that we need to experience.  Almost always, when God calls us to something, it requires a journey of transformation on our part, and often, that journey can take us years.


This is where impatience can get us into trouble.  In our excitement, we can jump the gun on God.  We can try to force something to happen – something that we’re not spiritually or emotionally ready for yet.

Joseph is a great example of this in Scripture, as is Moses.  Joseph received dreams from God of being a leader, but he unwisely shared those dreams and tried to lord it over his brothers.  He wasn’t ready to lead, and it took years of humbling experiences for him to get to the place where he was ready to actually lead.  God had work to do in him.  In Moses’ case, he wanted to see his people set free from Egypt, but instead of waiting on God’s plan, he took matters into his own hands and murdered an Egyptian.  It took 40 years in the desert for him to be prepared to be the leader that he needed to be.

There are some positive examples in Scripture of the power of patience.  Consider these two:

  • David was anointed to be the future king of Israel, and spent years serving Saul and then running from Saul for his life before he actually walked into God’s calling as king.
  • Jesus spent 29 years of His life in obscurity before He stepped into public ministry.  He then spent 3 years in the public eye before His death and resurrection.

In Anonymous…Jesus’ Hidden Years…And Yours, Alicia Britt Chole points out that most of Jesus’s life was unseen – anonymous to us.  Only 4 of the gospels’ 89 chapters offer any details on Jesus’ childhood and life before ministry, and those details are scant.

She puts it this way:  “Our enthusiastic declarations that we want to ‘be like Jesus’ reference Jesus’ visible years . . . with a few notable exceptions. In these statements we are not saying, ‘I want to subject my body, spirit, and mind to an extended wilderness experience,’ or, ‘I want to be brutally beaten, suffer excruciating pain, and be murdered at the hands of mocking sinners.’ No. Our desire to ‘be like Jesus’ contains several exemption clauses, not the least of which are Jesus’ hidden years, desert experiences, temptations, tortures, and crucifixion. We will pass on those, thank you. What we are most definitely interested in, however, is Jesus’ character and authority. How we long to see his character and authority transform this broken world through our lives! But Jesus’ character and authority are not isolated entities. They are not disconnected commodities we can purchase at a discount. Jesus’ character and authority come with Jesus’ life, 90 percent of which was lived in quiet anonymity. ‘What would Jesus do?’ we ask sincerely (in word and song, on T-shirts and in bracelets). Well, for starters, he embraced a life of hiddenness. As we will soon see, Jesus’ hidden years empowered him to live an eternally fruitful life.” (- Chole, Alicia Britt. Anonymous: Jesus’ hidden years…and yours (Kindle Locations 239-241). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.)

Waiting is so difficult.  And yet…God can use our times of waiting to do deep work in us, to prepare us, to transform us.  As I go through this season of waiting myself, I am reminded that my past seasons of waiting prepared me for life and ministry opportunities in ways that I had never imagined.

Are you waiting?  If so, be patient.  Don’t be in a hurry.  Don’t try to force God’s hand.  Trust Him, and while you’re waiting, pursue Him with all that you are.

You will be amazed one day at what He has accomplished in you while you were patient.

Moving On

I’ve spent most of the month of March blogging about issues surrounding questions like these:

  • Why are there times that God feels far away, and it feels like He doesn’t care?
  • Why is there suffering in the world?
  • Why are there times when I feel Jesus has left me behind and I feel I am alone, and forgotten?
  • Why is it in a season of trial or trying to better your future He seems absent?

I don’t know the answers to all of these questions, although we’ve explored some different aspects of these questions.  We’ve talked about the foundational truths that God loves each of us, and God is always good.

And now, it’s time to move on.

Not because we have all the answers; not because I have all the answers to the questions in my personal life; but because I need to keep my eyes on my Father.

It’s been good for me to explore these issues.  (I hope it’s been helpful and thought-provoking for you too.)  Some of them are things that I’m still dealing with and working through in my personal life.  But I also need to guard my heart and make sure my focus isn’t consistently on problems.  And it’s important for me to help you guard your hearts.  At the beginning of this month, I wrote about the importance of keeping our eyes on God, on His goodness, and on focusing on gratitude for what He is doing rather than finding offense at what He has not done.  And so, for the time being, I’m going to move on in my blogging to some different issues.

For reference, here are the links to this past month’s blogs should you wish to go back and re-visit any of them:

On Wednesday, we’ll move on to new subject matter.  By the way, if you have a question you’d like to see me blog about or an issue you’d like to see me address, please shoot me an email at or by filling in the form at the bottom of this post.

In the meantime, may God meet you wherever you are, in whatever questions you have, whatever challenges you are facing.


Curse God or Bless God?

Yesterday, I came across a Facebook post from one of my friends that said this:  Why are people so scared to curse God when something tragic happens, yet praise him when something wonderful happens?”  That’s a question that a lot of people have been asking, in similar or different words, for a very long time.  In fact, I think it’s a great question, because it’s so real and raw and honest.


For me, the answer is that I’m NOT scared to curse God.  I know He’s big enough to handle that.  I know that on the cross, Jesus took on the curses of sin, sickness, and death for me.  So I’m not scared to curse God – it’s not that I would curse Him except I’m terrified of a lightning bolt from the sky or the ground opening up to swallow me if I did curse Him.  The issue for me is that I don’t WANT to curse Him.

You see, I know that all the problems, tragedies, and terrible stuff in my life is NOT from God.  So why would I curse Him, when He isn’t the source?  He is good, and every thing comes only from Him.  He is not the source of tragedies and problems and diseases and horrific events.  He is good; He is the very definition of love.  He cannot be the source of, or give, something that He does not have.

There are actually 3 very simple sources of all the problems, tragedies, and horrific things in this world:

  1. We live in a world that has been broken by sin.  Therefore, we live in an environment that is broken.  Because of this, there will always be tragedies and horrific events and diseases until Jesus returns and “re-sets” everything by making all things new.  There will be accidents with no one at fault and there will be natural disasters and we will age and our bodies will deteriorate and we will become diseased and broken, because that is the nature of the world we live in right now.
  2. We live in a world that is populated by people who have been broken by sin.  We are all born with a sinful nature.  We all make poor choices at times, we all sin at times.  And our sins and poor choices have consequences – sometimes for us, sometimes for others, sometimes both.  Murder, rape, genocide, wars, terrorist attacks – these are not because of God, but because people have chosen to indulge their own hatred, selfishness, and evil desires.
  3. We live in a world that is experiencing an ongoing, full-out, devastating war.  We miss that fact because it is a spiritual battle.  But there is an enemy whose sole purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy.  He is a powerful spiritual enemy that we cannot see, but that makes him no less real.  He is the voice that whispers “go ahead and do it” when the behavior is destructive.  He is the one who tells us “this is God’s fault” when, in fact, God gives only good things.  He is the one who stirs nations to battle and conquest, who lies about the very nature of our world and of God, and who knows that if you are a follower of Jesus, he cannot take you to hell and so he will do everything he can right now to make your life a living hell.  He is the one who wants to get your eyes off of Jesus and onto yourself and your problems.

So…I’m not scared to curse God.  But there is no need to curse Him.  He is not the source of my problems.  He is love, and He loves me no matter what, and He loves you no matter what. 

Can I just be raw for a moment?  My family and I are in a season where we feel like the hits keep coming.  My wife hasn’t worked in a year and a half because she has had to have 2 surgeries on her neck, and the recovery process has been long and tedious and interrupted by setbacks.  My daughter has experienced having to deal with loss and moving home and starting over.  I have something very wrong with my body.  Some days, I don’t even want to get up, or feel like I can do what I have on my schedule.  I expected answers last week, and all I got were more questions.  There’s a problem in my body somewhere, but I don’t know where it is or what it is, and that’s pretty scary.  I’m stuck waiting for test results, for next steps, for future tests.  In the midst of this, my uncle, who is just a few years older than me, is on life support in Pittsburgh with a very poor prognosis.  He may never regain consciousness.  Uncertainty and waiting is our life right now.

But I’m not complaining, and I’m not angry with God.  I know people who are going through far more than me, and have been dealing with things for far longer than me.  I look at what I’m dealing with, and then I look at what I still have – God loves me, God is with me, and God is for me.  My family loves me, and we’re in this together.  I have amazing friends who love me and check on me and pray for me.  My church family is patient with me, prays for me, and loves my family and I.  So I look at all that, and I don’t have any desire to curse God.  He’s not my problem, and He’s not the source of my problems.  I will continue to bless Him, and I will continue to press in to Him.  Because I need Him more than ever.

If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

The Potter and the Clay

I grew up in churches that sang hymns, with an occasional “chorus” sprinkled in.  One of the old hymns that we often sang, usually as an “invitation hymn” at the end of the service, was “Have Thine Own Way”:

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.

Mold me and make me after Thy will,

While I am waiting, yielded and still.

It comes from a passage in Isaiah 64 – “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

The hymn and the verse clearly carry the message that God is sovereign and that we cannot tell Him what to do or even what He should do for us.  Like the clay, we can do nothing but allow Him to shape us.

hands of potter do a clay pot

Throughout my life, that verse and the hymn have both comforted me and discomforted me.  The comfort was in the fact that God had a plan and a unique destiny for me, and that He was shaping and forming me for His purposes.  The discomfort?  While I knew that God loved me, it just sounded…cold.  Like God would have His will and His way with me, no matter what I wanted.  Like what I wanted didn’t really matter.  I knew that wasn’t true, but that was the message I received.

But today, I actually read the verse.  It turns out that there is more to the verse than the potter and clay scenario.  Here’s what the verse actually says:  “Yet you, LORD, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

Wow!  What a difference a few words make.  “Yet you, Lord, are our Father.”  What a compelling image that is.  How different a picture it presents – as opposed to a (perhaps) cold and calculating potter, one whose only aim is to shape the clay to his will; instead, a loving Father, gently and compassionately molding each one of us into the person He created us to be.  As opposed to a craftsman trying to get the best out of the material which he has at hand, instead, a loving Father who shapes us into the image of His Son, but who loves us completely despite any imperfections that we have.

It’s all about how we view God.  In times of testing and trials, problems and pain, separation and silence, if we see Him as distant and aloof, it’s easy to take offense at Him.  It’s easy to let offense grow into anger, which can become bitterness and can motivate us to cut ourselves off from the One who is our Strength and our Hope.

But if we view God as our Abba – our Father – our Daddy – then in times of testing and trials, problems and pain, separation and silence, we will choose to trust Him for what we cannot understand.  We will choose to lean into Him rather than run away from Him.

If we view the Potter as the Father Potter, then we understand that He doesn’t cause the evil that enters our lives, but instead, He takes what was intended for evil and works it out for our good.

Each of us are facing different challenges today – different problems; different struggles; different disappointments; different pain.  That’s part of life, and we cannot change it. 

One thing we can change, however, is how we view God as we go through difficulties.  And how we view Him will determine whether we trust Him.

So…how do you see God today?  Is He the Potter?  Or is He the Father and Potter?

If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

In the Waiting

When it comes to feeling forgotten by God, to dealing with painful situations, to seeking answers to nagging questions and doubts, to suffering, and to other difficult life issues, waiting is no fun.  In fact, it can often feel like waiting increases the anxiety, the stress, and the pain of the situation.  Our minds tend to go places when we have to wait – worst-case scenarios, imaginary conversations, the most scary of “what-if’s.”  But there is a better way.

As I’ve dealt with my current physical issues, I’ve tried to walk a line in this blog between being vulnerable about some of the things I’m going through while avoiding either making it all about me or turning this into a “woe is me” kind of emotional purge.  (Hopefully I’ve been somewhat successful in that.  It’s a little hard sometimes to be objective about your own stuff!)

Yesterday, I underwent some procedures/testing that I had been waiting on for a couple of weeks, hoping for some simple, obvious answers to my problems.  But it didn’t work out that way.  Instead, some fairly serious things were ruled out; some new possibilities were introduced; and some other potential serious issues were left unanswered, pending biopsy results.  So here I am – a little further on the journey, but still waiting.


What do you do when you’re in a place like that?  There’s nothing you can do to control it; nothing you can do to change it.  You just have to wait.

Here’s the thing about waiting – it’s not optional.  It’s a part of life.  Sometimes it’s harder than at other times, but it is unavoidable.

We often cannot choose whether or not we have to wait.  But we can always choose HOW we wait.  No matter the circumstances.

My perspective on waiting has changed as I’ve observed friends who have had to wait for some very hard things.  Friends who have waited for medical diagnosis after attempted solution after trips to the ER after more diagnoses after more attempted solutions after more trips to the ER in what has seemed like an endless cycle.  Friends who have waited for God’s direct healing intervention.  Other friends who have endured most of their family battling debilitating illnesses over a period of several years.  Friends who have cried out to God for healing in their marriages, done everything they could to fight for reconciliation, only to see their lifelong partner walk away without a backwards glance.  Friends who have suffered great financial losses, who have lost jobs, who have had their worlds turned upside down in one way or another.  All of them people who were asking God to change their circumstances; all of them people who waited and waited and waited.  And as I prayed with them and prayed for them, I watched almost every single one of them wait with grace, with gratitude for what they DID have rather than bitterness over what they did NOT have.  And I learned from their example.

As I am forced to wait, I remember my friends and they spur me on to wait with gratitude, to trust God no matter what.

I’ve also learned from the psalms.  I love the example of David as a person who faced many disappointments and challenges in life.  Here was a man who was anointed king of Israel and then spent fifteen years running for his life before he was recognized as king by his own tribe.  It was another seven years – twenty-two years total – before he was actually crowned king of all Israel.  Talk about waiting!  And not just waiting, but waiting while on the run.  Waiting and choosing to honor the man who wanted him dead, the man whose position he had been promised by God.  Waiting for years and years and years with unfulfilled promises from God – and in all that time, he never took offense at God. 

When you read the psalms that David wrote during that time, you find that David cried out to God; he prayed for deliverance; he prayed for vengeance on his enemies; he asked God “why”; he was honest – even brutally honest – with God.  But he never took offense at God.  He never turned away from God.  He kept trusting God and believing the best of God.  He kept finding his rest, his strength, his security, and his hope in God.

That’s the choice we face.  You’ve no doubt heard it said that suffering can make us better or it can make us bitter.  In David’s case, it prepared him to become king.  That’s because of the way in which David waited on the Lord through all of his trials.

I don’t know about you, but that’s how I want to learn to wait. 

The good news is that it’s never too late to start.  Whatever we may be enduring, however difficult, however uncertain, however long we’ve had to wait – God is always waiting on us to turn to Him, to trust in Him.

And so this morning, as I wait, I pray words that David wrote somewhere around 3000 years ago.  If you are waiting today, I encourage you to join me:  “I stand silently to listen for the One I love, waiting as long as it takes for the Lord to rescue me.  For God alone has become my Savior.  He alone is my Safe Place; His wrap-around presence always protects me.  For he is my Champion Defender; there’s no risk of failure with God.  So why would I let worry paralyze me, even when troubles multiply around me?   Psalms 62:1-2 (Psalms:The Passion Translation)

If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

Forsaken? No! Never!

On Monday, I wrote about Jesus’ identification with us when we feel abandoned or forgotten by God.  After all, Jesus experienced the same thing at Calvary:

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.  And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”  Someone ran,  filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.  With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  (Mark 15:33-38, NIV)

For most of my life, that was the complete story as I understood.  That was how I understood it – Jesus felt abandoned; the Father turned His back on Jesus because Jesus was bearing the sins of the world, and the Father couldn’t bear to look on Him.  And so Jesus cried out in agony and in utter despair, separated from His Father and more alone than He had ever been.


But then, two summers ago, I heard Dr. Leonard Sweet preach a sermon on the story of the cross that he called “The Greatest Song Ever Sung” about this very passage.  It shifted the ground of my understanding of this passage like a theological earthquake, and re-cast my view of Jesus on the cross.  It transformed my view from one of Jesus suffering abandonment to instead, one of Jesus victoriously enduring the cross and overcoming – overcoming not just when He rose from the dead on Sunday morning, but triumphing in the very moment when all seemed lost, the moment he gave up His spirit and died.

I will do my best to do Dr. Sweet’s teaching justice in a summary – admittedly, longer than a normal blog, but hopefully, one that will fill you with hope and challenge you to walk in joy in the midst of great trials and even suffering.

Dr. Sweet pointed out that there is a deeper context to Jesus’ words on the cross.  In crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was quoting the first sentence of Psalm 22:1 – a Jewish worship hymn that Jesus would have known by heart.  So far, no shock – the Psalms were the Jewish hymnal in Jesus’ day.

But then Dr. Sweet went out to point out some important historical context:  that no male Jew would have spoken a Psalm.  An observant Jew, as Jesus was, would have SUNG the Psalm.  And He would never have stopped with the first line.  In fact, most Bible scholar agree that Jesus sang Psalm 22 while suffering on the cross.  The only real debate is how much of the Psalm He sang.

Does that thought drastically change your image of part of the crucifixion?  It did mine.

Imagine the scene.  Jesus hanging on the cross, suffering, bleeding…dying.  Instead of calling out in anguish over feeling abandoned, though, He begins to sing a song of worship to His Father.

Dr. Sweet calls it the greatest worship song ever sung in the history of the world, but points out that we have missed it because we don’t understand the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day.

Here is the Psalm as it is written.  If you read it carefully, you can see a Psalm of worship, not despair and desolation – a song of hope and triumph.  And you can see some of the familiar scenes around the cross in it:

  (v. 1) My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from my cries of anguish?

    (v. 2) My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

by night, but I find no rest.

  (v. 3) Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;

you are the one Israel praises.

  (v. 4) In you our ancestors put their trust;

they trusted and you delivered them.

    (v. 5) To you they cried out and were saved;

in you they trusted and were not put to shame. 

(Aren’t vv. 3-5 a great declaration of God’s goodness?

    (v. 6) But I am a worm and not a man,

scorned by everyone, despised by the people.

  (Look at the rejection David writes about in these next few verses.  They directly prophesy the way Jesus was treated by people when He was on the cross.  And David wrote these words hundreds of years before Jesus.)

    (v. 7) All who see me mock me;

they hurl insults, shaking their heads.

    (v. 8) “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,

“let the Lord rescue him.

Let him deliver him,

since he delights in him.”

    (v. 9) Yet you brought me out of the womb;

you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.

  (v. 10) From birth I was cast on you;

from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

(As you read these lines about his mother, can you see Jesus pausing and looking at his mother, and then entrusting her to the apostle John’s care?)

  (v. 11) Do not be far from me,

for trouble is near

and there is no one to help.

(v. 12) Many bulls surround me;

strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

(v. 13) Roaring lions that tear their prey

open their mouths wide against me.

(In reading vv. 11-13, you can picture the people surrounding the cross, hurling accusations and taunts at Jesus.)

(v. 14) I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax;

it has melted within me.

(Remember that once Jesus had died, a soldier pierced his side and blood mingled with water flowed out?  And the reference to bones being out of joint – often, when a cross was dropped into hole in the ground to stand upright, the victims experienced dislocated shoulders among other things.  Roman soldiers were not gentle in carrying out executions.)

(v. 15) My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;

you lay me in the dust of death.

(Is it possible that the apostle John recorded Jesus’ singing of this part of the psalm with the simple words, “I thirst”?)

(v. 16) Dogs surround me,

a pack of villains encircles me;

they pierce my hands and my feet.

(A couple of notes here.  First, wild dogs would often circle the sites of crucifixions.  They would wait for the bodies to begin to decompose.  Then the bones would fall to the ground, where the dogs could consume them.  In this case, you can see it as a dual reference – the wild dogs, and those people who stood around, waiting to see Jesus die.  The reference to the hands and feet being pierced is obvious.)

(v. 17) All my bones are on display;

people stare and gloat over me.

(v. 18) They divide my clothes among them

and cast lots for my garment.

(Again, these images are self-explanatory when you consider the scene at the cross.  And now, the Psalm turns to intercession – a cry for help:)

(v. 19) But you, Lord, do not be far from me.

You are my strength; come quickly to help me.

(v. 20) Deliver me from the sword,

my precious life from the power of the dogs.

(v. 21) Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;

save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

(Jesus quotes this part of the Psalm, asking for deliverance from those who are taunting and threatening him, and declaring that His Father is His strength.  Now notice the praise that begins to flow in the next few verses, and the declarations of God’s goodness:)

(v. 22) I will declare your name to my people;

in the assembly I will praise you.

(v. 23) You who fear the Lord, praise him!

All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!

Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

(v. 24) For he has not despised or scorned

the suffering of the afflicted one;

he has not hidden his face from him

but has listened to his cry for help.

(As Jesus would have sung this part of the Psalm, notice that He was declaring that His Father had NOT forsaken Him, had NOT hidden His face from Jesus, but instead, has listened to His cry for help!  And now, some final declarations of God’s goodness and of victory follow:)

(v. 25) From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;

before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.

(v. 26) The poor will eat and be satisfied;

those who seek the Lord will praise him—

may your hearts live forever!

(v. 27) All the ends of the earth

will remember and turn to the Lord,

and all the families of the nations

will bow down before him,

(v. 28) for dominion belongs to the Lord

and he rules over the nations.

(v. 29) All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;

all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—

those who cannot keep themselves alive.

(v. 30) Posterity will serve him;

future generations will be told about the Lord.

(v. 31) They will proclaim his righteousness,

declaring to a people yet unborn:

He has done it!

Look at that last phrase – “He had done it.”  This is one of the strongest arguments for the case that Jesus sang this Psalm and worshiped His Father while He was on the cross.  Literally, “He has done it” can be translated…”It is finished.”  Those are the very words John records in his gospel as Jesus’ last words.

So what’s the point of all this?

It is that Jesus wasn’t in despair on the cross in the darkest, loneliest hours of His life.  When He could have chosen to surrender to feeling abandoned and forgotten, as appears apparent on the surface, when we understand His culture and what was really happening, we discover that in His pain and suffering, He actually worshiped and pressed in to His Father.  And when death came, it did not come conquering Jesus.  Instead, He triumphantly declared that His Father ruled the nations, that future generations would experience salvation, and that the work of reconciliation was completed!

The lesson for you and me?  In our deepest pain, our greatest suffering our times of loneliness, doubt, fear, feelings of abandonment, we face a choice.  We can surrender to despair and stay in the midst of it.  Or, we can learn from Jesus.  We can choose to sing and to worship our Father for His goodness, refusing to take offense at what life brings us, and trusting that our Father will bring victory and joy out of what was intended by our enemy for our destruction!

What will you choose today?

(Thanks again to Dr. Leonard Sweet for preaching that sermon at Mahaffey Camp two summers ago and helping me to see the crucifixion and Jesus’ actions on that day in an entirely different light.)

If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Whenever we feel like God has abandoned us, it is good to remember that while on the cross, Jesus Himself cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, NIV)

Jesus was actually quoting from the writings of David, and we’re going to delve into that a little more deeply this week.  But today, let’s just sit with Jesus’ cry in its context in Mark:

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.  And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”  Someone ran,  filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.  With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  (Mark 15:33-38, NIV)


So what’s obvious with a simple, cursory reading of this passage is that Jesus, the Son of God, is crying out from the cross to his Father in heaven, asking why His Father has abandoned him.

Go back and re-read that last sentence.  Go ahead, do it now.  I’ll wait here for you.

Have you ever felt forgotten by God?  Abandoned by Him?  Wondered where He was?

You’re not the only one.

I know this is difficult to understand, but…God knows exactly how you feel.

On that first Good Friday, the Son turned His head towards the heavens and cried out to His Father, asking why His Father had forsaken Him.

That’s why the author of Hebrews could write, This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.”  (Hebrews 4:15, NLT)

Jesus has faced the same issues you have faced and are facing.

He knows what it is to be tempted.  He knows what it is to be falsely accused.  He knows what it is to suffer.  He knows what it is to experience pain.  He knows what it is to experience unfulfilled longing.  He knows what it is to ask for deliverance and yet not be set free.  (Remember Him asking, “My father, if it is possible, let this cup be taken from me…”)  He knows what it is face the consequences of someone else’s choices, to be abused, to be beaten, to be mocked and taunted, to be treated unjustly, to be tempted, to be tested, to be wounded.

He knows what it is to cry out to God and to feel God’s silence in return.

And through all of that, He did not sin.  He did not take offense at His Father.  He did not rebel.

He guarded His heart, as we talked about a few weeks ago.

So as this week begins, if you are in a place of pain, discouragement, loneliness, even feeling abandoned by God or unheard by God…if you are wondering where God, why He hasn’t delivered you, or how much more you can take – remember:  Jesus understands.

Am I saying Jesus feels sorry for you?  Or that if you are struggling, you should just suck it up and deal with it because you’re not the only one?  Or that, hey, just keep telling yourself that it’s ok because Jesus understands?


I am saying this – Jesus understand exactly how you feel.  He went through the same, and much worse, on the cross for you because He loves you.  And He cares deeply for you.  He loves you.  He is with you in your pain, and He will never leave you.

If you feel alone, abandoned, forgotten by God – it’s a lie.

He will NEVER leave you.  He is WITH you.  Right now.  In the midst of everything.

And not only is He with you, He understands what you are going through, He has felt what you feel, and He WILL redeem this.  He will use what was intended to harm you to bring you good.

The separation that you are feeling?  The loneliness?  The pain?  The distance?

He can – and will – use it to bring you closer to Him than you’ve ever been before.

Just keep trusting Him.  Keep pressing in to Him.

He hasn’t left you.  He’s right with you.

And He understands.

If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.