Like a good evangelical Christian, every morning my day starts with quiet time. The Lord’s prayer, then other prayers, setting my day up, giving it over to God. And from prayer I go to Scripture, helped in that discipline by Bible Reading notes. A verse or a question to find my way in; then the passage; then the reflections; then a question or challenge at the end, to chew on and turn into some praise, prayer or new resolve.
Not long afterwards I commute to work, which nowadays means just a walk from the kitchen to the home office. I turn on my computer, log on, and in my inbox is a daily devotional email from the denomination to which I belong. Another passage, another reflection, and another question.
Whatever I lack in my life, I don’t lack questions.
What is the sin I need to confess?
How does this Bible character’s failing relate to a weakness in my own character?
What is my modern-day idol, the good thing that’s become a bad thing, that I daydream of too much?
Who will I share my faith with today?
What new habit do I need to form?
In what way do I lack faith and trust?
What is distracting me and how am I going to spend more time with Jesus?
There is always to be stretching, always to be striving. We think we are stale if we stand still.
Woody Allen said – speaking in a romantic context – “a relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we’ve got on our hands is a dead shark.”
We followers of Jesus are told by our Master that we’re sheep who relate to a shepherd, but actually, I suspect, many of us live more like sharks. Always trying to move forward and thinking that if we’re not, we are poorer Christians and our faith will in some way die.
And so, we love our questions. They prod and push us on. They mean we’ll never get complacent. The best way to submit to our Lord is to submit to questions, each and every day.
At this point, confession is necessary. I preach regularly and I write some of those devotions for my denomination. And I’m totally bought into questions – somebody told me once that I ask good ones, and boy did I see that as a complement. I’ve drunk the Kool aid that says there’s got to be questions if there’s going to be growth.
But here’s the thing. In 2020 I’ve run out of road with questions, and all the analysis and spiritual self-criticism that comes with them. The pandemic and its change and turbulence have been so unsettling. About a decade of social change has been compressed into six months. For me, personally, my parents’ ageing has been an enormous challenge, and I know others have equivalent pressures in their own seasons of life.
And so, my question is this: in a year when life itself has been so exhausting, does our endless preoccupation with questions result in this Christian faith that is meant to be so life-giving, actually becoming yet another source of exhaustion?
I wonder if many of the questions are not pushing us on, but simply wearing us out. If we become people who think the only legitimate place to swim is the 13-ft end of the pool, do we become stronger swimmers, or just tired swimmers?
Part of the answer, I suspect, is that we shouldn’t ditch the questions altogether, not tilt right to the other extreme and throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Maybe we should instead resolve to just ask fewer questions. I feel there are times when they come at me at such a rate of knots that I’m barely getting a benefit from one, before I’m hit by another. There is only so much that our souls can – and in God’s wisdom – are made to absorb.
And the other part of the answer – for me at least – is realising that there’s as much if not more value in abiding, resting and remaining, as there is in questioning.
The older I get, the more I see that Christian growth is in many ways an organic thing, borne of being with Jesus and being open to the Spirit, as it is a thing that we force the pace of with our endless self-examination. I increasingly wonder if the reason we strive and push ourselves so hard is that we don’t – despite what we say we think – really believe that Jesus and the Spirit can together transform us, so we live as if that’s something we have to do mainly for ourselves. Perhaps I stretch my point to make it, but perhaps not?
But that’s another question for another day.
Colin Neill is a Contemporary Christianity Board Member.
Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.
Thank you Colin for your honesty. What you write resonates with my own experience. Some of the questions posed in the evangelical tradition are framed as if they come from on high but, in fact, come from our own insecurities. The “organic” growth that comes from “being with Jesus” is the result of being in a place of rest long enough to allow the seed to start growing. The questions can be like the action of the person who’s forever disturbing the soil to check if anything is happening.
Amen to that, Colin.
The human tendency of wanting to tick the box, and perform ‘something’ in order to feel approved, is deeply imbedded in us, – due to our education & conditioning, to a great extent.
It can deceive us into being blind to the exquisite Grace of God.
Thanks Colin and Sean. The scriptures do speak of examining ourselves, but not often, so there is a right place for it but we easily over do it with our latent Pelagianism. How about asking questions like “Isn’t grace/freedom wonderful?” “Why are you so afraid, O you of little faith?”
A very perceptive and thought provoking post.