“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
guest post by Russell Joyner
Why would Jesus say something that sounds so discouraging? In Jewish tradition, in a moment of great distress, one should pray. When all looks hopeless, pray. When you can’t think of what to pray, then recite one of the pre-approved inspired prayers.
In first century Israel, In the middle of the afternoon, around three PM, Jews would stop for prayer. Somebody was supposed to call together at least ten Jewish men (constituting a minyun / quorum), then lead out in a Hebrew prayer, preferably one memorized from Scripture. Those who knew the prayer were supposed to corporately join in out loud.
Matthew 27:46 tells us “At about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice…” The ninth hour after sunrise is the time to offer the afternoon prayer. Nobody else took the leadership to select one of the psalms to pray. So Jesus took the lead, and started the prayer. When 1st century Hebrews started reciting Scripture, they did not use the number references like we do (chapter and verse numbers). The opening phrase also served as the title of the prayer. Jesus was inviting those standing around the foot of the cross to join him in one of the most dynamic petitions for deliverance ever written, very likely penned by King David himself.
Psalm 22 is a classic example of a “Prayer of Lament” (along with about two dozen in the Book of Psalms). The Biblical lament expresses a desperate situation, but the whole point is to confess that the situation can be changed by the LORD. The lament psalms raise a cry out of the depths, fully believing that God has the power to lift a person up, around or through the pit & to set the believer’s feet firmly upon the rock. Therefore, these Biblical laments are ultimately expressions of praise; admitting circumstances are at their worst, yet praising God for his faithful presence & deliverance. Things may look bad, but my God is sufficient for me. In each case, the complaining lament is shown to be invalid as a truth statement within the prayer itself.
Psalm 13:1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
Psalm 13:5-6 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.
Psalm 74:1 Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?
Psalm 74:12 But you, O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth.
While the complaint truly springs from genuine human anguish, once the individual looks at the lamentable circumstances through God’s eyes, the logical fallacy becomes clear.
Psalm 22 opens up with this address & complaint: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, & am not silent.”
Some have taken that statement at face value, to conclude that God the Father did in fact forsake Jesus. I must go wherever the evidence leads me, and the evidence leads me to say “NO”!
- The ultimate message of Psalm 22 was trust in Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness: God will deliver.
- The way God has revealed himself consistently throughout Scripture:
- Immanuel literally means, “God With Us”
- The name Yahweh can be translated, “I Am Faithfully Present”
- Deuteronomy 31:6 – “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
- Psalm 94:14 – “I will not forsake my inheritance.”
- The opening lines of psalms were used as titles, therefore, mention of title invokes the whole prayer.
- Psalm 22:24 itself tells us “For He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him, but has listened to his cry for help.” The initial complaint is corrected by the forthtelling prophecy.
- New Testament confirmation:
- Matthew 27 quotes four times from Psalm 22; Matthew understood the whole represented by the part.
- “When he offered up prayers & petitions w/loud cries & tears to the one who could save him, He was heard” (Hebrews 5:7).
Jesus gave his life willingly. He knew the ultimate message of Psalm 22 was trust in Yahweh’s faithfulness. He also recognized the lament psalm for what it was: a prayer of praise in the midst of lamentable circumstances. Not a hopeless lamentation.
The evidence & example of Christ leads us to be more willing to express ourselves to God openly without white-washing our problems. The prayer closet is the place to freely and firmly make your complaint and appeal. When we are at our wit’s end, Psalm 22 can guide us in taking our problems to the LORD. Don’t despair!
APPLICATION: Do not build your view of God on your feelings, but upon the WORD of God….The BIBLE. The true & living God has revealed himself to us in the Scripture, that we might know him & obey him.
A few miles north of Waco, Texas, just off of Interstate 35, sits a Shell gas station and convenience store that looks like any other gas station except for one thing: the line for the convenience store bakery is almost always fifty people deep.
That’s because the bakery, called the Czech Stop, specializes in a little piece of heaven called the kolache.
One summer a few years ago, I was speaking at a Christian camp nearby. Someone from the camp staff declared they were making a “kolache run” and wanted everybody’s order. I had no clue what they were talking about.
“You definitely have to try a kolache, Jesse. It will change your life,” they insisted.
Change my life? The word itself sounded so foreign to me that I didn’t even know what to expect. Was it a donut? Was it some type of specialty drink? Regardless, I told them to surprise me and get whatever everyone else was getting.
Thirty minutes later they returned. The staff member handed me something warm wrapped in wax paper about the size of a softball.
I opened the edible gift and took my first bite.
Yes, it was heavenly.
Inside the soft sweet doughy bread roll was buried a savory chunk of homemade sausage infused with jalapeno bits. I couldn’t believe my mouth.
I was tasting something I had never tasted before. It was a wonderful, mouth-watering experience – something I had never experienced before but now I knew I could have it all over again in the days ahead. It was even large enough to enjoy over half a dozen slow and thoughtful bites.
I was ruined. Now, every time I pass through the Waco area, I have to stop and get me one (or two or three) kolaches. They even come in all sorts of different flavors and fillings. Furthermore, I have become a kolache evangelist, much like the staff member who introduced me to them. Sometimes I come across other kolache lovers and we have a good chat about one of our shared favorite foods.
You know who is better than kolaches? Even infinity times better?
King David challenges us in Psalm 34 to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8). I love how David mixes two of our five senses (taste and sight) in his song. It’s as if David is saying that experiencing God goes beyond our physical senses and into our spiritual senses – because God is Spirit (John 4:24).
David is like my friend in Texas who told me about a food I had never heard of, knowing that it would change my life if I would just taste it.
When we step out in faith and know God, taste His goodness, experience Him personally, trust Him with our whole selves, we will never be let down. We will see that the LORD is good every single time. This is a promise of God’s Word.
My wife and I struggled with infertility for the first seven years of our marriage. It was hard. We cried a lot – especially when others would tell us that we would make good parents and ask us when we were going to have children. We held the pain inside for many years, not sharing our struggle or pain with anyone but one another.
Then finally one day, we released our pain to God. We shared our infertility story with our close family and friends and asked for their prayers. We had been holding on to our pain without handing it over to God as a prayer request.
You know what happened? About two weeks later, we got pregnant with our first of two miracle daughters, Keziah Grace.
For many years, we were not tasting the goodness of the Lord in that area of our lives. We failed to hand the pain over to Him. When we did, he answered our prayers and delivered a miracle.
I understand that is not the case and story for everyone who struggles with infertility. Every couples’ story and journey is different. There is no perfect formula that says “prayer = miracle baby.” That is simply our story and how God answered our prayers when we finally lifted them up to Him.
But I do believe that whatever the particular story or journey God leads us on, the promise of God is “taste and see = the goodness of the Lord.” Taste and see that God is good. Trust Him with the things in your life that you have never given to him. Trust Him with the things you are holding back. And watch His goodness happen in the creative way that He does in your story.
It’s on page 1,195 of course!
So yeah, even most adults need the table of contents if the pastor says, “Turn to the second chapter of Haggai as we look at what this prophet says to Zerubbabel.”
And if you work with kids in a church or ministry setting, you know the challenge of trying to help them find their way through their Bibles.
Let’s face it: the Bible can appear daunting. To kids, a standard Bible is a super long book with tiny font and very few pictures. You may have a wide range of ages in the same room. In addition, there is often a wide range of familiarity and unfamiliarity with the Bible within a group of children. This is also known as the levels “Bible literacy.”
Furthermore, many of the children in our ministry settings have electronic devices and are reading physical books less and less and therefore bringing their physical Bibles less often to church and ministry settings.
Today the Bible is readily available as an app on devices. I’ve used it that way many times. But I have found that method to be lacking, in my opinion. First of all, some apps may have distracting “reading plans” or “devotionals” written by popular authors shouting for my attention on the app when I just want to read the Sermon on the Mount. Those might be great devotionals, but sometimes I just want the raw Scripture. I have also found myself distracted by other things on my device once I’ve opened it up, even if I went there to read the Bible in the first place.
So, call me old fashioned, but I like holding the physical book in my hand and flipping through the actual pages of God’s Word. That’s how believers have been reading the Bible for centuries.
When I teach children about the Bible, I encourage them to use a hard-copy Bible, not a Bible on an app. Adults can make up their own minds about app Bible verses physical Bible, but I really do think that children between the ages of zero and pre-teen need to be spared the distraction and given the opportunity by leaders to use real physical Bibles. Most of them have plenty of screen time in their lives already. Let’s use Bible time as an opportunity to turn the screens off and read God’s Word the way its been read for thousands of years.
Ok, moving on from that highly opinionated rant…
I want to share some ideas and resources with you that might help you help kids navigate their physical Bibles.
Types of Bibles
First of all, there are many English versions of the Bible – the NIV, the ESV, the NLT, the KJV, The Message, and more. Some are more literal to the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic words and others are more paraphrastic. Then there are others in the middle of the literal-paraphrase spectrum. It all depends on the translation teams. Work with your fellow church leaders to find a translation that is readable and works for your denomination. I think it is helpful to be consistent within your own local church, camp, or ministry setting and use the same translation (unless there is a good reason to use another translation for a particular context). It helps everyone to be “on the same page!” Let the church know which one you use and why.
Secondly, there are many Bibles written specifically for children. Some of these are picture Bibles or a collection of paraphrased Bible stories. In other posts, I have recommended some of these Bibles for various age ranges:
Early Childhood – http://jessejoyner.com/faith-development-resources-early-childhood/
Early Elementary – http://jessejoyner.com/faith-development-resources-early-elementary/
Finding Something in the Bible
When you ask kids to look up a Bible verse, clearly say the reference and put only the reference (not the verse itself) it up on a projection screen if you have one. If you do not have a projection screen, then write the reference on a board or poster. There are other times to show entire verses on a screen, but if your goal is to help them navigate the Bible, do not put the whole verse on the screen. The reason is obvious. They will figure, “Why do I have to look it up if I can just read it on the screen?” If you just give the reference, they will have to look it up to read it.
I make everyone wait for everyone else. That means the kids who find the verse first need to learn a little patience and wait for their friends. In fact, this is a good opportunity for the kids to help one another. The ones who already found their place in the Bible can help the ones who are still searching.
Start with the table of contents: Once you have read out the reference, encourage the kids to use the table of contents to find the book of the Bible (most every Bible has one). The book titles are all listed, sometimes twice (once in Biblical order and a second time in alphabetical order). If they’re lucky, their Bible may even have the little tabs on the sides of the pages that list each of the sixty six books of the Bible.
Big Number, Little Number: I explain to the kids that Matthew 5:14 means…
The Book of Matthew.
Big number 5 (the chapter).
Little number 14 (the verse, which is sometimes a tiny number).
This is a popular game/activity in many children’s church services and Sunday Schools and it has been around for a while. I do not know who came up with them. Personally, I’m NOT a fan, and I’ll share why after I explain what they are:
Sword drills are where you as the leader read out a Bible reference and then the kids race to find it first in their Bible. The first kid to find the verse usually then stands up or raises their “sword” (Bible in hand) and reads it out loud. Repeat.
The reason I do not like this activity is because I feel like it favors a particular learning style – and it rewards that behaviour in a confusingly spiritual way. The children who are fast at computing numbers and flipping pages and memorizing lists are rewarded with attention, praise, and even the public reading of God’s Word. We risk excluding children who are wired more for patient contemplation or who are simply more new to the skills of navigating their Bibles. There is absolutely no spiritual gain in finding a Bible verse a millisecond faster than your neighbor but we have somehow turned it into a game where we risk sending that message to our children.
Memorizing the Books of the Bible
This is one of the most effective practical skills we can give kids in terms of navigating their Bibles. There are a lot of books in the Bible (sixty six, to be exact). But there are some surprisingly very catchy ways to memorize the list in order so that when you are looking for a book of the Bible, you can simply hum your tune and find your way there.
Here are some of the songs and tunes that I would recommend. These really do work!
North Point Kids Rap Version (I like how they also mention the genres of literature)
JumpStart3 Books of the Bible (I like Jeff’s music here, very hip)
Brent Weber’s Old Testament and New Testament songs are on this CD
This one from Rachel Neuman is set to some catchy tunes
Here’s another rap version
Some Other Random Tricks
General Electric Power Company – this helps me remember four of the most commonly cited Pauline letters: “Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians.”
Psalms is usually in the dead middle of the Bible. Just hold the Bible with the pages facing you and open right in the middle of all the pages.
The New Testament (starting with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) is in the wayyyy back of the Bible. It is usually about 75%-80% of the way through the pages. So if you’re headed for a book in the New Testament, turn to the very back of the Bible. The opposite is true for the Old Testament, which makes up the majority of the Bible and is found first.
The prophets (both major and minor) are found after Psalms and before the New Testament. So if you hear an obscure Hebrew name (like Zephaniah), then find the Psalms in the middle and start moving further back in the Bible, but not too far. If you hit the Gospels (like Matthew), then you’ve gone too far. Remember, Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament.
Help them Discover the Wonder
Kids will work hard at figuring out on their own how to navigate things with which they are fascinated. The greatest gift we can give these kids in Bible navigation skills is a love for and curiosity with God’s Word. They can memorize the list of Bible books all day long, but if there is no interest to find out what’s in those books, they’re not going to care to look. As teachers, leaders, and pastors, we need to be excited about the Bible ourselves and show the kids why we love the contents and the stories. A fun exercise is to share about some of the lesser-known but incredibly dramatic stories of the Bible, like Jael nailing a tent peg into the temple of a sleeping Sisera (Judges 5:24-26)!
I also believe that the Bible is God’s living Word, which means it is not just a historical account of events. There is a great deal of history in the Bible, but it is first and foremost HIS story – the story of God for the past, present, and future. That means that it affects my daily life and that God’s Spirit speaks to me through this Word when I read it and meditate on it. As leaders, we can tell the kids stories about how God has changed our lives and shaped our understanding of Him through the message of His Word.
What?! You’re comparing Cain, the first murderer, to Jesus? How dare you!
Follow me here. I was writing a paper about ministry with children and I suddenly discovered in the Cain and Abel story something I had never seen before…
You probably already knew that Cain was the first child to be born (remember, Adam and Eve were created). But what Eve said upon his birth is pretty remarkable. She said something that leads us to conclude that Cain and Jesus were both gifts of God’s grace, each in a unique way.
Here’s the excerpt from my paper….
When we look at Scripture, the first children in the Bible were Cain and Abel. Their parents, Adam and Eve, had already been banished from the Garden of Eden due to their disobedience and sin towards God (Gen 3:16-24). In this new reality of paradise lost, Adam and Eve conceived their first child, Cain. Despite having a broken relationship with God, Eve proclaims, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man” (Gen 4:1; italics mine). These are the first post-Edenic words spoken in Scripture, which I believe speaks to the significance of ministry with children. In this newly fallen world, our predecessor Eve viewed children as a gift from God. Even Cain’s name in Hebrew is a wordplay intended to sound like the word for “to bring forth” (Coppes 1980, 797-798). This means that God’s first gift of grace following our sin was a child. We turned from God, and the way he extended an offer of grace was through a baby.
Does that sound familiar? Thousands of years later, despite our sin, God gifted us all with the baby Jesus Christ as the ultimate gift of His grace.
This establishes the point that children are both a gift from God as well a means of God’s grace to adults (and other children, for that matter). Most adults in this world and in the church community understand that children are a gift, but how often do we view them as channels through which God extends His grace? When we view children in this way, we realize that as adults, we need children as much as they need us.
Coppes, Leonard J. “Cain.” Theological wordbook of the old testament. Vol 2. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke eds. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Psalm 100:3, NIV
My daughter was making a zoo with blocks and her little plastic animals. I figured, “Why don’t we just make a Noah’s Ark since we have all these animals?” I’m not the most crafty person in the world, but I know how to cut cardboard boxes. So I started cutting up an Amazon shipping box. Her imagination did the rest! She proudly drew the windows. She loves it!
The great thing about crafts with kids is that it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece! It’s clearly a rectangular box and is not the stylish boat shape you see in great art. But five year olds don’t care! They just want to play with friends and family and use their God-given imaginations. We adults could learn a thing or two from that.
Payoff: Fun, stimulated imaginations, opportunity to share a faith story and its meaning with my daughter.
I love the simplicity of Scripture. The ability to rely on God and to have an undivided heart comes from Him!
“Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness: give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11).
Godly Play is a teaching system used by many churches around the world to educate children about God, the Bible, and also invite them into the Christian narrative. Jerome Berryman developed the curriculum and he was influenced by the educational theories of Maria Montessori.
I observed Godly Play in action once when I was in seminary. My professor, Dr. Catherine Stonehouse, ministered with children at her church in Wilmore, KY using Godly Play. As a class, we watched as she sat down at the level of the children and told them the story of Abraham and Sarah using small generic wooden figures and a pile of sand for the Middle Eastern desert. It was very quiet and the children were mesmerized. The whole feel of Godly Play is quite the opposite of many Children’s Ministries, which are full of electronic screens, loud rock band music, video games, and resemble the “Let’s Make a Deal” show.
Godly Play uses symbols, rituals, manipulatives, and storytelling to join children in the spiritual pilgrimage of knowing God. Children are not just receptors of information, but rather natural learners as well as teachers themselves. It is all done with an attitude of holy-awe and unplugged simplicity.
Here are some resources that explain more about Godly Play. Check them out and let me know what you think!
Masada was the final Jewish stronghold when the Romans took Jerusalem and the surrounding areas in the early to mid 70’s AD. It is small rocky plateau in the desert just west of the Dead Sea. Herod built a grand palace atop Masada in the 1st Century and ruins of his palace still remain.
Today you can climb (or ride) to the top of Masada and the best views are in the morning, when the sun is rising over the Abarim Mountains of Jordan (in which is Mt. Nebo, where God showed Moses the reaches of the Promised Land).