Returning from Adelaide city recently I was listening to a compilation album of session recordings by Jeff Buckley, released in 2016 but recorded in 1993. Buckley died tragically in 1997, so it was released posthumously. The lyrics of one song went something like: “I need you, but I don’t love you.” That line has been rolling around in my head, and heart, when thinking about my relationship with God and with others.
Go back fifteen years. Early in my post-graduate studies I enrolled in a two-week intensive titled “Expository Preaching for Contemporary Needs.” Having completed my undergraduate theological training some sixteen years previous I considered it timely for further academic development and reflection. I thought it would be heady, cutting edge material able to propel my communication skills to the next level (where ever that was). It turned out to be most disappointing, for diverse reasons.
The premise underlying the material was that preaching was needs based. The task of the preacher was to identify the needs within the church and the community and then communicate into those needs through the Scriptures. I understand the premise. Every human being has needs (see Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs): the need of shelter, sustenance, clothing; safety; belonging (love); fulfillment. The Apostle Paul said: “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”
Returning to Jeff Buckley and “I need you, but I don’t love you.”
I began to think of some of our favourite worship anthems like:
Lord I need You oh I need You
… and All Sons and Daughters – Oh how I need You
Lord I find You in the seeking
Lord I find You in the doubt
And to know You is to love you
And to know so little else
I need You
Oh how I need You.
Then there’s the classic “I Need Thee Every Hour” (has the word ‘need’ 20 times), written by Annie Sherwood Hawks (1835-1918) with the refrain and music added by her hymn writing pastor Dr Robert Lowry.
One thing is certain, life makes us conscious of our need of God. That was Annie Hawk’s experience: “One day as a young wife and mother of 37 years of age, I was busy with my regular household tasks during a bright June morning [in 1872]. Suddenly, I became so filled with the sense of nearness to the Master that, wondering how one could live without Him, either in joy or pain, these words were ushered into my mind, the thought at once taking full possession of me — ‘I Need Thee Every Hour…’”
Here’s the thing. When religion (or preaching) is reduced to God meeting my need without relationship or purely for my gain, it is self-focused and empty. When out of my need I am drawn into relationship with God through Jesus Christ we discover love in the midst of need, it is God-focused and complete.
In the needs of the real world of family, finances, business, mortgage payments, health, children, pain, marriage, broken relationships and faith; like Annie Hawk we are “filled with the sense of nearness to the Master”. He’s there. Our needs are met first with Him.
Thanks Jeff for the reminder. And God, forgive us when we are more interested in our needs than we are in what it is to love You or to be loved by You.