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Sunday, 22 July 2012

Questions, questions, questions!

Questions are an important part of everyday life.  They are one of the ways in which we acquire knowledge.  Any parent will assure you that questions are a major part of the growing-up process of a child!  What’s that?  Why’s this?  When’s the other?
The Bible is full of questions.  The psalmists, and some of the Old Testament prophets, often asked questions of Almighty God, Himself.  Sometimes questions that many of us would consider to be downright irreverent! 
O YHWH, why do You stand so far away?
Why do You hide when I am in trouble?(Ps 10:1) 
“What are you up to, Lord?”, we might paraphrase.  “What are You playing at?”
YHWH, how long will this go on?
Will You hide yourself forever?” asks Ethan the Ezrahite. (Ps 89:46)
“Where are You when I need You?” might well be our paraphrase in this case.
How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither?” asks Jeremiah.  (Jer 12:4)
Or, as we might paraphrase that particular question: “When are you going to do something about the situation, Lord; when are You going to reveal Your mighty power;  why are You not acting according to my time-scale?”
The questions in the New Testament tend to be of a different order.  But questions there are.  So the disciples come to Jesus with a big question.  Some 5,000 men, together with women and children, are needing fed.  It’s getting late in the day; they don’t have a 24/7 ASDA down the road; what should they do?  Then Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, "I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days, and have nothing to eat; and I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way." And the disciples [asked] Him, "Where are we to get bread enough in the desert to feed so great a crowd?" (Matt 15:32-33).
Paul tells us of a question that he asked: “... to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I [asked] the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’" (II Cor 12:7-9)
Jesus asked questions – often very deep and piercing questions.
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  (Matt 7:3)  Oh! That hurts!
In Acts 1:11, Dr Luke records a question from angels!  So when [the disciples] had come together, they asked [Jesus], ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’  He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.’ And when He had said this, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and [asked], ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, Who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.’"
But, I would suggest, the most important question of all comes from a man in Philippi.  Paul and Silas had been arrested and, after having been summarily beaten with rods, thrown into prison.  It was prison, Jim, but not as we know it – as Spock might have said to Captain Kirk.  Slopping out, or not having the vote, was the least of their worries! 
It was, we’re informed, the “inner prison” – dark, dank, dismal.  Their feet were fastened in the stocks.  These men were going nowhere.  Perhaps worst of all was the knowledge that they had actually done no wrong – indeed, the reason for the false charges brought against them was that they had done some good, by releasing a slave-girl from demon-possession but, in the process, losing her masters income!  There had been no proper trial; no examination of the evidence; no cross-examination by anyone acting on their behalf.
And what do we find these two men doing?  Having a Praise Gathering!  But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,” (Acts 16:25).  The earthquake that followed that time of prayer and praise; the jailer’s readiness to commit suicide on the assumption that his prisoners would all have fled; and Paul’s shout that he should do himself no harm because all of his prisoners were there – in itself an amazing turn of events.  Imagine: a bunch of convicted criminals, finding their way to physical freedom open, but remaining in their cells!  The singing of Paul & Silas must have had a significant effect on each of them!
For the jailer, all of this provoked the most important spiritual question that any man, or woman, can ask: “... what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30).  They hadn’t preached a three-point sermon with a PowerPoint presentation; they hadn’t spent the weeks beforehand distributing fliers, and organising “seeker-friendly” events; they hadn’t brought in the biggest, loudest Praise Band straight from their latest success at Spring Harvest.  All that they had done was work in Jesus’ Name; accept that all things really do work together for good for those who are the called of God; and united in prayer and in praising God.
Some time ago, I came across this little gem: “Christians worth their salt, make others thirsty for the water of life”.  
As you and I, who claim to be His disciples, go about our daily business, may we be found faithful to Him Who has called us.  May we be always ready to do good, that He might receive praise.  May we be found with a prayer on our lips, and a song in our hearts.  May others be convicted by our very presence with them.  May what our colleagues see of Jesus in us, make them thirsty for the relationship that we enjoy.  Then God the Holy Spirit will create, in their hearts, the right questions – and prepare them to receive the right answer: Jesus, the Christ.
And all to the glory of His eternal Name.

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