In 1989, the company I worked for was dying. A multi-year sales drought had dried up our bank accounts, and our owner’s cash cistern was dusty as well. I was asked to demo our software to one of our sales prospects (actually, our only sales prospect).
If the demo failed, I would lose my paycheck and my prestigious, corner … cubicle.
The night before my demo, the client’s consultant told me that our competitors had badly bungled their demos, wasting half the time showing off “cool” but unneeded features. When the client asked to see solutions to their problems, our competitors ignored them, and continued showing off the coolness of this or that particular feature.
Our competition failed because they wouldn’t yield control of the conversation to the client. They doggedly stuck to their agenda, completely oblivious to the client’s needs.
The consultant suggested I start the presentation by asking the client to describe what they needed. He suggested I then use the rest of the demo to show how our software solved those problems. I did. They liked it. We got the deal. And I kept my cubicle.
What does demoing software have to do with hearing God? Everything.
Several years ago, I faced a major decision that needed God’s guidance. Almost every day I asked God for direction. I prayed, begged for wisdom, asked friends, read scripture; and all I got from God was silence. I read Paul’s prayer that we be “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col. 1:9).
I prayed (a little self-righteously), “That’s all I’m looking for, God; just your will.”
I felt God answer, “No you aren’t. You’re just looking for your own will.” The answer didn’t come as handwriting on the wall, just a slight tug on my heart. (But heart tugs are fine. The guy who got handwriting on the wall heard this, “You’re gonna die tonight.”)
I really didn’t want God’s will. I wanted an answer to “this” question (and “this” question alone), ignoring God who was talking about a totally different topic.
I was like my looser competitors who couldn’t get past their own agenda. I dominated the discussion—with God!—by disregarding his agenda.
Everyone does it
It’s not that God doesn’t want to answer our questions. He does; but our obsessions with our questions blind us to what God wants to say. It’s like asking God how to redo my closet as he builds me a mansion next door. Here I am, out shopping for doorknobs.
I felt that God was missing the point when he wouldn’t answer my question. But I was the one missing the point; he was answering my question by addressing a deeper (but seemingly different) topic. I wouldn’t listen because I had hijacked the conversation.
If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, isn’t there a tiny chance he knows what he’s doing? Instead we merrily demo along our way, certain that our questions are key:
- We see a fork in the road and we ask God, “Should I turn right or turn left?” God answers, “Turn around.”
- We see a ball curving its way toward us and we ask, “God, should I swing at this pitch?” God says, “Uh, you’re playing football.”
- We fast, pray, and beg for advice, “God, should I marry this girl or not?” God responds, “You’re an eight year-old boy; go outside and play some soccer.”
God is always offering more than we ask or think. We just miss it. He really does think outside the box, so his answers often lay outside the little cubicles of our questions.
If God is powerful enough for us to consider asking him, he’s also powerful enough to know (and do) things we can’t understand. We can’t have it both ways. If he is powerful and good, he will definitely act in ways that bewilder us.
Try explaining to your four year-old son why he has to learn addition, so he can learn multiplication, so he can learn algebra, so he can learn geometry, so he can learn trigonometry, so he can learn calculus, so he can become a rocket scientist.
All we can say is, “Just go out and play some soccer.”
I once learned more from a long, eight-month job that I hated than I learned in any five-year job that I loved. God didn’t explain it. He just took me through it.
Missing the real issue
There are times when we are desperate to know God’s will. Should we marry this person (assuming we’re of age)? How do we help our handicapped daughter with her lack of friends? How do I handle a job that is sucking every last ounce of my soul?
God’s silence seems … criminal. The lack of guidance hurts. How do we handle that?
The entire book of Job is dedicated to the topic of conversational hijacking. The first twenty-nine verses give a thumbnail sketch of a bit of history. Then the next thirty-six chapters paint multiple masterpieces of people hijacking the discussion.
Finally, the youngest counselor offers some reasonable advice. He tells Job to stop controlling the conversation, “O Job: stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God” (Job 37:14). When Job finally stands still, God reveals himself.
The thing is, God never answers Job’s question, “Why did you do this?” God never even breathes a hint at an answer. Instead God does something else. When Job gives conversational control to God, God simply reveals himself to Job.
Job finally responds, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5). Job is satisfied. We can hijack the discussion, or we can have God.
So God, let’s talk. Uh, you first.