A friend recently asked the following question (paraphrased):

If you could ask one question to the Creator of all things, and be guaranteed an answer, what would you ask, and why?

An intriguing question.  Some might want to know the reason why certain things happen to people – why are natural disasters allowed to destroy entire communities, or why do horrible accidents happen to young people?  While these are natural questions to consider, I don’t think the answers would bring us any satisfaction.  Certainly, good can come from bad situations, but it is simply unhealthy to search for “the reason” why these things happen.  And in the heat of the situation, I doubt “the reason,” or “the good that comes from the bad,” would comfort us, even if we could know it.  Regarding the bad things that happen, I humbly accept that I cannot, and even should not, understand the “why.”  Instead, I believe we ought to search for the “what now.”  In light of what has happened, what can I do, to bring forth “the good that comes from the bad.”  As with quantum physics, just because I am told the answer, does not mean I will understand it.

As the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
   and my thoughts than your thoughts.

– Isaiah 55:9

When then, would I ask the Creator of all things?  He has witnessed mass devastation from disease, war, abuse, and all manner of oppression.  And yet he still created all that is, fully knowing all that would be.  He knows all of the stupid things I’ve said and done.  And yet he still chose to give me life, fully knowing all that I would do.  The question is simple:

Was it worth it?

Are you pleased?  Would you do it again?  Is “the good that comes from the bad” so overwhelmingly great, even though I can’t possibly understand it, that it is worth all the suffering?  Is a world fallen, and then redeemed, better than one without choice or potential for evil or disaster?

Imagine the response.  What if the answer was no?  That all creation is a mistake that has gone terribly out of control – a mere annoyance to its Creator.  That it would be better to wipe out everything, and not even start over.  The great experiment of existence has failed.

But we are still here.  If there is a Creator, and if He brought us into this world, He can surely take us out of it.  If existence, in all its pain and glory, were not worth it, then it simply would not (or no longer) be.  The Creator has already shown His cards, and the answer to all creation is summed up in a L’Oréal commercial.

Something yet to come must be exceedingly greater, to make the present pain worth it [Romans 8:18-27].  I cannot know the details, to weigh the comparison for myself.  But knowing that it is worth it, is enough to persevere.

Likewise, despite our past and regular failings, we are worth it.  If you are reading this, then you are still here.  The Creator decided you were worth the trouble to create.  Arguing against this fact is futile.  Let us stop dwelling on the pain from within and without, and search out the good that comes from the bad.  Because you’re worth it.  And knowing you are worth it, is enough to persevere.

Since I no longer need to ask the above question to the Creator of all things (as He already revealed the answer through logic), I would probably just ask him, “Why 42?”

What would you ask?

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…he would tell you to follow him.

But seriously.  Jesus is only one person.  He interacted with people one at a time [John 3:1-21], or at most, several thousand at once [Matthew 14:13-20].  And he wasn’t always available.  Many times, he would withdraw to a solitary place to pray, leaving everyone looking for him [Mark 1:35-37].  He couldn’t be everywhere at once, and his time on the Earth wouldn’t last long.  But he wouldn’t leave us here on our own [John 16:7,13].

We’ve all heard the phrase, “What Would Jesus Do?”  And some might think it would have been better to be there, walking with Jesus.  But the Son of Man had better plans.  Jesus knew who he was, where he came from, and where he was going.  And when he left, he sent Counselor, the Holy Spirit, to guide us in all truth.  Instead of fighting through crowds just to get a glimpse of the Lord, we believers now have the Spirit of God living inside of us [1 Corinthians 6:19-20].  And this Spirit, is like Jesus on Twitter.

Jesus could only communicate with those who were in earshot.  But now, God speaks to our hearts in a new way.  He can hear all prayers and convict all hearts simultaneously, as his Spirit searches us all.  And through the Spirit of God, we can know the thoughts of God [1 Corinthians 2:10-16].  It’s like we are following Jesus on Twitter (and he is following us).

So instead of asking WWJD, let us ask, “How is his Spirit convicting me?”

John 16:13

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth…

I never decided to enjoy music.   It wasn’t my idea to like brownies.  And neither did I choose to believe in God.  But, after having experiencing each, I could not refuse the gravity of their affect.

Belief and preference are more affection than decision.  We cannot choose what we like and what we believe.  Does that mean we can blame our selfishness, our impatience, and any other destructive desires on a matter of bad taste?  Of course not.

Although we cannot directly choose to like this or to believe that, we can choose to be willing to like this or believe that.  We are responsible for what we are willing to like or think or know or believe.  If you have never taste my wife’s brownies, you can never like them.  And if you never experience conviction from the Holy Spirit, you will never believe in Him.  Regardless of what you might say, you can only offer your willingness.  If you are willing to try, then your tastes and beliefs can change.

1 Thessalonians 1:4

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.

You hear it all the time in advertising.  “Just mention my name at the time of checkout, and you’ll receive 10% off your bill.”  As if the advertiser’s name were a magic password to get whatever we want.  Is that the agreement Jesus has with God?  If we mention “Jesus” at the end of prayers, will God have to listen, and then will Jesus get a kickback for the referral?

Of course not.  Then what does it mean, to ask in Jesus’ name?  And what does it mean to believe in the Jesus’ name?

Names have meaning.  John means “God is gracious” or “Gift of God.”  Tyler is the Old English spelling for “One who tiles roofs.”  And Jesus (Yeshua, or Joshua) means “Salvation” or “The Lord saves.”  Thus, to believe in the name of Jesus is to believe it is the Lord who saves.

Back to the first question.  If asking “in Jesus’ name” is more than just uttering the words, what does it really mean?  Consider his motivation.  Jesus promised to do whatever we ask in his name, so he can bring glory to his Father.  He is a willing servant, ready to carry out our requests and bring glory to God.  So rather than saying “in Jesus’ name,” consider whether your request is glorifying to the Father.  If it is, then you really are asking in his name.

John 14:13

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.

There is no such thing as a free lunch.  Whether it is a burger from a random cookout, or pizza leftover from a meeting, somebody paid for it.  And while it may be good practice for a college student to snatch as much “free food” as possible, eventually, you have to work to feed yourself.  You don’t need a glamorous or fulfilling job to earn money for food; any job will do.

The early Christian church recognized this fact, and made a rule, that if a man will not work, he shall not eat [2 Thessalonians 3:6-10].  To meet our own physical needs, we have to exercise a strong work ethic.  Yet our spiritual sustenance is not met by brute force, but by faith and obedience.

Jesus claimed to be the bread of life, and the way to eternal life.  To earn this food, you must simply believe and follow Jesus.  There is no clearer illustration of this fact than of the criminal crucified next to Jesus [Luke 23:32-43].  His life did not exhibit acts of righteousness.  But when he understood and believed who Jesus is, he was promised paradise with Christ.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that we ought to stop doing good things because it doesn’t matter.  And I am convinced that had the criminal been let down, the rest of his life would look very different than the start of it.  However, striving for good things without an understanding of or belief in Christ is spiritual starvation.

John 6:28-29, 35, 40

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Those who know the Lord seek to serve Him.  Yet not all who serve the Lord seek to know Him.

Like in all relationships, we show our commitment by what we do.  We clean the house, take out the trash, and “pull our weight” to keep things running smoothly.  We know how to love through action.  But do we know how to love through knowledge?

To know someone takes time and patience.  We can learn about people through many ways.  We can read their Facebook profile, talk to their friends, and watch how they act.  But you can only really know a person by spending time with them; through letters/email/text messages, on the phone, or most easily, together in person.  To know someone, you have to listen and respond.

Likewise, we can learn about God by reading the Bible, listening to sermons and messages, and hearing what he is doing in other people’s lives.  But we can only really know God through listening to Him, and responding.

Jeremiah 9:24

But let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the LORD.

I was in the Charlotte airport, waiting for a flight and decided to get something to drink.  I walked into the closest shop and found a bottle of Minute Maid® Cranberry Grape Juice.  I took a swig, and was instantly disappointed.  I read the label, only to discover that the beverage contained 25% fruit juice.  The rest was essentially water sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not going to debate about whether HFCS causes or cures cancer, or whether corn subsidies have a positive or negative effect on our economy.  It just wasn’t the taste I had expected.

When I was younger, I drank pop (not soda) all the time just like any other kid.  And every now and then, there’s nothing like an Orange Crush.  But I have become so accustomed to drinking 100% fruit juice, that anything less is bitter.  So I took two or three sips of that “juice” in the airport, and threw the rest away.  It just wasn’t enjoyable to me any more.  I had tasted the real thing, and this counterfeit was not satisfying.

Then I thought, when else in my life have I tasted something great, and later tried to settle for less?  Where do I get my sense of purpose and fulfillment?

Several instances in my life, this purpose and fulfillment has come from clear conviction from the Holy Spirit, accompanied by obedience.  I had understood the situation or opportunity presented before me, and said “yes” to God.  However, much of adult life can be centered around responsibility and routine; a striving to do well in your work, and to look after yourself and your own.  And there is nothing wrong with this.  But the tendency for me is to define myself according to my abilities, my accomplishments; my kingdom.  But even youths grow tired and weary [Isaiah 40:28-31].

Having tasted the sweetness of conviction in obedience, it is impossible to drive yourself to success.  For the good things we will do have already been chosen and prepared [Ephesians 2:10].  And God willing, you will discover your shortcomings, your selfishness, and unsatisfaction.  Yes: work hard, eat, drink, and be happy [Ecclesiastes 3:12-13].  But when starts to taste bitter, remember where to find the best stuff on Earth.

Psalm 34:8

Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.