“For personal ministry to be effective, the principle is simple: Don’t assume–ask.”- Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, 170.
As a boy I wandered the woods on the mountain where my family lived. The expanse of wood and stillness was more than any boy could ask for; it was a great adventure to be had. There, in the wood, you had a sense that there was a universe of life teeming around you, but it was quiet, all except for some animal here and there scurrying in the leaves or a bird calling out in the distance. The real treasure, though, was when I came across an unknown path. Where did it go? Who made it? Where did it begin? Many of us share the experience of sheer delight and curiosity at the discovering of an unknown path. Sometimes, as we hurriedly followed a certain path in a deep wood, we came across another, and another. Some led us back to a familiar place, while others led us on to unfamiliar glens. Still, the following of paths helped us to know a strange wood, to discover things that we had not noticed before.
Aren’t each of us a little like a wood? Aren’t there many paths within us to places no one knows about? Don’t we wish someone to find out the deep recesses of us? Don’t we wish to know each other? Oftentimes in our conversations, however, we can leave the wood unexplored, uncharted. Sadly, most of our conversations are like this. We settle for the “Fine. How are you?” We are content with the superficial responses to our insincere questions, and, in the end, we are simply too busy to really be involved in the business of receiving honest answers. To uncover each other (for we ourselves to be uncovered, for that matter) we must rekindle our sense of adventure. We must recover our sense of humanity. What is this sense of humanity? Is it this: We are all teeming with life within us, teeming with thoughts, feelings, sufferings, and sins, and we are almost always silent about them. There are paths within us to follow, paths we desperately wish someone to travel down. Why? Because we all desire to be known, and yet we are all hiding in our little woods, wanting and waiting for someone to come for us, wanting to be discovered and loved. And yet in our conversations, in our encounters with each other, we stray away from each other. We stay clear of the woods.
This is Paul Tripp’s point in the above quote. If we are to discover a person, good questions are the way in. Good questions, questions that require more than a yes or no, questions which are products of honest and sincere people, are the way into a person’s world. As we follow the responses, we may uncover more paths, more questions to be explored, more ways to get lost. Other times the questions may lead us nowhere but to where we’ve already been. Still, if we are to explore each other, if we ourselves are to be explored, good questions are the only way in which we can discover the uncharted, undisturbed nook. Good questions asked are like paths into a person; they uncover the vast array of intermingling emotions, situations, sins, and thoughts deep within. Good questions asked of us, though, invite us out; they invite us to come forth from our hiding places, our treetop fortresses, our shames and fears to be discovered, to be loved, to be know.
And sometimes, with just the right question, we really do find each other. In that meeting of two persons, deep within the woods, we find Gospel Joy, Gospel Relief, and Gospel Healing.
Indeed, didn’t our God approach Adam and Eve with a question immediately following their rebellion? Weren’t they, too, hiding behind some trees? He asked them, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9) And, barring the stupid response, “I’m right here”, we can be honest as Adam was. Adam knew the question was a loaded one, and he responded with honesty: “I heard the sound of you walking in garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself,” (Genesis 3:10). Fear, nakedness, and feelings of shame cause us to hide in our wood. We are afraid of how others would view us if they knew the real us. We are ashamed at the sins we commit and the insecurities we harbor. But how magnificent it is that God draws these two out with a simple question, and He draws them out not to kill them but to clothe them, to remedy their mess, and to save them. It is because our God came to us in Jesus that we need not fear being known, and we need not fear the approach of a neighbor. If He has come for us, if He has saved us, if He truly knows us and loves us anyways, then we can be honest with each other, and we, in turn, can image our God in the same way. We can move in to each other with the same care, love, patience, and goodness in which He came to us.
We can all be drawn out by good, simple questions. How are you really feeling? What is really going on this week? What are you happy about? What are you sad about? What are you insecure about? What do you fear? How can I pray for you? And a great one which makes up the DNA of every child: Why?
I had a teacher in high school who insisted that the greeting, “How are you,” is just that, a greeting. This teacher expressed that she did not want anything in return but the expected, “Fine. How are you?” After we all laughed, my heart sank. Surely this everyday, opening question can be an invitation for the other person to cry out from inside their own wood. Perhaps this everyday, opening question can be the first step on a path which leads to true knowledge and love, an opportunity for us to move in to each other, to move towards another in healing and purposeful care. So, please, if you ask me the standard, “How are you, today?”, don’t let me squeeze by your inquiry with the standard, “I’m fine.” Press me, come near to me, and then invite me to do the same with you. And if you don’t have the time to listen to the answer, don’t ask the question. In this simple way, we can image the Great Question Asker and the Great Seeker Himself, mirroring His great love and devotion to His people.
*For more good questions and a great read, check out Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, by Paul David Tripp.