When You Feel Forsaken
Have you ever gone through a time in your life when you weren’t feeling particularly spiritual? When it took work to pray. When it was too painful to cast light into the shadowy corners of your heart?
I know I have certainly found myself there — the feeling of being forsaken.
I’ve doubted God and I’ve wrestled with Him when I didn’t like His plan for me. I’ve become angry when my prayers were answered but in the way I didn’t desire. I have wondered where He was; if He was. I’ve been incredibly prodigal. But fortunate enough for me, God has never stopped coming to look for me.
It brings me comfort to know that even our Savior had human feelings. The art of Roman crucifixion was an evil genius – it was the perfect tool to bring about the most inhumane of human sufferings. Tendons torn. Body aching. Eventually, you had to arch your back to find balance. This created ever enlarging wounds in the feet. This continued on until the body’s lungs would fill with fluid. The heart became compressed.
As his heart compresses and his body aches, Jesus cries out in wonder, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” This verse we often overlook in worship services, it is often left out of passion plays – because we don’t like the thought of our Savior hurting. We don’t like to consider the pain our sins caused Him nor do we like to ponder why our Savior, so very sure of His Father, could even consider the possibility He’d been forsaken.
But really, these words were brilliant. They connected us. These words were necessary. This was the moment our brokenness reached deep within His spirit. They bound us to our Father like the tiny hand of a newborn curls around his mother’s finger. Jesus became sin so that we could be free from it. In becoming our sin He had an incredibly human experience — multiplied by the lives of every being the Father had ever created. He echoed the very heart-wrenching words our heart cries out silently when life gives us lemons, when we have shaken off every reasoning and can find no reason, when we simply don’t understand, when we are tempted to consider our Father has forsaken us, leaving us to suffer alone.
“My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” These words assure us of every struggle, every valley, every circumstance being vindicated, corrected and justified on the cross. These are the words of our own heart – these words wrapped within His.
I find it poetic that our sins were compromised because his heart compressed. What more proof could a nerdy girl need than that of the Author and the Finisher of her faith metaphorically and figuratively giving her His heart?
We can be sure that God had to turn His head when Jesus suffered. But because He turned His head, He could look upon our suffering and hold us through it. Never budging, completely enthralled with the purchase He had bought at the highest cost imaginable.
The Best Battle Plan
FEBRUARY 6, 2020
“Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’” Joshua 5:13 (NIV)
We’ve all been there at one time or another. Facing impossible circumstances, while fear whispers in our ear about the certainty of our defeat.
That’s one of the many reasons I’m so thankful for God’s Word. Because tucked into its pages, we find story after story of people who help us learn in the midst of our battles. People who show us what it means to look to and depend upon the Lord.
Take Joshua, for example. If ever someone might feel overwhelmed at a situation totally out of their control, Joshua’s experience facing Jericho was it.
Not only did the wall surrounding Jericho look invincible, but there was also the issue of Israel’s army lacking proper weapons for tackling such an impressively guarded city. You can’t exactly pull down walls with arrows and spears. That’s a job for battering rams and catapults — items noticeably missing from their arsenal.
But they had come too far to turn back. And the people of Israel were counting on Joshua to lead them into this land promised by God.
With all these facts and details weighing on him, Joshua is suddenly confronted by a man with a drawn sword. Scripture reveals this is no mere human. This is the commander of the Lord’s army — God’s presence in human form. And this is no everyday occurrence either. It is an incredible encounter.
Seeing the man is ready for battle, Joshua asks, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (Joshua 5:13b)
Wrapped in this honest question, we discover hesitancy in Joshua — a peek inside his thought life — and a need for reassurance. Such an honest question, but it makes me believe Joshua isn’t walking in complete confidence and assurance. If he were, he wouldn’t have asked. But he did.
This is where we assume, of course, God’s presence will answer, “Joshua, I am with you, for you, and on your side!”
But we would assume wrong.
When asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” the presence of God replies, “Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come” (Joshua 5:14a). Joshua falls face down in humility and reverence — asking what message the Lord has for him, His servant (Joshua 5:14b).
I wonder what kind of message Joshua was expecting, even longing for. Perhaps one overflowing with war strategy and tactics. But instead of detailed plans, Joshua receives a call to worship. He’s told to remove his sandals, for the ground is holy. (Joshua 5:15)
It’s an invitation and a reminder for Joshua to worship the One who’s not only big enough to handle the impending battle, but also loving enough to address the doubt, fear and insecurity running through Joshua’s mind. And as Joshua slips off his sandals, I’m reminded of what I need in the face of my own seemingly insurmountable situations: I need to worry less and worship more …
When I’m desperate for God to give me all the details …
When I’m wishing He would give me the tiniest peek at His plans …
When I’m starting to wonder if He’s for me or against me …
I need to pause, lift my eyes to the One willing to meet me in the midst of my fears and worship Him. Worshipping not only because it honors Him, but also because it changes me.
Worship might not be the first thing that comes to mind when we feel overwhelmed, but it truly is powerful. It reminds our trembling hearts and shaky knees that our God is mighty, our God is loving, and our God is a more-than-able God. It both quiets us and strengthens us — perfectly preparing our hearts and minds for whatever battles lie ahead.
I don’t know what “walls” you’re facing in your life right now, friend. I don’t know how overwhelming and daunting they seem. But I do know the perfect battle plan for each and every one of us.
Worry less. Worship more. And trust our God to lead us into victory.
A person is not held accountable for operating-table thoughts. The same rule goes for dental chairs and delivery rooms. On any occasion when people stick needles in your arm, fingers in your mouth, or scalpels into your skin, the patient is not penalized for bizarre imaginings.
At least that is the justification I give to mine. As far as surgeries are concerned, this one was simple. As far as I’m concerned, however, no surgery that contains the word cancer is simple. Since my face has pockets of cancer, I have found myself spending horizontal time on the table of a doctor who specializes in extracting them.
He has a silky midnight-radio voice and likes to assure me that my cancer isn’t serious. As he cuts on my temple, he says, “When it comes to cancer, you’ve got the best kind.” Forgive me for not rejoicing. And forgive my tacky thinking. But during the second surgery, after the fourth or fifth reminder that I have a good cancer, here is what I thought — didn’t say but thought: Then why don’t you take my cancer? Instead of cutting it out, take it in. Let’s swap places. You take my cancer, and I’ll take your knife.
Of course I didn’t say those words. Even in my drug-induced state, I knew better. Such transactions aren’t allowed. You can’t take my sickness. Nor can I take yours. You may give me your car or your cold, but your cancer? It’s nontransferable.
If you have cancer in your body, you have to deal with it.
If you have cancer in your soul, however, Christ will take it for you. Not just take it from you. No, He’ll take it for you.
Theologians call the act “substitutionary atonement.” A simpler term might be “holy love.”
To understand holy love, go to the Garden of Gethsemane. Surprised? You thought we’d go to the Cross? We will. The Cross is where we see the substitution, but the garden is where we feel it.
Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and He said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and He became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me.”
He went on a little farther and bowed with His face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from Me. Yet I want Your will to be done, not Mine.” (Matthew 26:36-39 NLT)
We’ve never seen Christ like this. Never heard such screams from His voice or seen such horror in His eyes. And never before has He told us: “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.”
How is such emotion explained? What was Jesus fearing?
Christ feared a cup of suffering. Cup, in biblical terminology, is more than a utensil for drinking. Cup equals God’s anger, judgment, and punishment. When God took pity on apostate Jerusalem, He said, “See, I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger… the goblet of My wrath” (Isaiah 51:22). According to John, those who dismiss God “must drink the wine of God’s anger. It has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb” (Revelation 14:10 NLT).
The cup equals God’s wrath. Specifically, His anger toward our rebellion. We have ignored His Word, violated His standard. We have dismissed Him. And He is angry.
Many have trouble with the idea of this anger. “Why the big fuss over a few mistakes?” some wonder. “Everyone messes up now and then.” Everyone, that is, except God. He is holy. His holiness cannot turn a blind eye toward rebellion.
He feels the same way toward our sin that many of us felt toward the vandals who violated our church building. Some scoundrels broke into our sanctuary. They stole nothing. They took nothing. It was not their intent to rob; it was their intent to defame. Ascending the stairs to the baptistery, they wrote profanity on the wall and urinated on the towels.
My reaction to their actions was the same as yours: disgust, anger, disbelief. Do they know no reverence? The baptistery is a sacred place. The room is a blessed room. How dare anyone take the holy and use it for vulgarity?
How often has Heaven asked the same question about us? Are not our bodies holy? Much more than a man-made baptistery, we are God-made temples. “Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Corinthians 6:19 CEB). Our tongues, our hands, our brains are the dwelling place and tools of God. Yet when I use this tongue to hurt, these hands to injure, this brain for my glory and not God’s, am I not vandalizing God’s temple?
What you and I feel toward vandals is what God feels toward us. And, this is sobering, what those vandals deserve is what we deserve — punishment. My reaction was, “Put them in jail. Let them pay the price.”
Never did I consider disguising myself as them and standing before the church and saying, “I’m the culprit. Punish me for my actions.”
Those thoughts never entered my mind. But they entered the mind of God. For God is not only holy; He is also love. And holy love finds a way to punish the sin and love the scoundrel.
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus chose to do just that. Envision Him on His knees amid the trees. Look long into the face of the One who looks long into Heaven. Realize this: He is being handed a cup that bears your name. If He drinks it, God will do to Him what God should do to you. If Christ drinks the cup, He will be your substitute.
And according to verse after verse in the Bible, Christ is willing to be just that:
For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NRSV)
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18 RSV)
The Greek word hyper means “in place of” or “on behalf of.” New Testament writers repeatedly turned to this preposition to describe the work of Christ:
Christ died for [hyper] our sins. (1 Corinthians 15:3)
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for [hyper] us. (Galatians 3:13)
Christ… gave Himself for [hyper] our sins. (Galatians 1:3-4)
Jesus Himself prophesied: “The good shepherd lays down His life for [hyper] the sheep.” (John 10:11)
And “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13 NKJV)
In the Upper Room Jesus took bread and explained, “This is My body given for [hyper] you” (Luke 22:19). And presenting the cup He explained, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for [hyper] you” (Luke 22:20).
Forgive me for sounding hyper about hyper, but you need to see the point. The cross of Christ is more than a gift; it is a substitution. By taking the cup, Christ was taking our place. Though He did not vandalize, he was treated as a vandal. Though healthy, He was given our cancer. In the garden He agreed to take the full force of a sin-hating God.
Holy love does such things. If Heaven were only holy and not love, we would be hopeless because of sin. If Heaven were only love and not holy, the world would be chaos for lack of goodness. But since Heaven is equally holy and loving, God Himself saves us from Himself. He punished the sin and saved the sinner by punishing the only sinless soul ever to live — Jesus Christ.
Let’s thank Him. Thank Him with praise. Thank Him with deeds. Thank Him with worship and works of appreciation. He didn’t have to take the cup. But He did. And since He did, you never will.