Monday, January 2, 2017

Curious: Answering a question with a question

Jesus often answers a question with a question. How do you like that if you ask your teacher a question and he or she answers you back with more questions? Jesus was interested in provoking critical thinking in the minds of those who asked Him questions. That’s why as we read in the Bible that Jesus did not hold many Q and A sessions but he had many Q and Q (questions and questions) sessions. In the four gospels, Jesus was asked up to 183 questions. Out of these, He only gave direct answers in four of these questions. In another 179 questions, He answered either with another questions, in parables, or cryptic remarks that make the questioners with even more questions than when they first asked Him. And if we consider the questions that He put in the mouths of the characters of His parables, Jesus asked a total of 307 questions. In other words, Jesus seems not too committed to upfront clarity as much as we would like Him to be. Rather Jesus seems to be more interested in ensuring that we are asking the right questions. 

This book describes how, by asking the right questions, we can help empower those we influence to greater motivation and creativity as they live out their answers to these questions with God’s help. As Jesus demonstrated, asking the right questions at the right time, and communicating them in the right spirit, can transform hearts and change the world.
For example, in John 1:37, the two disciples of John the Baptist were following Jesus. Maybe they wanted to ensure they were following the right Master if they were to switch from following John the Baptist to following Jesus. And Jesus turned around that asked them this sharp, poignant question:
What are you seeking?

What do you seek? (NKJV)
What do you want? (NIV, NLT)
What are you after? (The Message)
What seek ye? (KJV)

The word “seek” is translated from the Greek word “ze-teo” (Gk 2212) which brings the meaning of even to demand, to crave or to strive hard for or even to worship as in Acts 17:27.  In other words, it is our overarching passion and goal in life.

If we were together with Andrew and Peter in the crowd that day and were following Jesus from behind and Jesus turned around and asked each of us individually this question:
What is it that you seek?
What is it that you seek in life?
what is it that you seek from Me (Jesus)? What do you want from Jesus?

“What are you seeking” is a simple but very profound question. Many people go through life without asking this all-important question. Many people may even walk in and out of the church every week without considering the question that Jesus asked: “What is it that you are seeking?”

For Andrew and Peter, perhaps, Jesus was trying to point to them that if fame and popularity was what they were looking for, perhaps John the Baptist had a larger crowd.  Or were they seeking a new set of teachings? New inspirational messages? A psychological technique to overcome life’s struggles? A new religious movement? What is it?

As David Platt, the founder of Church of Brook Hills and President of Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, said: “We don’t come to Jesus to get wealth, health and prosperity. We come to Jesus to get Jesus.”

Tom Hughes in this book, says:
“What are you looking for?” is a stunning question - brilliant in its simplicity, vexing in its answer. Jesus does not tell them what they are looking for, or even direct them toward what they should be looking for; he asks them and by asking them, he leads them (and us). We are all in search of something. We are all on a quest… This question helps us to pause and reflect whether what we are doing in our lives matches the deepest desires of our hearts.”
Another purpose of Jesus using question, as shown by Tom Hughes in chapter 2, is to unravel the dishonesty in man’s spiritual lives. Hughes gave the example in John 21:17 when Jesus used the word “agape” (unconditional love) when he asked Peter whether he loved Him or not. Prior to Peter’s denial, Peter would probably have answered back with an affirmative agape (for example see his response in Matt 26:33; John 13:37). But now he was not too sure. Rather, Peter used the word “phileo” - which is a love between close friends but different from agape. The second time Jesus asked Peter, again Jesus used the word “agape”. But the third time, Jesus used the word “phileo” that Peter used. It is as if Jesus was saying to Peter, “now that you know and are honest enough to admit that your love is not as strong as you claimed to be, that’s when I will come and meet you at the point where you are in your spiritual journey.”

Thirdly, Jesus used question to spark and sustain a momentum in people. An example of this would be in Matt 15:34. As the Creator of the universe who holds all things together (Col 1:16-17) and creates every fish in the earth, surely He does not need

But as Tom Hughes points out:
Jesus is not just interested in getting the job done; he’s interested in getting His community involved to get the job done. He’s not just interested in filling the crowd’s stomachs; he’s interested in transforming His disciples’ hearts. By asking “How much bread do you have?”, Jesus is moving His disciples from the sidelines to play their parts. He’s creating a community of people who become co-conspirators with Him to do something about the hunger of the world. They are invited to be involved, not simply watch from the sidelines...The disciples were central to all of this. Jesus is inviting them to be world-changers by the profound act of trusting Him with the resources they had. He is asking them to become part of something larger than their own stomachs. Jesus doesn’t ask the crowds how many loaves they have; He asked the disciples. That question would dredge up all sorts of fear of inadequacy, greed and entitlement. They’d probably think things like I don’t see howe my little loaf will make much of a difference in the face of overwhelming needs. Or, if I give Jesus my loaf, am I going to end up hungry?”

This story of feeding of the four thousand is a story of God providing for the people, but it’s also the story of a leader who could have done it all by Himself, but chose instead to ask question that invited others to be involved.

Just as the good Samaritan, we may not be able to do good for many people, but we can at least do good for one people.

Click here for a pdf excerpt from website

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I was given access for a limited time to this e-book free from Tyndale House Publishers  as part of their book review program called Tyndale Blog Network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

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