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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

"Sensing Jesus" (Zach Eswine)

TITLE: Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being
AUTHOR: Zach Eswine
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012, (320 pages).

What happens when the great plans and high expectations we have about ministry fall flat on our faces? What happens to our self-image and our ministry desires when things instead of getting better appear to be getting worse? These questions and more are dealt with in this very down to earth book about ministry life and the call to sense Jesus more. Instead of letting our expectations go out of hand toward some super-spiritual experience, what is needed is a sense of self-awareness that is down to earth, human, humble, and hopeful. This is possible when we live sensitive to Jesus. It is necessary to remember once again our purpose on this earth. When we remember how human we are, we will also remember that we are not God. Thus we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we have attributes of God such as Omniscience (All-Knowing), Omnipotence (All-Powerful), and Omnipresence (All-Present). At the same time, he needs to be reminded to walk a path of holiness in God. He communicates these through his preaching barefoot, where firstly, he is human (barefoot), and secondly, the platform he is standing on is holy ground (God is holy).
"This is why we also need a dose of God’s incommunicable attributes. These show how little of a resemblance to God we have. We are not infinite, everywhere at once, all-powerful, or all-knowing. We are not meant to try to be or to expect this of others. And this is my concern. Forgetting our place as only human, we grasp for incommunicable attributes and try to make them our own as we live and minister with others. Our worldly and church cultures often applaud this and urge us on. You can be like God! This makes us prone, especially in ministry, to try to do what only God is meant to. The paradox is this: only by surrender to our proper human place can we glorify and enjoy God the way we say we want to and the way he requires." ()
A) Expose the Temptations
Two things are needed to avoid these follies. Firstly, one needs to expose the temptations. Otherwise, we end up like Adam and Eve who are tempted by the serpent on all three fronts to copy God at the Garden of Eden as if we are God. Moreover, when this happens, we forget our human selves and cause harm to our relationships with people around us. We remind ourselves that instead of Omnipresent, we can only be at one place at a time, and like Jesus, minister to one particular context at any one time. We remind ourselves that instead of being Omnipotent, we cannot do everything at once, meaning we need to trust God to show us what is most necessary at any given time. We remind ourselves that we are unable to know everything, which means there are certain things not meant for us to know. These will help keep us humble and dependent on God, lest we become proud and independent from God. Eswine spends considerable space to hone in on the need to avoid the three temptations.

Against the 'Everywhere-for-all' mentality, we can cultivate the 'four portions of each day.' We greet each morning with grace and gratitude. We work and pause to seek God's wisdom through noonday reflection. We practise neighbourliness and care for one another in 'evening hospitality.' We quiet ourselves in 'solitude and night watch.'

Against the 'Fix-It-All' atttitude, we consider the problems of the heart, the mind, and the will. We must resist the desire to get into the 'inner ring' of influence or position in any place, lest we lose our existing relationships that God want us to cultivate and to cherish. We can adopt 'psalm making' where we let God do all the defending and we all the listening and praying, to sit with the Psalmist to cry as he cries, to plead as he pleads, to sing as he sings, to walk as he walks, and thinks as he thinks. All of these giving us an insight into how we can depend more on God each day. We can also invite the elders to participate in the ministry of praying, caring, and ministering to the sick, the needy, and the suffering, instead of pastors taking upon themselves the full load. Elders play a huge role in this pastoral care.

Against the temptation to 'Know-it-All,' the temptation is to use the Bible in a way that is independent of Jesus. Instead of unlocking the keys, we may unwittingly be locking others in, when we allow our pride of knowing it all, to discourage them from knowing God. We are more fallible than we think. We are more clueless than we assume. When we give a 'all or nothing' challenge, we are unable to hold truths that cannot be so easily distinguished between black and white, at least, as far as human weakness is concerned. It is thus important to make decisions only when we are well rested and well in line with God. We pray and ask for the right time, the right thing, and the right way. We practise disciplines that uphold the character and teaching of Jesus. We also care for the welfare of people, including how to deal with people who have sinned.

B) Examine One's Mentoring

In avoiding the follies of human pretense, the second thing is for one to examine one's mentoring, especially in dealing with the three temptations of power, of knowledge, and of ever-presence. Two questions guide our mentoring.

  • Where are we as a human being? Our natural selves and our ministry settings.
  • Who sustains us? 
We examine our mentoring in four ways. Firstly, we examine by reflecting on what it means to have physical presence and human awareness for things not just of heaven, but also of earth. We need to appreciate both the heavenly and the physicality of life. Souls being important does not mean the physical conditions around us are unimportant. Learn to use touch with permission and with gentleness. Secondly, we check our type of seeing to make sure we do not see the way the Pharisees do, of a kind of blindness to the things and to the concerns of God. There are also things that block our sights, like false wealth, fears, and hypocrisy. We need to mentor our seeing to be beyond simply a body, like men learning to see women's lasting value as persons, rather than lusting after their bodily looks. We need to pray for illumination to see how God wants us to see, where prayer becomes our guiding light.There are also insights on ministry to our family and relatives. Thirdly, we retreat from the temptation toward celebrity status. Check our desire to avoid letting worldly measurements dictate our ministry ideals. Be shy of fame like Jesus. Notice how Jesus connects with unknown people in unknown places. Reflect on how Jesus puts extraordinary effort into very ordinary and seemingly mundane situations. Avoid glittering images. Eswine provides 7 steps to help us do that. Finally, we need to cultivate a spiritual pace. Pastors, especially younger ones, tend to be impatient and stressed out when things are not happening at all. While work gets done, burning out also happens. We can remember that while haste is a part of life, we need not succumb to it. Remember that a longing for revival can tempt us to do shortcuts. 

The author wraps up the book with his thoughts on a conversation with a young minister. In that chapter, he shares his learning and experience with those just starting out in ministry.

My Thoughts

With frank and sometimes painful honesty, Eswine writes in a poetic manner reflecting life, and ministry. Taking a first-person posture, he speaks openly about God, his pastoral struggles, as well as his vocation as a preacher-writer. The book is not going to be a quick-read, or any of those how-to manuals to become a better Christian. Instead, it is a journey of sensing Jesus from the perspective of a fellow human traveler. He tries to sense what it all means when a pastor-mentor-friend of his committed suicide. In class he struggles to make sense of life amid the disappointments and confusions it brings. He reflects a lot through Ecclesiastes, the Psalms, and Proverbs, writing in a way that bears a slight resemblance to these biblical wisdom books. The author's purpose in this book is as follows:

"I believe that Christian life and ministry are an apprenticeship with Jesus toward recovering our humanity and, through his Spirit, helping our neighbors do the same.All of this is for, through, by, with, and in him for the glory of God." (19-20)

It reminds us that the highest plans of man are not necessarily the best way for God. In fact, when we start forgetting our humanity and our limitations, we are in danger of losing our humanness and start to be overestimate our abilities. Eswine reveals how real the temptations are, which all servants in Christ must take note. When we become blind to our weaknesses, we foolishly serve the Church or the people of God in harmful ways. When we start to monitor our inner selves, and to let God guide us toward a life in Jesus, we not only become better servants, we become more complete in God. The difference maker is this: Christ.

It is not what we do but how we do ministry. It is not man's timing but God's timing that must reign supreme. It is not our plans, but what we sense of God's plan. While the ministry belongs to God, we often live as if the ministry belongs to us. That is why it is important to constantly check on how much we have yielded ourselves to temptations of sorts, especially those that move us toward erroneous impersonation of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. Only God can be all powerful, all present, and all knowing. When unsure, check out Jesus. That is the key take home for this book.

Many of Eswine's words resonate with me. Like him, I am concerned about people, about revival in the Church, and for the gospel of Christ. Like him, I too am aware of my limitations, but at times, forget my physicality when I ponder the heavenlies. This book brings me down to earth and to remind myself that pastoral ministry is a ministry of sensing God, sensing people, and sensing self.

This is a great book for those of us interested in pastoral ministry, the Church, leadership, and all things serving God.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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