Is your life a puzzle? Here are 6 questions to help you sort it out.
Have you ever felt like you have reached an impasse? That your life with God is stuck? Life is like a laboratory. We learn through the process of living. My father-in-law once gave me some godly advice. He said, “Richard, don’t take yourself too seriously.” He also told me to absorb the book of Genesis, explaining that “all the great themes of the Bible are there.” As I studied the Genesis narratives, and the lives of the prophets I came up with six questions that have helped bring my life into clearer perspective.
We are not spiritually formed by one insight, one experience, or one conversation. Though our spiritual awareness may begin with such an event—however spectacular or profound, it is only the beginning. These six questions have not only proven useful in my own journey but in my coaching and interaction with others.
Spiritual growth is slow, incremental over time, with others and for others.There are no quick fixes or silver bullets—no instantaneous pathways to spiritual maturity. The journey often takes us through a long, torturous path to bring us into “cruciformity” (allowing God to conform our lives to the cross of Christ. (Phil 2:5-8).
It took Abraham twenty-five year years from the time he first received his call until God tested him on Mt. Moriah (Genesis 12-22). Imagine that. Twenty-five years before he finally understood what God was doing. In vain Abraham repeatedly tried to fulfill God’s promise by human manipulation. Yet, the scriptures say that “he staggered not at the promises of God.” Paul describes Abraham as seeing: “dead things as though they were alive and things that are not as though they were.” Ultimately, Abraham’s faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”
Think about Joseph. His story is painful. Due to the favoritism shown him by his father, Jacob, he was threatened with death at the hands of his own brothers. In the sovereignty of God they acquiesced to a more moderate way to get rid of their pesky little brother by selling him into slavery. Though he was probably just a teenager, Joseph clearly had learned to listen to the God of his father, and he had the good sense to trust God’s wisdom under dire and long lasting circumstances.
But it is Jeremiah that I turn to for illustrating the questions that are the basis of this discussion. God’s shaping hand in Jeremiah’s life involved so much pain and rejection that I cannot bear to read his story in one sitting. Nonetheless he states, This is what the Lord says, “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches but let him who boasts boast about this. That he understands and knows me and I am the Lord who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth for in these I delight” (Jer. 9:
vs. 23-24). Jeremiah’s belief in God’s kindness, justice and righteousness remained resolute.
Here are the six questions derived from Jeremiah’s walk with God.
Question 1: Where are you?
Jeremiah found himself in the midst of an alien culture, surrounded by deceit. The preachers of the day were proclaiming peace when there was no peace. He found that he alone was a truth teller in a world where no one wanted the truth. He didn’t know how to interpret his strange and mysterious feelings. He was alone and afraid. Jeremiah found himself saying: “I’m incompetent. I’m inadequate. I’m just a child.” (1:7)
Brutal honesty—especially about ourselves—is hard to face. Objectivity is painful and difficult. Facing the stark reality of who I really am has been one of life’s greatest challenges for me.
The very first question God asks is recorded in Genesis Three. Where are you? God was not asking Adam and Eve what tree they were hiding behind. He knew that. He was asking about their souls. Where are you? Did you eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Adam’s immediate answer is not recorded, but his ultimate response is. He blames others. He makes excuses for himself. Sound familiar?
One of my professors at Fuller Seminary was Max Dupree, the CEO of the Herman Miller Corporation. Max was a godly man, full of wisdom. He was Dutch—a big man, barrel chested with a massive head, an impressive figure as he strode into the classroom each day. The first question he would ask was “What is current reality?” He explained that a common mistake is failure to truthfully define current reality. Many business people claim reality to be what they only imagine or hope to become. Max believed this to be a common error among Christian leaders, that ministry too often is based on illusion—a false concept of what is. We need to make honest confession in answer to the question, where am I? What is God really asking me? Where am I in my personal life, in my own soul?
Question 2: Where do you see the shaping hand of God at work in your life?
In chapter one we see that Jeremiah was aware of God’s plan and purpose for his life. God assures him, “Before you were formed in the womb I knew you.” (1:5) This is true for each one of us, not unique to Jeremiah.
God tells Jeremiah that he is appointed to a special assignment—to be a prophet, to speak
God’s words to God’s people. When Jeremiah resists, God says, “I will touch your mouth.” (1:9) I believe, from a biblical and theological stand point, that there are things happening in your life and mine every day that we simply ignore as ordinary. As a result our souls are poverty stricken. We miss out because we are not listening to God, not tuned to his shaping hand in our lives.
God is omnipresent. He is sovereign, and he is always at work. Do you sit at your desk wondering what in the world God is doing to shape your life there? Everything—everything in your life, even the circumstances of your birth were uniquely planned to shape you for a purpose that only you can fulfill. And it is still going on. While you are sitting behind your desk handling paperwork, talking on the phone, reading and answering emails, or engaging in a quiet casual conversation with a wounded brother or sister, God’s shaping hand is at work in your life. We need to raise our awareness of this. Answering this question, “Where is the shaping hand of God—What is God up to here?” is key to our understanding of God’s unique plan and purpose. It may take some time to interpret. It may even take years. Do I really want to know God, or do I just want to be delivered from my present discomfort? Better to ask what God may be doing to bring me into conformity with his plan and purpose for my life. If I ask, he is sure to answer.
Question 3: Who are you and who is God?
In today’s culture the question is all about me: Who am I? What do I want for myself? However, if I am made in the image of God for a special purpose I cannot really know myself until I know the answer to the more basic question, “Who is God?” God reveals himself to Jeremiah and makes it clear that without His enabling Jeremiah could never fulfill his calling (1:17-19).
Jeremiah begins to discern who he is and what he is called to do. God says, I have made you a tester of metals and my people the ore, that you may observe and test their ways I (6:27). This was an impossible assignment; that is, unless you have heard and understood God’s interpretation of who you are and who he is. Jeremiah knew the God who declared that they [who] have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight (9:2). God delights in revealing his glory in your life.
In his sermon, The Weight of Glory, CS Lewis asserts that there is a “weight of glory” resting on every created being. In Mere Christianity he illustrates this in a wonderful metaphor:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
Question 4: How do you organize your life?
We can talk about where I am. That’s safe. We can talk about where God seems to be shaping our lives. We can read and engage in theological discussion about who God is and come to some correct conclusions with solid biblical scholarship. But Question Four brings us to a watershed moment. This one calls for action. Am I willing to disrupt my routine—leave my comfort zone—to reorganize my life so as to bring joy to God? The ultimate question is: Am I willing? Or, perhaps it is better to ask: What hinders my willingness?
Jeremiah heard from God, and so can we if only we will listen. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (29:11-13).
Question 5: What is my unique, prophetic God calling?
The book opens with the Jeremiah’s call to ministry, but the fleshing out of that call is developed through the whole book—throughout his entire life. This has been true in my own life as well. Some people may not realize their unique call until they reach their fifties or sixties. Coming to a point where we know our calling with certainty is something God begins to shape in us. It is God’s work, usually beyond all imagination. We move from a general calling to a specific calling to a unique, prophetic calling.
God nuances our lives through experiences of disappointment, joy, pleasure and, yes, pain and suffering. God reveals his method of working in lives through scripture narratives and through our own experiences. They teach us that each person’s story is divinely planned. He invites us to participate in what he is up to in our lives. The Lord is good to those who hope in him … Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone (Lam. 3:23, 32-33).
Question 6: What is my context?
We deal with context throughout all of life—every stage, age and season. We are never not surrounded by context. And we deal with context in every realm—cultural, subcultural, emotional, physical and spiritual and at every level of relationship. Context can influence everything we do all our lives, and it changes—sometimes monthly, sometimes even daily. We are vulnerable. Context has the power to change us, for better or for worse. We need to cling to our God whose love never fails and whose mercies are new every morning, remembering that our context is not limited to the material world. We who know God can live in the world of his Spirit.
We are given the choice to live in the restrictive dimension of the natural world or live free from the bondage of self and bask in the world of God’s glory.
… Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware …
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I hope you will find some guidance in these six questions. Perhaps we should develop the habit of asking them of one another. We cannot remain faithful on our own. We dare not think we can live in isolation and get it right. Self-deception seems to be the default drive of the human spirit. But God knows this, and he gives his grace to help us in our times of need and in every aspect of our journey.
—From a Chapel Talk given by Richard Bush