Book Review: Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being, by Zack Eswine

Review
04.17.2013

Zack Eswine. Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. 320 pp. $19.99. 

As a pastor, I fight the temptation to act as if I can be everywhere, fix anything, and know everything. Such sinful assumptions are spiritually detrimental for any pastor, not to mention his church. We are human, and we will never fully magnify God without confessing that we are not him.

Zack Eswine understands this thoroughly. Thus, in his book, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being, he reminds us that “the Christian life and ministry are an apprenticeship with Jesus toward recovering our humanity and, through his Spirit, helping our neighbor do the same” (20-21).

EXPOSING AND ADDRESSING THE MINISTER’S TEMPTATIONS

Sensing Jesus is divided into two parts. First, Eswine exposes the minister’s temptation to try to be God: omnipresent (everywhere-for-all), omnipotent (fix-it-all), and omniscient (know-it-all). Second, he addresses the solution to these temptations, namely, the restoration of our humanity in Christ.

Exposing our Temptations

As pastors and ministers we want to be great. We envision doing great things for Jesus. We want to be great preachers, extraordinary counselors, outstanding writers, and remarkable shepherds. Simply put, we want to be exceptional in every way. However, if there is anything we must remember about pastors and ministers, it is that we are first and foremost exceptionally broken.

Interestingly, our problem is not the desire for greatness, but rather our definition of greatness. We often desire greatness in a way that is bent. We are often enticed to see ourselves as celebrities, instead of lovers of God and servants of our neighbors in a specific place. We are essentially acting as if we are God.

We are tempted to present ourselves as omnipresent, as if we can be everywhere for everyone with no limits and no rest. However, we can only be at one place at one time, which means that Jesus will teach us to live a local life.

We are tempted to feign omnipotence, as if we have the personal or social resources to fix, control, and overcome whatever faces us. Yet Jesus will teach us to live with things that we can neither fix nor control.

We try to counterfeit omniscience. We believe we are brilliant, thus fame, praise, and deference are our due. We are unique and everyone else pales in comparison. Yet, if greatness is conceived of in this way, then our finitude is stretched beyond its limits and our humanity is ultimately lost.

However, Jesus seeks to save us from these devilish lies about greatness. In Jesus, we do not lose our ambition for greatness, but rather learn to strive for the greatness he values. Jesus commends a different kind of greatness—a greatness manifested by the person who loves God and neighbor. And yet this love is not abstract or disembodied: we are called to love those around us, personally and tangibly. Thus, according to Eswine, being rooted in and committed to our own particular communities is essential for true pastoral greatness.

Restoring Our Humanity

In the second part of the book, Eswine points us to Jesus Christ as the definition of what it means to be truly human. Jesus teaches us that only he is the famous one. In showing us his greatness, Jesus recovers not only his place, but ours as well. Jesus comes to us and provides us with true salvation.

Seeing God’s glory, hearing his voice, receiving his good news, and beholding his love was never meant to deliver us from ordinary life and love in a place—it was meant to preserve us there. In Eden, God was the famous, unforgettable, surpassing, extraordinary one. Persons were not that. But because of him, they were noble and lovely in their relating to one another with love … Meaning wasn’t found in trying to become a celebrity like God. This was the mistake that ruined it all. The satisfied heart and the richness of ordinary joys were already given. Contentment was found with God in their world. (263)

God’s redemption restores our humanity and empowers us to live fruitfully in our own contexts. God’s salvation allows us to be truly great: to love God and neighbor in our particular places. In this way, we recover what it means to be human.

Thus, no matter where we find ourselves—the city, the suburbs, or in a rural community—our purpose will be the same: to follow Jesus by loving God and neighbor in a particular place until he comes. This is how we point forward to the restoration of Eden that God will ultimately bring.

FREE FROM PERFORMANCE

By design, this book is not a quick read. Eswine wants us to pause, to feel, to sense. His writing style forces us to slow down and steep in the concept of recovering our humanity. After spending nearly a month seeing myself in the pages of Sensing Jesus I would highly recommend it for pastors and other church leaders. It will set you free from performance-based ministry. It will remind you that you are not God, and yet you are gloriously human—just what God created you to be.

By:
Kevin Wilkening

Kevin Wilkening is the senior pastor of Cedar Heights Baptist Church in Cedar Falls, Iowa. You can find him on Twitter at @kevinwilkening.