Asking The Right Question
This week I am beginning a new sermon series entitled, "Finding Spiritual Direction." It's a timely series--at least I think it is--because I seem to be talking to a number of people who are struggling to figure out what their purpose in life is. People sometimes say to me, "I feel like God has something for me to do, but I don't know what it is." Or they might admit, "I just have no idea what to do with my life." The funny thing is, these comments and the questions that surround them are being offered up by people of all ages in all stages of life.
Trying to figure out what to be when we grow up, is often a lifetime process. Some of us freely admit it. Others may not openly say such a thing, but their actions and their questions reveal the truth.
I still don't know what God has in store for me---what I am supposed to be doing next. Most of the time I am content to do RIGHT NOW, but sometimes RIGHT NOW isn't enough to maintain my peace of mind. I want to know what's around the bend. I would really like to be able to prepare a bit for whatever twists and turns are going to be part of the journey. I would like to know who God would have me become. Plus, I want to make sure that I am on the right path.
A few years ago, when I was a youth director of a large church in Chicago, I led a mission trip to Mexico with about 35 students and leaders. Near the end of our week, we climbed one of the large foothills that loomed behind the community we served. We were careful to tell our students not to stray off of the path. Some students and the younger leaders raced to the top. Us older adults and some of the less athletic students brought up the rear. The ascent went off without a hitch and no one veered away from the plan. However, on the way back down two boys decided to take what they thought was a shorter way down the mountain. By moving just a few yards off course, they eventually found themselves several hundred yards and then, as they moved down the mountain, several MILES. God was good to us, though, because they had the presence of mind to go into a police station and were eventually returned to us. Idiots. I almost killed them both.
Scary how being just a few degrees off can really give you a detour.
I guess that's why these questions of purpose and direction really plague us. Deep down inside we all worry if we are doing what we are supposed to be doing with our lives.
And wondering if there is something more... and if we'll miss it.
Kids ask a lot of questions. I know because I have two boys. One of them is almost 15 and the other is 5 (Having them ten years apart was a good thing because it assured my wife and I that we would have a built in baby-sitter at some point---which is now, by the way.) A huge part of my sons development has been aided by their inquisitive nature. They have always been curious about the way the world works.
I have vivid memories of riding in my car with the my older son while he asked me from his car seat about everything he was seeing.
"What's that?" he would ask while pointing at a tree.
"A tree," I would respond.
"A man walking his dog."
Church life also produced a lot of great questions for my son. My first ministry job was serving as a part time youth director at a small church in Tallahassee, FL. Once, right before church, my son walked up to the minister who was walking down the aisle. He sized up the minister who was in his mid-fifties, with greying hair and a beard. He was wearing his robe and a colorful stole.
"Are you God?" Jay asked him.
Now that my older son believes that he knows everything (a phenomenon that happened when he turned 14, apparently) my younger son picked up the mantle of inquisitiveness that was dropped by his older brother. He asks questions about everything. I have to admit, though, his questions seem to drift more toward the existential than his brother's did at the same age. A year or so ago he and I had long conversation about what sort of Crocs that God would wear, and what color. We decided that God would wear regular Crocs and that they would be blue.
He hit me with this one recently.
"Daddy, did God make the Devil?"
"I suppose so. The Bible says that he created all things---Lucifer included."
"If God loves everything that he made, then wouldn't God also love the Devil, too?"
Yeah. Put your mind around that theologically.
I sometimes understand how infinitely patient God must be with us--with all of our questions and all of our wondering.
Here's the thing... I don't think that people have problems with asking questions about their future. Almost to a person the people I have counseled over the years who were struggling mightily to determine the course of their life wished with all of the heart that they could find an answer to their questions.
There are two problems that I seem to encounter the most in my own life, and I have observed them at work in others as well. First, most of us ask questions about purpose and meaning without a lot of openness to an answer that isn't part of our own vision or plans for our life. Essentially, we don't often ask about serious life stuff for the sake of learning. We ask because we want a good answer that suits us and is easy to put our hands around.
Second, and most importantly, I think that most of us are busy asking questions but aren't asking the right question.
There is this great moment in John's Gospel (chapter 14) where Jesus tells his disciples, "And I am going away, and you know where I am going." The disciples didn't, in fact, know where Jesus was going, but only one of them spoke up: Thomas. We generally know Thomas by his nickname "Doubting Thomas." I think Thomas was probably the most honest of all the disciples, however. He was the only one who spoke up when Jesus delivered his cryptic, Jedi Knight message. "Master," Thomas said, "We have no idea where you are going. How do you expect us to know the Road?"
See... Thomas asked the right question. Because Thomas asked the obvious question, "How do I know the Way--or Road" we have the answer that Jesus gave him, which is only one of his most foundational and transforming sayings.
"I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You've even seen him!"Jesus didn't give Thomas a treatise on how to live a purpose driven life. He didn't give him 10 steps on how to win friends and influence people.
What he told Thomas was simply this: "Trust in me. Give up control. Follow me. Begin the journey."
Funny. The right question is "How do we know the way?" and the right answer is "Jesus." Sort of like how in Sunday school Jesus is often the best answer to every question. Only we're not talking about Sunday school, we're talking about Life. Sometimes the things we learn in Sunday school are kind of important.
Oh, and here's something else. You can't sit still and follow Jesus. You can't stay in the same place and expect to go on the journey Jesus is calling you to begin. When you are on a journey, the scenery changes. Get used to it.
I read once that renowned Christian author Phillip Yancey went to visit Mother Theresa before she died. He was going through some personal torment regarding decisions he needed to make with his life. At the end of his time in India with Mother Theresa, Yancey screwed up his courage to ask her to pray for him regarding all of the decisions that were weighing on him. She paused for a moment and then told him, "I will not pray that you make good decisions, I will pray that you will learn to trust God more."
At the end of this passage of Scripture that we are digging around in is this awesome nugget:
"The person who trusts in me will not only do what I'm doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I've been doing. You can count on it. From now own, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I'll do it."Absorb this. Jesus said that we are called to do GREATER things than he did. How's that for purpose? How's that for meaning? You might be saying, "Well, that's a bit cutesy and pretty darned abstract. What does that have to do with meaning and purpose for MY life?"
What did Jesus do? He healed. He accepted those who were on the outside looking in. He gave of himself freely and unconditionally. He cared more for others than his own life. He resisted religiosity over a relationship with God. He was a peacemaker. He was a patient and grace-filled teacher. He was a friend to the friendless. He was so close to God that he called him "Daddy."
Shall I go on?
I realize that this doesn't provide an easy way out for those who might be looking for one. There is no easy way to do this. And there is no way to find purpose and meaning without first asking the right question.
And then embracing the Answer.