Thrive: Pay Attention to the Questions – Pam Durso

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For these days of Lent leading up to Easter Sunday on April 20, Christians around the world will participate in the spiritual discipline of “giving up” or perhaps “taking on.” The intent of Lent is not just to give up or take on. The intent is to pay attention. Lent calls us to be attentive to our relationship with God, to our connection with others. Lent also asks us to be attention to our own our bodies and to our souls. In these weeks of March—as we walk through Lent together—the weekly devotions will focus on what Matthew 7-9 has to teach us about paying attention.

Pay Attention to the Questions

“Now when Jesus had come down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. A man with a skin disease came, kneeled before him and said, ‘Lord, if you want, you can make me clean.’ Jesus reached out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I do want to. Become clean.’ Instantly his skin disease was cleansed.” —Matthew 8:1-3 (CEB)

I love Jeopardy. I am sure I would score in the negative numbers if I were a contestant. I don’t have that much Shakespeare or potent potables trivia floating in my head, and I have pretty slow thumb reflexes. Plus I am pretty sure I would never remember to give my answer in the form of a question. But the leper did. That leper would have made Alex Trebek proud, forming his words to Jesus in the form of a question: “If you want. . . you do want to heal me, don’t you? And you can heal me, right?”

And Jesus, well, Jesus is not put off by the leper’s question. Jesus responds, “But of course, I want to heal you. I want to heal your body. I want to heal your mind. I want to heal your spirit.”

One of the things I like best about Jesus is that he never seemed to mind when people asked questions. He was even comfortable with those who expressed doubt.

Seems like these days too many among us think Christians should have all the answers, that they can’t express doubts, that they can’t voice their questions. “Real Christians” should never voice disbelief. Expressing anger or disillusionment about the ways and working of God is unacceptable, and woe be to those who do ask questions. They shall surely be cast out.

But Jesus’ words tell us just the opposite. Jesus says, “Pay attention to your questions. Be attentive to those places in which you feel unsettled. And come. Come to me all you who have questions, all you whose faith is shaky, all you who have doubts.” And that is good news! Especially for us doubters in the crowd.

Back in 1757, Robert Robinson wrote a beautiful hymn, one of my favorites. An Englishman, he converted to faith because of the preaching of the great revivalist, George Whitefield. As a teenager Robinson and his friends went to hear Whitefield preach with the intension of heckling the revivalist, but the spirit stirred within Robinson, and for three years he struggled with the message he had heard. Finally, at the age of twenty, Robinson made peace with God and immediately set out to become a Methodist preacher. Two years later, he wrote these words:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.

For me, the hymn stirs up wonderful memories of my childhood church, in which we sang this hymn often. As an adult, I find the most powerful words of the hymn in the last stanza:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love
Take my heart, Lord, take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above.

Robinson knew what it was like to doubt, to question, to have his faith shift under his feet. Eventually, he left the Methodists, became a Baptist, and was baptized by immersion. His beliefs evolved and changed, just as he had anticipated in his hymn writing. He later had a crisis of faith and some say he questioned the divinity of Christ.

But sermons from his last years of life indicate that Robinson had resolved some of his questions. He had found his way back to belief and trust. His wandering had strengthened his faith rather than destroying it.

Every time I sing “Come Thou Fount,” I am reminded to pay attention to my own questions, my own doubts. Robinson’s honest confession assures me that even when I am at my lowest point of faith, even when I am voicing words of despair, God is there—accepting me, loving me through my questions, doubts, and disappointments.

Pay attention to the questions for the questions themselves tell us that God is there waiting—even when we are prone to wander.

VBWIM Pam 4Pam Durso is the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, which is based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her most favorite part of this work is walking alongside and encouraging women called by God to ministry. Pam also enjoys researching, writing, and teaching in the area of Baptist history. She teaches Baptist history as an adjunct professor at McAfee School of Theology, and previously served as associate executive director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society and as professor of church history and Baptist heritage at Campbell University Divinity School in North Carolina. Pam earned two of her degrees from Baylor University: a B.A. in religion and a Ph.D. in church history. She and her husband, Keith, live in Lawrenceville with their teenage son and daughter, Michael and Alex.

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Comments

  1. Wonderful piece, Pam. Thanks for this today.

  2. Jessica Asbell says:

    Such a great reminder that it’s okay to question and doubt, and that our faith is better for those questions. Thank you Pam!

  3. Erin Hall says:

    Thank, Pam. Important reminder to pay attention to the questions. And one of my favorite hymns, too.

  4. Teresa Ellis says:

    Pam,

    Thanks for this wonderful reminder! I discovered fairly early in life that God already knows our questions and so voicing them only makes sense. God is much so bigger than we often give him credit. Thanks be to God for that fact!

  5. Kristen Muse says:

    Pam,
    Thanks for this wonderful reminder today. I am thankful God honors our questions and walks with us as we try to sort them out.