When God Asks a Question…

We often fear questions. We are afraid to ask questions; we are afraid of being questioned; we are afraid of asking the wrong questions or not asking the right ones. And we are often afraid of the answers, too.

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God is not afraid of our questions. In fact, He wants us to ask, to seek, and to knock (Matthew 7:7, Jeremiah 33:3, and others). God knows the answers to our questions– He even knows our motives in asking them! God may not give us the answers we expect, or answer in the manner or time we expect. But God encourages us to ask anyway, and to trust in His ability and His desire to give us what we need in the moment we most need it.

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God also asks questions–not because He doesn’t already know the answers, but because we can learn from the questions He asks, and the answer we give. Some of God’s questions seem self-evident; others are probing. Some are rhetorical; others are anguished. Let’s take a look at just a few, and see what we might be able to learn from them:

  • In Genesis 3, God asks some very obvious questions of Adam and Eve after they hide from him. “Where are you?” Adam and Eve had not successfully hidden from God. He knew exactly where they were and even why they were hiding. But instead of storming into the Garden of Eden with condemnation and instant judgment, God asked a simple question, giving them both the opportunity to confess, and a clear reminder of their broken relationship. There had never been a need (on either side) to ask “Where are you?” After Adam responds with the excuse of being naked and ashamed, God asks his second question, “Who told you that you were naked?” God knew the answer to this, as well, but He added a third question that forced Adam to get to the heart of the matter and tell Him the truth– “Have you eaten from the tree…?” God could have asked condemning questions– “How could you disobey me like this?” “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?!” But God isn’t asking questions to overwhelm Adam and Eve with their guilt and shame. He’s asking for truthful acknowledgment of their disobedience, so their broken relationship can begin to be repaired. God assigns punishment, but He does not bring additional questions and condemnation
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  • In the very next chapter, God asks Cain a probing question, “Why are you angry? (And why has your countenance fallen?)” God knows the answer. He knows how Cain feels and what Cain is thinking. God knows it so well, that He challenges Cain to master his anger and turn his face upward (i.e. seek God’s counsel over his own emotions). We don’t like probing questions, because they reveal our selfish motives and dark impulses. But God actually WANTS us to be aware of our own tendencies–and our need for His wisdom and grace! God is not afraid of our darkest thought– He doesn’t want to expose them for our shame, but enlighten us for our own good!
  • In Genesis chapter 18, the Lord asks a rhetorical question, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…” (concerning the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah). God had already determined that they should be destroyed; He had no need to share this information with Abraham. But in asking the rhetorical question, God gave us a glimpse into His character (as well as a window into Abraham’s character!) God does everything with purpose. He is not willing to hide information we need, nor to waste time or energy on useless information. Imagine if we knew everything–everything!- that would happen to us for the next year? If we knew about that near miss at the intersection on May 22, or the toothache on June 2, or the “surprise” birthday party in October? But when God does choose to open a window, He gives us a chance to respond. Abraham did not choose to argue that Sodom and Gomorrah were not wicked cities, or that God had no business destroying them. His heart was driven to discover if God would destroy the innocent with the wicked. He got his answer (several times over!) And even when God did not find ten innocent people in the cities, He still offered rescue for Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and his family.
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  • It isn’t only God the father who asks questions. Jesus the son asked two agonizing questions in the New Testament. While He was dying on the cross, He asked the Father, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus knew, intellectually and spiritually, why God had forsaken him; but His question echoed the one found all the way back in the Garden of Eden– “Where ARE you?” The ultimate anguish of being separated from God’s presence was felt by God himself! The agony of loneliness that comes from sin and shame and guilt– God knows it intimately from both sides!
  • Jesus also asked and anguished question of Saul of Tarsus– “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4) Just as God asked Cain to look carefully at his motives and emotions, so Jesus challenges Saul to reexamine his activities and ambitions. Jesus knew, of course, why Saul was hunting down those who were preaching the Good News. He knew Saul’s ambition and his zeal for the Law. He knew that it had blinded him to the truth. And in Saul’s physical blindness, Jesus could “open his eyes” to a greater ambition and zeal–to preach this same Good News to the Gentiles– the same Gospel that is opening eyes around the world to this day to see the Awesome, Eternal, Victorious, and All-Encompassing Love of God.
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Today, may we ask, seek, search out, study, cry out, knock on doors, and pursue this truth–God wants to meet with us! He wants to talk to us, to listen to us, to share closeness, to increase our Joy and be joined to us in our Grief, to lift up our countenance, end our isolation, and be the ultimate answer to our questions.

Knock…

Matthew 7:7-12 New International Version (NIV)

Ask, Seek, Knock

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

I have heard many sermons using this passage, and the sermons always focus on our (active) end of the directive–Ask!  Seek!  Knock!   But what does this passage say about God?

God is omnipresent, and He has revealed Himself in creation, and through the lives of His people.  But God is also reserved– He does not give us all the answers; He doesn’t spoil us by catering to our every wish; He keeps certain things behind closed doors.

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“Knock, and the door will opened to you.”  There is no mention of a key or key card, a pass code, or any need for ID– just knock.  God will open the door.  I imagine thousands of (figurative) doors in my life– opportunities, blessings, challenges, relationships– each beckoning.  But the doors cannot be opened from the outside.  I can strain and push, yell and shake my fist at the closed door in front of me, kick at it, even try to break it down.  But if I knock, the door will be opened.

This doesn’t mean that I have no choices or free will as I go along.  I can find hallways, roadways, even freeways on which to travel.  And there are opportunities along those paths and roads that are not waiting behind a door.  But just like the questions we need to ask, and the quests for which we seek, the closed doors cause us to make a choice– will we knock or walk on?  Will we try to open the door in our own power, or knock and let God open the door from His side?

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Ask, seek, knock– God desires that we take steps toward Him.  He will not walk away, or reject those who sincerely desire His presence.  He will not give us “bad” gifts– though He allows us to walk through “the valley of the shadow of death”, He will not leave us there with no comfort or hope.  He will not “lock us out” of His goodness or His Grace.  In fact, HE stands at the door and knocks– waiting for US to open the door, as well.

Someone may say– “I turned away from the door, walked down my own path, and now I’m trapped behind a wall of doubt and guilt and bad choices.  There are no doors left for me”.  Jesus stands ready to change all that.  There are no walls or dungeons He cannot enter– He will make a door, if that’s what it takes– just ask!  You may have to climb over some of the debris, but He will pull you up and over any obstacle you can imagine.

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Someone else may say, “I have prayed and prayed, and God hasn’t opened the door for me…”  I don’t have an “easy” answer for you, and I don’t want to give a canned response– God isn’t a “one size fits all” God– His ways are good, but they are not always comprehensible.  I can only give an example from my own life.  I prayed for years that God would “open the door” for me to be married and have children.  I met several wonderful men, some godly, others just really nice guys who don’t follow Jesus.  I could have fallen into, or schemed my way into a marriage or sexual relationship with one of them– I could have tried to get pregnant for years before I found out I was barren.  I might have made a marriage work, might have adopted children, might have…But I kept knocking on THE door– the one that God set before my heart and soul– the door that called me to enter and be close to Him– to do it His way or not at all.  For over 25 years I knocked– sometimes faintly and with fear that the door would stay closed– sometimes with a sort of desperation.  And one day, the door opened– God’s door, God’s way.  I have no doubts or regrets about knocking at that door, or waiting for it to be opened from God’s side.  I had imagined what was on the other side of that door–what I have received is perfectly sufficient, even as it is totally different from what I imagined.  I never had children of my own– but as I waited for God’s timing, He led me to work with hundreds of children who blessed my life beyond description.  And in waiting, He led me to opportunities I would never have had if the door had opened in MY timing.  All I can say is this– God led me to desire something worthy and good and to His Glory.  I believed it was marriage and family–but even if I were still unmarried today, I would not stop praying; not stop knocking; not stop trusting in God’s goodness and His wisdom for my life.

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Another may say, “I knocked on a door, and God opened it, but it only brought me pain and misery.”  Once again, I don’t have a quick or easy answer for you, and there is no answer that will magically take away pain and misery.  I don’t want to invalidate or deny your experience, and I don’t want to claim that I know why God has allowed you to go through such an experience.  I would only challenge you to be like Jacob, who wrestled with God and would not let go until he got a blessing.  I don’t know why God withholds some answers and allows pain that seems needless and senseless.  And even though I know of many instances where God has brought resolution and healing out of tragedy, I also know that it doesn’t erase all the tears and questions.  My own experience brought years of depression, bitterness, and isolation even as it brought incredible growth and opportunity– I still have memories that bring tears and painful thoughts–but I know that healing is possible, and I still believe that God is “good”– I believe that God is with us even in our pain and sorrow.  I believe that Jesus suffered greatly, not only on the cross, but throughout His earthly life– He faced rejection, betrayal, frustration, misunderstanding, hatred, bigotry, injustice, loneliness, homelessness, poverty, hunger, and more.  Pain is intense, but it is not eternal.  Evil is real and it is miserable, but it is not victorious.

Keep knocking.  Your door may seem like the ultimate barrier, but God wants to open it for you.

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Seek…

Matthew 7:7-12 New International Version (NIV)

Ask, Seek, Knock

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

I work at a small retail shop, and I have come to recognize at least three different types of shoppers.  There are the browsers– they have no clear idea of what they are looking for, and they spend their time looking at items and chatting.  They may end up buying items, but they are just as likely to pick up an item, consider it, and then cast it aside if something else catches their eye, or their friends are ready to leave.

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Then, there are the lookers.  They pick up certain items, look at the price, look at the color and size, hold it up, try it on (if it can be worn); they may even ask their friends’ advice.  They have a particular need, and they are looking for an item that “fits” that need.

But the seekers– look out!  They march in, come right up to the counter and ask me a host of specific questions.  Do you have_______________?  They have a description of the item they’re seeking– size, color, brand or label–often very specific and they insist that nothing else will do.  If I assure them that I do not have that item in stock, they turn tail and walk away.  If I say that I have something similar, they may reluctantly let me bring it out for inspection, but one glance is all it takes for them to make up their minds.  If I suggest something else, they are likely to shake their head(s) and walk away.  They may come back in a week or month, or even next year, looking for the same item, or something else, but they come with the same pulsing energy, and excitement.  Price is generally no object.  The fact that I don’t have the item they’re looking for does not diminish their excitement or desire to find “that one item” that brought them through my door.

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We live in a world of browsers– in fact, our search engines/internet information-gathering applications are called “browsers”.  We enter a keyword, the application brings back dozens or thousands of possible sites, and we “browse” through our options until we find one that seems to give us the information we want or need.  This is fine if we are looking for general information.  It becomes frustrating if we are looking for an exact website, unless we know its domain name or URL.

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In pursuing prayer, and “seeking” a closer relationship with God, sometimes, I stoop to browsing– I’m not really seeking His face, just looking around for encouragement or validation or a vague warm, fuzzy “feeling”.  God is a rewarder of those who seek Him.  Earnestly, diligently, fervently.  We are not called to browse idly, but to seek boldly.

I used to work with teens.  Sometimes I would organize a scavenger hunt, or a treasure hunt.  Teams would form, clues or lists would be given, along with a time limit.  Students would run, climb, dig, crawl, scamper, push, sweep, turn things over, and under, and all around–all in the pursuit of a clue or an item for a game.  How much more might we see God’s response if we brought this kind of energy and passion to our prayer life?

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I think I have some seeking to do…

Ask…

Matthew 7:7-12 New International Version (NIV)

Ask, Seek, Knock

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

I’m really bad about asking for help.  I don’t mind asking for advice or opinions– I can listen and take the advice or ignore it; accept someone else’s opinion or not.  But asking for help puts a certain obligation to accept whatever help is given.  It also announces that you have a need; that you are struggling and can’t do “it” on your own.  This is especially true in situations where we are embarrassed to admit to shortcomings, inabilities, or perceived failures.

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Asking is difficult for most of us.  Not just because we must swallow our pride and admit to a need, but because we must hope that whoever we ask will be willing or able to meet that need.  Asking becomes more difficult when we don’t know who we can trust.  Admitting weakness to someone who is kind is a small risk–it may bruise our pride, or cause the other person to pity us.  Asking for help from someone who is deceitful, arrogant, incompetent, or abusive is a recipe for disaster.

Sometimes, we are afraid to ask for help because we sense that there is no help to be given.  We wallow in despair, thinking all is lost or hopeless.  But fear and despair are not wise counselors–they cannot help us out of our problems; they can’t even see beyond the current chaos or the next panic.  Sometimes, we are too proud to ask someone else to do what we feel we should be able to do– others can manage, others can triumph “on their own”– not realizing that they had help along the way, or that they need help in other areas where we are strong.

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And sometimes, we don’t want the kind of “help” that is offered.  We want help to stay in our comfort zone, even if it means bondage to addiction, or losing an opportunity that comes only with hard work or sacrifice.  We want someone to lie to us, keep us comfortable, or flatter us, when our greatest need is someone to challenge us, coach us, and give us the truth, even when it stings.  In fact, if we have grown lethargic, entitled, and arrogant, we won’t ask for help– we will demand a lesser form of help that enables us to stay as we are, and not help us become who we were meant to be.

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So consider this as you pray today– the God of the Universe– creator of galaxies and microcosms, ruler of eternity, the God who hears every sigh of every human on the face of the planet and knows who made it and why, the God who gave His only Son to fulfill the law and restore your soul–this God is waiting for you to ASK Him for help, for guidance, for wisdom, for your daily needs, for forgiveness that only He can give completely.  And He promises to give good gifts– joy, peace, hope, love.  He will not scorn us in our need– He already knows it,  Why are you waiting?

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