Here’s an old joke that illustrates the pastoral need for asking the right question:
Once there was a boy sitting on a porch, with a dog next to him. A salesman approached the porch and asked the boy, “Does your dog bite?”
“Nope,” said the boy.
The salesman stepped on the porch to ring the doorbell and the dog viciously bit his leg. “I thought you said your dog didn’t bite!” screamed the salesman.
“My dog doesn’t bite,” said the boy. “But that’s not my dog.”
Sometimes asking the right question can make all the difference.
One of the great obstacles in becoming an effective pastor is learning to ask the right questions. The disciples wanted to know who among them was the greatest. The Pharisees wanted to know by what authority Jesus did his powerful works. Pontius Pilate wanted to know, “What is truth?” when Truth Himself was standing right there. It’s clear they all missed the point. What is not so clear is the fact that we, too, can miss the point.
The questions we bring to Jesus can make a big difference in our pastoral work. We live in a religious culture that craves correct answers. I’m afraid Evangelical Christianity places correct answers above relationship with God. Now, there’s nothing wrong with correct answers: we won’t get very far believing that two plus two equals twenty-two. But you can do the math all day long and still not know God.
“There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles and doctrines of Christ . . . strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives.” ~ A.W. Tozer
What Tozer wrote in the early 1960’s is even more acute today. We have come to God with our list of questions, eager to hear the answers we think are important. We have come to the scriptures with our values and world-views, eager to read into the text those things we think God wants the world to know. We have done this. The church. We have insisted that God speak to our values rather than learning what is on his heart. But learning what is on God’s heart means asking the right question.
I believe we have valued knowledge over experience and relationship. Knowledge is easier to grasp. We can master a subject. Yet there is a kind of knowledge that comes only from experience. It’s the difference between studying the physics of a curve ball and learning to hit one. In the arena of Christianity, it is easier to relate to a book (the Bible) than it is to experience relationship with the Lord Himself. Again, I’m talking about you and me, the church. One reason we reduce evangelism to the narrow message of “Jesus died for your sins” is that it does not require relationship with Jesus on the part of the believer or the prospective believer. The Great Commission–to make disciples–costs everything on the part of the believer and the prospective believer.
Do we really want to know Jesus, or simply know about him? How long would it take to know him? Consider these amazing words from the Apostle Paul, who had walked with Jesus for decades when he wrote:
I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ . . . I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3: 8 & 10 (I omitted verse 9 in order to emphasize Paul’s point.)
Every follower of Jesus should asking the right question: if Paul still desired to know Jesus more and more after two decades, how much more is there for me to experience? Paul was not hungry for doctrine about Jesus. He wanted Christ himself.
Jesus understood the powerful attraction of religious doctrine when he said, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” Sadly, as he spoke to religiously-minded people he concluded, “yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5: 39 – 40) Correct doctrine is important, but it is not the reality. It is the doorstep, not the door. The menu, not the meal. It is the skeleton, not the living body.
The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord. Love is relational and experiential–and yes, love depends upon the truth as well. We can take a lesson from our own children: we want them to love and trust us, but we do not require that they understand us in every respect. They can even repeat our words back to us, but it does not guarantee that they understand what we have said. In many cases the understanding will come years, even decades, after we are gone.
What questions do we bring to the Lord? What questions do we bring to the scripture? The best answer waits upon asking the right question.
This article originally appeared here, and is used by permission