Written by Mary Rearick Paul
From her column Dwelling with God
Recently, during a conference workshop session I was leading, I asked participants to share examples of questions that helped them, in their faith journeys, to think more deeply about life with God. Among the questions the group offered were:
- “When did you experience moments of joy or disturbance this past week?”
- “What has stuck with you from this past Sunday’s church gathering?”
- “Is there something you sense God might be saying to you?”
- “What do you find yourself yearning for?”
- “If you weren’t afraid, what would you attempt?”
Such questions help us embrace a curiosity regarding ourselves and the movement of the Holy Spirit in ways that enable us to hear God more clearly. The pause and the deeper reflection such questions demand of us often give us new “ears to hear” and create the space to sense deep stirrings in our soul, along with deeper clarity in our thoughts and decisions. This kind of curiosity moves us from simply rolling through our days to opportunities for increased awareness of God’s movement in us and among us.
In the same way, when reading scripture, asking ourselves good questions creates a fresh curiosity regarding the passage and toward what God might be trying to speak into our lives. Passages we have read several times can come alive or speak to us anew in the slowing of our reading that healthy questions help create. Simple questions of who, what, and where, and the consideration of the larger context of the scriptural passage we are reading, are great starting points for a slowing that opens our minds and hearts to ponder anew. We often miss some of the minor but significant persons in the story when we focus solely on a main character. Sadly, repeated readings or hearings of any scriptural passage that fail to stoke a larger curiosity within us, or fail to create new questions in our minds and hearts, do a tragic disservice to the richness of scripture by dulling our minds. When we read scripture with the assumption we already know all that it has to teach us, our curiosity dies, and with it any honest sense that the Bible is God’s living word.
One way of reading scripture prayerfully utilizes an ancient practice of slowly reading a passage several times, asking probing questions after each reading. A version of one of the questions could be: “What word or verse seems to rise to your attention?” That simple practice and specific question has made me grapple with a particular passage in deepening ways. Just as an example, I have been taking part in a rather long study of the Beatitudes where we have read the Matthew 5 passage regularly over several months. Each portion of the study of the Beatitudes has been a blessing, but when I asked the question “What rises anew?” it has, for me, been verse 9: “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Even as I write this it continues to engage me, causes me to dig deeper, to wonder with an anticipatory heart “What, God, are you wanting me to hear anew?”
The growing edge of my reflections has thus far caused me to confront the difference between being a Peacekeeper and a Peacemaker. There is something within my family system where, as a middle child, I generally wanted to bring down any disturbance and keep the peace at almost any cost. There is still part of me that wants to calm high emotions when they occur. While I can help to diffuse emotions in particular situations, there are times where such a desire to calm the waters can cause me to avoid hard, but necessary, conversations. True peacemaking must make room for disruption and disturbance, so that deep, often silenced pain is addressed to prepare the ground for the discovery of true peace or shalom. This exploration led me to ask questions of other passages regarding the ways Jesus brought peace and reconciliation to situations marked by the disturbance of others.
Prayerfully pausing and asking good questions of this passage led me to important insights that created opportunities to hear God’s call in widening ways. This wrestling with scriptures that are familiar to us helps us to dig deeper and allows the Holy Spirit to ask good questions of us.
Such passages, and such questions, await us all.
Dr. Mary Rearick Paul, D.Min, is a minister and vice president of student life and formation at Point Loma Nazarene University.
(All Scriptures NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®)