I can’t think of a time when I didn’t question something. I always made it a point to raise my hand when I was in primary school to ask questions, even if they sounded dumb. In an interview, I make sure to ask a question, trying to make sure the interviewee knows I’m all-in the game. Internally, I’ve always had philosophical questions about the creation of the universe or the purpose of the stars or why bad things happen, all of the types of inquiries that people have argued over since Aristotle.
In most cases, there are lots of answers. But when you come across a question about yourself that you can’t seem to answer, where do you turn? Where do you find the answer?
I think we often worry about things that don’t matter. Too often, really. We worry about what people will think about us when we do or say something out of line. Our families might have a certain reputation to uphold, and if we think something that goes outside of those reputational boundaries then we might be breaking family precedent, and God forbid if we become the black sheep for simply thinking and/or acting differently. At school, kids might tease us for who we are and what we believe and say and do. At work, people might become stuck in a routine they never thought was breakable until they experience something completely drastic and life-changing — or maybe they never experience this at all and keep on keeping on. We even allow getting sick to take over how we think others might perceive us as possibly weak or lesser-than or worthless. Chris Overstreet, Bethel Church in Redding, California’s outreach ministry pastor who now oversees an amazing evangelism ministry in Portland, Oregon called Compassion to Action, described these fears as “the fear of man.” There are lots of ways we can find identity, and lots of things to worry about. But have you wondered if any of these things really don’t matter, and the whole time you’ve been missing the point?
When I worked as a journalist, many people in the industry would care about the next big tweet, or the next big social media post, or the next big gaffe someone on TV would make or say. Possibly there was the next big political loss or win, or maybe another news agency went out of business. We were all so self-consumed with our own image and reputation and viral continuity that we forgot to stop and take a look at the bigger picture, and the reason why we were reporting on the things we saw and heard. I loved the fast-paced news cycle, the drama, the grit, and the bits and pieces that were important and newsy, but they weren’t the only things to worry about. What they all pointed to certainly didn’t stop in the moment.
I recently met a man on the metro who was somewhere around the age of late 80’s or early 90’s who told me he was a botanist and worked for a publicly-funded museum, most likely one of the Smithsonians, here in DC. He told me his name was Robinson (not sure if this was his last name or his first). He recalled WWII days as a child, which allowed me to pinpoint his age range, besides the fact that his hair was whiter than a first snow in Michigan and he slightly depended on a cane. Robinson told me he had moved to the capital a few decades ago, and I asked him if he thought the city of DC changed over the years. His natural response was slow and held the vigor of an elderly man remembering days gone by, and he said yes. I asked him how exactly the city had changed, and he said it used to be much smaller in size. Robinson told me about some of the plants he had worked on as a botanist, and he looked as strong as any late 80’s/early 90’s year-old could, and after a few stops and questions about which stop was which, he got up and left the public transportation system he was still riding after 40 years in the city. Robinson was from upstate New York but he moved down to Washington, not for politics, not for government, but to be a botanist and to do biological research for a museum. Even Robinson laughed at the fact that the government was paying him to do scientific research with taxpayer money. Sometimes God works in funny ways, and our questions might not have answers until we can look back in retrospect. With all of the questions I have about the future and the promise of old age and the purpose I have in this world, I can’t wait to be like Robinson, who is so secure in his person and his past that he is willing to discuss it with a young, recently-moved, Northern Virginia-living stranger like me.
My friend’s mom was recently hospitalized due to a stroke. Then, she had another burst in one of the blood vessels to her brain that completely wiped out her mental ability to function. She can’t really respond to things physically or verbally. Her family is praying constantly around her, and many friends have come in to pray for her. The thing about this whole situation is that although my friend might be hurting on the inside seeing her mom go through this, her faith and her approach to life hasn’t changed one bit. She’s the same friend I made almost a year ago when I moved out to D.C., and has the same faith in the same good God that gave her and her mom and everyone around her life. God never wants us to be sick, but in moments like these He has primed himself to perform miracles we never could have dreamed. And just like he performs miracles on a daily, an hourly, really more like a 24/7 basis all across the world, who’s to say He won’t do a miracle for you?
There are countless stories of Jesus healing people and doing all sorts of miracles while he was on the earth. Then, when he was gone, his friends all went out and healed people and did miracles. And then their friends after that did the same thing, and they all primed the next generation to heal and do miracles and have strong faith in who Jesus was so they could continue sharing the gospel in a multitude of ways. Think of Paul and Timothy — this is the type of inter-generational relationship I’m talking about. They all knew God was bigger than anything they encountered with a preconceived notion.
The way Paul loved and cared after Timothy is so beautifully described in the letter of friendship Paul sent Lil’ Tim during his years of ministry:
“ Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.” 1 Timothy 1:18–19
“Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:11–16
Did Timothy ever question his ministry? I think he might have questioned who he was and what his purpose in life was simply based off the fact that Paul had to encourage him so much in his calling — not just in one letter, but two letters. That’s 3% of the books of the Bible right there.
So there are lots of questions we could have in the moment. Questions like: Why am I sick like this in a way I have never before experienced? Where am I going with this job? Should I move? Why haven’t I seen the crazy type of miracle works from my hands the way bigger leaders seem to be producing? Why does my family have so many problems? Why did my best friend turn on and hate me? Why am I single? Why does no one listen to me? Why does my husband seem to not respect me? Why does my wife continue to say pinching words that hurt deep? Will I ever have any good friends again? Will I be able to pay my rent this month? Am I going to get fired? Can I be fully healed?
When you know Jesus, like really know what he’s all about, not just have superficial knowledge that comes out in intellectual conversation, but be in relationship with Him and let Him tell you where to go and what to do in life and follow in his footsteps and he guides you, it looks like my favorite yet overused but completely relatable illustration of walking out life knowing God:
In the end we always have victory, because Romans says, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called, according to his purpose.” And we’re all called according to his purpose, because it says in Hebrews 2:9, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” And it doesn’t just say it in the Bible, but there are so many testimonies (yes, even today, not just historical) that point to the beauty and grace of God’s work in our lives, pointing out the victory that we have when we know Him.
Why do we worry? We shouldn’t. God doesn’t give us any excuse to worry, and it’s probably because He knows who He is and that He’s bigger than the worst possible scenario we could ever imagine happening to us or anyone we know on this earth, and He knows He can fix it faster than a heartbeat, and in real time. Because He knows this, He expects us to depend on this truth. In the book of Daniel, three men were so familiar with this understanding of God that even though they were condemned to burn to death in a cauldron of fire from a king who demanded they bow to a false god, they told the king that their God was greater than the situation at hand. The book of Daniel describes it like this: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’”
There are times when we will have things in our life that might not make sense. It happened to Paul. Paul described it like this:
“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12: 7–10
It happens to me too. There are some real, emotional and physical thorns in my side that I question a lot. But like Paul said, these weaknesses only enhance the power that Jesus has in our lives. Not that we should ever wish for them (ew who would ever do that, literally that’s gross), but that they are promised to come. James 1:2–3 says, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” The trials are promised (note that James does not say “if”, but he says “whenever”), but God’s victory is also promised. It’s not a human power that is made available to us, guys. Not even comparable to the type of power from kings and rulers and presidents and Bill Gates. It’s power from God, to overcome the adversities of life and evil, through us and for us. Author and lawyer Bob Goff described this type of humanly confusing interaction, when things look like their going backwards but God uses them to go forwards, in his book Love Does as a Jesus type of “reverse economy.” I agree with this analysis.
This it the God that saved humanity with his compassion after thinking to destroy everything that was evil in it and when it hated Him with an earth-wide flood. This is the God that started thousands of generations from one old guy and gal named Abraham and Sarah who physically could not have a kid because their bodies were so aged. This is the God who shut the mouths of ravenous lions when they surrounded Daniel, and sicked them on his enemies because of their evil ways. This is the God of Moses who oversaw a mass exodus of a promised people from slavery into a beautiful and ripe-for-harvest land. This is the God of an unlikely hero named David who became King of Israel after being forgotten by his own father out in the fields in his youth. This is the God who never relented on a cruel and bitter promised people after sending them prophet after prophet for generations to tell them to turn back to Him because he didn’t forget them even though his heart broke for their rebellion. This is a man named Jesus who died and overcame death at the right time because He knew the previously written law was impossible for any human to fulfill, and that every human ever born on this earth needed his death and resurrection more than they would ever know. This is the God of John and Peter and Paul and the first group of believers who performed miracles greater than the ones even Jesus did because He promised them it would happen. This is the God of William Wilberforce, the man behind the huge sweep of abolishing the slave trade in early 19th-century England, a movement that would eventually spread throughout the world. This is still the same God of low and high profile ministers today like Billy Graham, who influenced millions with his grace and evangelism and knowledge of a holy God, and Joyce Meyers, who presses on toward the same gospel news of Jesus even with the most horrible and broken childhood. He’s also the God of every person, big or small-named, who has a purpose in His everlasting plan for life. He’s the same God, with the same promise, and the same love since the beginning as we know it.
James 4 says, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”
We have a lot of questions, and that’s understandable. We’re human and we’re never going to know it all. We’ll never know exactly why we fell sick, or why people come and go in our lives, or why we have a certain job or why we live in a certain place. We don’t always need to know the answers. But the biggest question we can ask ourselves is: what are we living for? Is it for the visible moment? Are we consumed with our worries and our circumstance? We shouldn’t, because we don’t need to be. The God of the universe who is also the same God of our own particular and individual lives makes due on his good promises in real time.