Want to Love Your Friend? Ask Her Questions

HOPE BLANTON|GUEST I have loved questions for as long as I can remember. I was that annoying kid who asked questions during every movie I ever watched, leaving my parents to say over and over, “We are watching the same movie you are, Hope.” Now my love of questions has turned into a career as a therapist and a question writer for our Bible study company. But nowhere have I seen the power of questions more on display than when asked between friends where one is struggling. When we ask suffering people questions, it makes them feel seen. It makes them feel like they’re not alone and tells them we’re willing to step into it with them, even if we don’t know what’s helpful in the moment. We make whatever they’re going through, big or small, important to us. When I’ve brought this up with people they often say, “Well, that’s easy for you to say. You’re a therapist,” or “I don’t even know what to ask,” or “I don’t want to pry or get too personal.” You don’t need a degree in counseling or an extra special ability to put things into words. You just need a desire to understand what someone you love is going through and how you can be present in that with them. How Do We Do It? I once counted how many times Jesus asked a question as I studied a gospel. I was shocked. He asked questions all over the place to the Pharisees, his disciples, and to people coming to him for healing. It was one of the primary tools he used to help people see their own hearts, even though he already knew. But we are not Jesus, and while we mimic him in this way, we do it for different purposes: we do it to help people feel seen and loved and to safeguard against our own hearts. Often, we think we know why someone is suffering or what they need to hear to feel better because we have been through something similar or know someone who has. We launch into advice and skip asking questions. We are so eager to live out this proverb to our suffering friend: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). We think that some wise thought will calm their pain. But how can we do that when we don’t know if the word we are giving them is actually apt or suitable for the circumstances? Then we become a fool who, “takes no pleasure in understanding, but in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2). That is not helpful to our suffering friend. This is where the powerful tool of questions comes into play....

Want to Love Your Friend? Ask Her Questions2022-05-04T23:24:20+00:00

How God Redeems and Transforms our Work

ABBY KARSTEN|GUEST What do you want to do when you grow up? This is a question every child is asked. Even into college, I only had a vague idea. For many years, my most honest, but rarely declared, answer was that I wanted to win a Nobel prize. (That was after I realized that I would not, ever, qualify for the Olympics.) I knew “Nobel prize winner” wasn’t exactly a profession, but even as a nine-year-old, I felt stirred to do something big with my life. I wanted to change the world—and I wanted people to notice. But I didn’t know any more of the details. We can smile at youthful naivety, but a sober look at our own hearts still reveals a complicated relationship with work. Sometimes it feels like drudgery: pulling weeds, enduring seat-numbing meetings, or refolding the basket of laundry the toddler just dumped. We groan: “When will it stop?” Other times, our work sparks a fire of delight in our souls: cooking a beautiful meal, presenting an original solution to a complicated problem, or using pivot tables to construct an elegant and efficient spreadsheet. Maybe we’ve grown to relax our goal of changing the world (see Nobel Prize, above) and we’re simply thrilled to be influencing our corner of it. We marvel: “What a privilege that this work is a part of my life!” A brief history Before sin came into the world, God ordained work as an opportunity for humans to mirror God’s own work of creation (see Gen. 1:27-28). Work is beautiful and good because it offers us an opportunity to use the gifts God has given us to help participate in the flourishing of God’s world. Adam and Eve received instructions to fill, subdue, and rule; this direction only came to humans, being made in God’s image. Additionally, God took pleasure in his work (see Genesis 1) and we do, too. We create, build, and cultivate, and look back at our efforts and say, “This is good!” Unfortunately, because of the Fall of man, our efforts are almost constantly thwarted. We must acknowledge that our work will be, in turns, delightful and disappointing, fun and frustrating. Nevertheless, we should aim to pursue “good work,” or work that pleases God. Dan Doriani writes, “Work pleases God if it promotes the common good. The common good includes care for God’s creation, but we especially care for mankind. The first goal is to love our neighbor, which we do when we supply food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, and whatever edifies others.”1  Paul reminds believers that when we use the gifts God has given us, we work for his glory: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col 3:23–24). And still, sin persists The tricky thing is that when we discover that we are doing good work, it can creep into our sense of identity, replacing our primary identity in Christ. Even while pursuing work that aids in human flourishing, that effort can become an end in itself, rather than a means to glorify God. Culture makes it all too easy to slide in that direction, encouraging us to let our work become a pathway to our own glory. It is socially acceptable to put in excessive hours on “good work,” while excusing ourselves from caring for those around us—or even ourselves. David Zahl posits, “Constant grinding makes a perfect diversion from conscience or loneliness or grief or vulnerability—a way of imposing order on the chaos of relating to another person or oneself.”2 Like every idol, though, the more we serve it, the more it expects of us. Therefore, the more we turn work into an instrument for our own glory, the more the effects of the Fall threaten to undermine the identity we have constructed...

How God Redeems and Transforms our Work2022-05-04T23:24:30+00:00

From the Basement to the Throne Room: The Power of Hearing Your Name

ALICE KIM|GUEST In the spring of 2020, my parents were planning a road trip from Toronto, Canada to visit me and my family in Virginia. Then COVID-19 suddenly halted their plans, putting an indefinite pause to our reunion. Now, it’s been almost two and a half years since we’ve seen them; we’re still eagerly anticipating their visit. During this in-between time, phone calls and texts serve as substitutes for face-to-face interactions. Memories of my parents   have moved to the forefront of remembrance and reminiscing, including those of my mom and dad praying. My Parent's Prayers After twelve plus hours of being on their feet, preparing meals at their local eatery or punching the cash register at a one-stop convenience store, my mom would prepare one of her go-to, from scratch meals: a Korean stew, a pot of steaming rice, and an assortment of staple side dishes. My dad’s footsteps would echo past the wooden hallway, down into the basement. He would find a spot on the carpet. Without restraint, a roar started from within his chest then reverberated down into his stomach. On his exhale, he cried aloud, “Lord!” “Lord!” “Lord!” in Korean. His pleas of utter dependence were balanced with moments of silence. He made room for tears to express his gratitude and grief. And as his voice carried through the air vents leading up into my room, I laid over the edge of my bed, leaned in with my ear inches away from the ground. I just listened. My mom on the other hand, was less pronounced. I would call out for her, “Umma” and find her in the walk-in closet with her back facing the open doorframe. She didn’t budge and break focus; she continued. The top of her foot and knees kissed the ground as her body rocked rhythmically back and forth. Each word bled into the next and created a harmonious alto hum. If you paid close attention, you could hear the distinct groans, desires, and thanksgivings. Rather than retracing my steps back into the hallway, I lingered. I listened for my name. It’s been a long time since my dad’s booming crescendos and mom’s soft murmurs contributed to my daily concert of background noise, but it doesn’t take much imagination to hear them once again. And when they tell me, “I’m praying for you and your family,” I can see them praying for me as they did when I was a child...

From the Basement to the Throne Room: The Power of Hearing Your Name2022-05-04T23:24:44+00:00

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Can Also Hurt Me

KATIE POLSKI|CONTRIBUTOR In first grade, there was a girl in my class who told me that my eyes looked like goldfish. For the love of fish.   I’m still not quite sure what that meant, but I do know that I spent too much time starring at myself in the mirror due to a concern over my fish-like eyeballs. In Highschool, a boy told me I was “pretty cool,” but he tagged that with: “It’s just that guys aren’t going to date a pastor’s daughter.”   And so, I kept that aspect of my identity a secret for as long as I could, coming up with alternative ways to explain my father’s profession.  In college, after playing piano for a chapel service, a student remarked that I swayed a lot when playing. “It looks funny.” I told him he looked funny. It was, admittedly, a terrible comeback and didn’t help my cause at all. But for years, I was conscious of my “movements” while playing at the piano. The Significance of Our Words Words don’t just disappear. At times I wish they did, but from the moment they leave our mouth, they often make their way into the small crevasses of a hearer’s memory and nestle in, sometimes remaining for a lifetime. If our words have this kind of impact, it’s essential that as believers we use them wisely. God certainly intended for us to speak; we’re created in His image, and He is a speaking God giving the world His inspired words for our benefit. But we’re sinners, trudging through a broken world. Every one of us has messed up with our words, and we will likely do damage with them again. God in His graciousness forgives fully and completely, but that doesn’t mean that what we say won’t have a lasting impact. It’s only wise, then, that as believers we give careful consideration to what the Bible has to say about the words we speak. Our Words Reveal the Condition of our Heart “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matt. 12:34-35). These two verses are incredibly convicting. Our spiritual condition is made manifest by our words. This doesn’t mean, believer, that your unthoughtful or unkind words are unforgiveable. What it does mean is that we have a responsibility before God to consider the reasons underlying our harsh or rash words...   

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Can Also Hurt Me2022-05-04T23:24:56+00:00

Why Waiting is Good News

ASHLEY HALES|GUEST As a family, we needed to see something grow, to learn to care for green and growing things, to get our hands in the dirt. We needed a small starting place: a project that wasn’t about what we could do but what we could watch. So my husband built a custom cedar planter for our patio. Then one Saturday we loaded up our four children into the minivan and headed to the nursery. While my children wanted berry bushes and fruit trees, we settled on things that would fit in our raised bed planter: a few starter vegetables and herbs, tomatoes, celery, cucumber, basil, dill, rosemary, cilantro, and mint. We put in rocks for drainage and fresh soil. We lined up our few small plants and made holes with our shovels. We patted down the earth. My daughter eagerly hoisted the green plastic watering can and watered each plant diligently. We told our children that growing things takes time. We’d learn to care for the plants together; we’d practice patience. Within days, the cucumber vines spilled over the edge and we noticed the popping yellow flowers. A few more days and little cucumbers dotted along the edges of vines. Each morning my daughter would head to the planter, water the vegetables, and run up the stairs excitedly showing me with her fingers how much her cucumber had grown. Some mornings when we discovered the leaves turning colors or a hole in a big green leaf, her joy would be stifled for a minute but then the refrain: “But Mama, we have more cucumbers, still!” We watched and waited, and something grew from nothing. Cucumbers were a miracle and waiting for them was magical. But as we grow older, waiting feels like an inconvenience or affront. We take out our phones when we’re waiting in the grocery store aisle for two minutes. We listen to podcasts on our commute. We leaf through magazines at the doctor’s office. Waiting leaves us with a silence we don’t know what to do with. Impatience with waiting is nothing new. Like the antsy Israelites who built a golden calf because they were tired of waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain, we don’t wait well. Waiting evidences our limited autonomy and knowledge. We are subject to time and to conditions beyond our control....

Why Waiting is Good News2022-05-04T23:25:06+00:00

The Delight and Direction of Work

BECKY KIERN|CONTRIBUTOR My journey into the workplace began in 1996 on a warm summer’s evening. Since I was not yet old enough to drive, my Mom drove me to the neighbor’s house, where I was to spend the evening babysitting. She had the windows rolled down and the radio blaring as I sat in the passenger seat, filled with a mixture of excited pride and absolute terror. Twenty five years later, my work resume has included everything from answering phone calls in the back of a ham store (ham juice ruined my favorite shoes, but that’s another story), to working alongside some of the world’s finest heart surgeons. Some seasons of life have included work which was so fulfilling I woke up excited to get to the day’s task; while work in other seasons was so vexing, I dreaded going to bed at night, knowing the next day held hours filled with frustration. Often when our labors are difficult, discouragement creeps in and we find ourselves asking, “Does any of my work matter?” or “What is the purpose of all this hard work?” Created to Work In the beginning of the Biblical narrative, Genesis 1:1 introduces God, focusing primarily on His work as Creator. He is described as first creating the heavens and the earth before turning his attention to the creation of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. In Genesis 1:26, Moses continues to explain the creation narrative by recounting God’s words, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”                   So God created them in his own image,             in his own image he created him;             male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over every living thing.” After giving Adam and Eve His blessing, God called them both to do two things: to build a family together and to work. When all was good, when Adam and Eve walked freely with God, before shame, toil, broken dreams, or altered plans had entered into the world, humans were made for and instructed to work. Our work has dignity, because through it, we reflect the goodness of our Creator....

The Delight and Direction of Work2022-05-04T23:25:18+00:00

From Me-Focused to God-Focused Bible Study

REBEKAH MATT|GUEST In the 25 years that I’ve been a Christian, I’ve participated in a lot of Bible studies. There was the Bible study that encouraged me to be more like David, someone after God’s own heart. The Bible study that took me from Genesis to Revelation in ten weeks. Homespun Bible studies written by gifted women in my church and shiny new Bible studies from major publishers. Bible studies that provided free childcare (thank you, Lord) and Bible studies that had me in tears of conviction on the drive home. Big Bible studies in a room full of women and small Bible studies in a church member’s living room. Over all these years with all these different studies (and in my own personal study), I regularly looked to the Bible for life-changing words that would transform my relationships, improve my spiritual self-discipline, or solve other problems in my life. This kind of “what’s in it for me?” way to study the Bible is the default setting even among longtime Christians. Reading the Bible and seeking God’s personal, problem-solving message to you is very common—try googling “what Bible verse should I read when” and you’ll see what I mean. I did learn from these Bible studies. I sometimes even found answers to my problems or inspiration to become a better person in some particular way. But for more than two decades, even though I enjoyed and learned from the Bible studies that I had done, none of them answered the question that I didn’t even know I had: how to study and Bible, and why. Finding a new (to me) approach to Bible study I believe that any Bible reading is worthwhile, but seeing the Bible merely as a helpful life resource is very limiting. I’d been short-changing myself on the full benefits of reading the Bible by not thinking about how or why I was doing it....

From Me-Focused to God-Focused Bible Study2022-05-04T23:25:29+00:00
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