There are times in our lives when we pause and take stock, and, looking at what is happening in the lives of others, ask ourselves just where are we going? Where is our life heading? Have we found our souls beached on some hidden reef? Maybe we lost touch with God, or did we ever really known how to connect with God, and discern the paths God has for us to tread.
Sometimes we have been dominated by other people’s expectations and dreams, and know no way of finding where God’s use of our talents can lead us. Maybe there have been those who have devalued us so consistently either since childhood, or in our current situation, that we have lost all sense of our own worth. Perhaps we have even come to the conclusion that we are outside God’s love or that God has no time to spare on our behalf.
My life has been steadied by a backbone of faith that has withstood tremendous odds, and this I can attribute to the fact that from the age of four I knew God as a friend, someone to depend on, someone to trust and someone who loved me. The only time I doubted this was in my twenty-fifth year when those in my church informed me that God could never love me while lived a lesbian lifestyle, and would never hear, let alone answer, my prayers. They said I need to turn my back on these sins, marry, and then God would again look favourably on me.
It didn’t take very long for me to realise no one could take away the relationship I had with God. There were no barriers to the intimacy I knew with God, they existed only in the minds of folk who believed God judged the way they did. If my relationship with God floundered it would be because I had shifted, not because God had moved away from me. Yet, even though this comfortable relationship existed, my soul ached for something more. I questioned those around me, and hammered at God’s door for an answer, until I learned that these methods were mine and not God’s. When I stopped asking, and began listening, things began to change. Instead of me asking the questions, Jesus presented me with questions that I needed to deal with.
All through the Gospels we hear how Jesus asked questions of those around him. Sometimes a question left his listeners stumped, other times it was answered with but another question. I have found his questions were not just limited to those times, but that Jesus asks us to ponder his questions if we truly want to draw near to God and learn the path God has for us. I want just to deal with three questions, for I am still sitting and letting the implications of these questions remould my thoughts and prayers.
The first question Jesus asked is recorded in John 1: 38, “What are you looking for?” I can’t ever remember asking myself what I was looking for in Jesus. Brought up in the church I thought I understood Jesus in his divinity and humanity. I never paused to ask myself just what I wanted in this person. Did I seek him because I thought he might understand me, or because everything that could have been done to humiliate and hurt a human had been done to him? Did I want to sit at his feet and listen to his voice the way his early disciples had? Was I looking for the cross bearer, the one who had negated my sins so that I had a place in heaven? Currently in weighing his question I realise that I have sought in Jesus an older brother, one who would protect and shield me from those who would harm me, and who would wipe my tears when pain and sorrow struck. In him I found one who is perfectly obedient to God’s will, and who would teach me obedience when my wilful heart urged me to disobey. I sought one who would teach me to love, generously and without barriers.
During his earthly ministry Jesus asked the following question: “What do you want me to do for you?” This is recorded in Matthew 20:32, Mark 10:36, and Luke 18:41. This is the second question currently challenging me, When I consider the many times I have attempted to bargain with God, from asking for good results in school exams, to finding me the perfect lover, I am ashamed. For it seems that my requests have so often been self-motivated. I was not asking that God’s will be done, but that God would sanction my will. When Jesus confronts us with this question, perhaps our first response is for those things the world sees as valuable, almost essential. Do we want Jesus to find us a good job, to get us a win in the nearest lottery, to smooth out our relationship problems? A little closer to home, are we asking for healing for ourselves or those around us? Do we as individuals, or as a nation, pray for rain, or for protection from oncoming tornados? As we sit and listen with our inner selves to this second question we begin to realise that what we really want from Jesus are those things with eternal values. We may ask that the soft glow of love be spread across the world, so that wars will stop and impoverished folk will be fed from the abundance of others, and we may ask that we will willingly give of what we have to provide sanctuaries for those in refugee camps, and shelter for the homeless. What do you want Jesus to do for you?
The third question I want to leave with you is in fact the very last one Jesus asked, “Do you love me?”‘ and is found in John 21:15-17. Sit and muse on these words as I have, and listen to the undertones they bring in their wake. Jesus asked this question three times of Simon Peter, perhaps because Peter had denied him three times, or perhaps not. Could it not be that Jesus wanted the implication of the question and its answer to delve beneath the veneers of worldly things and evoke a response from Peter’s spirit? Do I love Jesus? Do you? What does it mean to love Jesus? I know what love for my partner entails, and the joy this love awards me. How can I translate this response to the love I have for Jesus? Am I aware that when disaster strikes, in whatever form, Jesus will be there to hold me tight and comfort me, not being embarrassed at the tears that fall? Do I hear Jesus whispering to me in the still hours of the night, just the way I hear my lover’s voice? Am I willing to listen Jesus and his plans for my life, and be willing to trust his judgement? Perhaps loving him will entail drinking a cup of humiliation, misunderstanding and pain to its very dregs, just as he did. Am I willing for that? Will I move from my comfort zone, and share my life and love the way Jesus did? Does loving Jesus mean being broken for others?
Weighing these three questions with the implications of both the questions and the answers is but the first step, in my opinion, to a clearer understanding of what God has planned for my life’s pathway. To answer these questions with my spirit is strip away all the worldly veneer, the “I” isms of my life, and wait, expectantly for God’s will to be revealed. Perhaps it will again be that quiet voice in my ear, maybe it will come in words spoken by a friend, or even by someone who dislikes and challenges me. Sometimes I will pick up a book and there will be the plan God has for me just awaiting my attention. Other times I find it in Scripture, or in a meditation or even a novel. But one thing I do know – if I am ready to listen, God will speak, and speak so clearly that there is no mistaking that direction. My journey through life will be lit by the lantern of God’s love, revealing each step of the path I tread with Jesus.
Rev. Vera I. Bourne of Lismore, N.S.W., Australia, served as Outreach Clergy at Christs Community Church.