Christians Are Curious People

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We’re all familiar with Jesus’s summary of the law: love God and love your neighbor (Matt 22:34–40). These two commands capture what it means to follow the Lord.

Until recently I hadn’t seen the role that curiosity plays in obeying these commands. It’s easy to miss, but Barnabas Piper helped me see the connection in his new book, The Curious Christian.

Loving God

If we’re to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, we need curiosity. What is God like? What does it mean to love him? Will he love me? We need answers to these questions, and we find the answers in the Bible.

Curiosity is about God and for God. It is an expression of worship and it honors Him by exploring the depths and breadth of His creation and nature. If we are to do something that honors God, then we must know Him, and Scripture is where He reveals Himself, where He tells what we need to know for a right and vibrant relationship with Him. For this reason Scripture is where our curiosity should be directed first and most consistently, not as a book or a text or a resource but as a revelation of our Creator. (The Curious Christian, p.160)

When we love God with our minds, we learn about him. We don’t hold onto our own ideas of what God must be like, but we humble ourselves and receive instruction.

Curiosity drives us to seek the deep truths of God. It leads us to discover aspects of His character and truths of His Word that hide behind a veil or aren’t readily visible in the mundane life. It overcomes the preconceptions we have of God that often make us like Him less, often from a legalistic background: God as boss, God as judge, God as distant, God as joyless, God as killjoy, God as impersonal, God as boring, God as powerless, God as puppet master. Curiosity enlarges God in our minds, or rather helps us see His largeness and His largesse, His closeness and His love, His plan and His promise. (The Curious Christian, pp.48–49)

And, amazingly, our curiosity will continue in heaven! We will get to know God better and better, and because he is infinite in all aspects of his character and person, we’ll never run out of material. We’ll be curious for eternity.

In this life every ounce of curiosity we have points toward God in some way. In eternity all curiosity goes deeper in relationship with Him. In this life there is a veil between us and the presence of God because of our sinfulness. In the next life we will live in the presence of God unhindered and unveiled. This is why heaven won’t get boring. (The Curious Christian, p.147)

What makes heaven heaven is not unlimited fun and games—though we will almost certainly have tons of unfettered fun. No, we would tire of those after a few centuries. What makes it a true paradise is being with God, fully and freely in His presence. Imagine a world unhindered by distraction or sin or pain. Imagine free access to the infinite depths of God’s person and character. You can’t. But in trying you may have seen that heaven can’t possibly become dull. (The Curious Christian, p.148)

Loving Our Neighbors

Curiosity is essential if we’re to love our neighbors as ourselves. How can you love someone—especially in a beyond-the-surface-stuff way—if you don’t get to know them?

In short, curiosity turns us outward, away from selfishness. Our base desire is to turn every relationship to our benefit, to get what we can out of it. Curiosity, at its best, undermines this sinful desire because it locks in on the needs and interests and desires of the other person. Instead of “What can they do for me?” it becomes “Who is this person and what do they need?” (The Curious Christian, p.134)

Curiosity combined with courage presses in and digs deeper. We found out about their outward life—hobbies, preferences, history. But now we take the risk of finding out about their inner life—hopes, beliefs, passions, dreams, fears. Curiosity takes risks and steps into the unknown. It digs into shadowy places where there might be treasure or where there might be pain. This is the grounds for real friendship. The reality is that people are much more likely to open up to us than we think; we just need to go first. In fact, they’ve been hungering for someone to connect with as well. (The Curious Christian, p.46)

Curiosity will transform the church. Piper writes that if the church were full of curious people,

It would move toward being more diverse racially, socioeconomically, and educationally because people would be deeply interested in those different from themselves instead of frightened of them or intimidated by them. (The Curious Christian, p.53)

Takeaways

I’ve written about curiosity before, mostly in the context of asking good questions and being a good listener. But Piper’s book has convinced me that curiosity is an essential part of the whole life of the Christian.

If we’re to be faithful to God in the place where he’s put us, we need to make connections, ask questions, get to know our neighbors, and be good observers. If you’d like to learn more about how curiosity works itself out, I suggest you pick up The Curious Christian. (And check back next week—I’ll be giving away a copy of this book!)

Thanks to B&H Books for an advance reader’s copy of this book.


Disclosure: the links to Amazon.com in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

Photo Credit: anonymous (2008), public domain

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3 Skills Christians Can Learn from a Great Interviewer

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What keeps you from being a better friend to the people in your life?

As we grow in grace, we should become better friends. But it’s a hard climb; we should learn from whomever we can.

Krista Tippett hosts a public radio show/podcast called On Being. (I haven’t heard it.) She was interviewed on the Longform podcast back in October, and the episode gave me a lot of food for thought.

Practice Gracious Listening

Around the 33:35 mark, Tippett is asked about the phrase “gracious listening” which she uses in her 2016 book, Becoming Wise. What does she mean by this phrase?

I put words in front of the word “listening”—gracious, generous—because the word listening and the act of listening, there’s a lot of lack of self-awareness around that. I think that I grew up, and a lot of people in this culture grew up, experiencing listening as being quiet while the other person talks, basically. Right? So that eventually you can say what you have to say. Listening is basic social art, but it’s something we have to learn and practice. And we really haven’t practiced a robust listening—generous, gracious listening—which is not just about being quiet, but about actually, truly being curious, really mustering curiosity. Which can be as simple as being willing to be surprised.

She contrasts this curiosity with making assumptions about others.

We tend to go into encounters pretty much thinking we know who that other person is. We know who they voted for, we know what they do. So, curiosity I think is something that is a virtue that can be really complex and it’s counter-intuitive to how we walk through the world, especially how we walk through the public world.

I love that phrase be willing to be surprised. So often I assume I know another person by applying stereotypes. But this is far from loving. Being curious means, in part, acknowledging your incomplete understanding about another person. (Even your best friend or spouse!)

Because I am accepted by God and fully known by him, I don’t need to pretend to have everyone figured out. By his power I can put to death the insecurity and pride that puts up this front.

Create a Hospitable Atmosphere

Later in the podcast, Tippett is asked how she prepares for an interview. She talks about trying to get to know someone by immersing herself in what they’ve written and/or said in the past.

What I’m trying to do is not so much understand what people know, but how they think. And then, if I have just a sensitivity to that, that really creates a hospitable space for them to think out loud with me. And this transmits itself viscerally, within a very few moments of meeting somebody. We’ve all had this experience of walking into a room and […] you know you’re going to have to defend yourself or explain yourself. And that creates a certain amount of tension and it puts you in a certain mode of what you are going to talk about and what you’re not going to talk about. And I’m trying to create an atmosphere, an intellectually hospitable atmosphere, where people have this sense very quickly that I get them. And then, you just relax inside.

Tippett’s description makes me wonder what sort of atmosphere I create in my conversations. Are people encouraged to think out loud with me? Or am I making them feel defensive and interrogated? This idea of a hospitable atmosphere has huge implications when it comes to apologetics, evangelism, and discipleship.

Ask Good Questions

Tippett’s definition of a good question is “one that elicits honesty.” She was asked what she means by that definition.

I think one thing a lot of people do is ask questions that are interesting to them. Like, “I’ve always wanted to know.” […] Often when I start out preparing for an interview, I will have my questions that I think going into this I’m probably going to want to ask this person. But in the course of preparation, a lot of them will fall away. And what will come in their place is the question that’s going to be interesting to them. And I can formulate that question because I’m immersing in their thinking. So then the questions I’m writing are coming out of that rather than out of my head. And if you ask somebody a question that’s interesting to them, they immediately—you’ll hear it, they’ll say, “Oh, that’s an interesting question.” And then they stop realizing they’re being interviewed, and they’re not even giving an answer, they’re thinking in real time.

This definition of a good question is fairly specific to the context of an interview, but there’s still a lot to learn. My default setting is to ask questions I find interesting, and I never considered that this might be selfish. It is a challenge to know someone well enough to ask a question that interests them. What works in one conversation might not work in the next.

Perhaps a common theme that holds these skills together (for the Christian) is dependence. If we depend on the Holy Spirit, discarding the notion we must control the conversation, we’ll be more likely to love the other person. We won’t make assumptions, we won’t focus on ourselves, and we’ll serve.

As Tippett says (in the first quote), this takes practice. But it’s worth it! And it reflects our God as well—he knows us completely and welcomes us in relationship and conversation. By his strength, let’s do the same for each other.


Thanks for reading! If you’re interested, you can follow me on Twitter, subscribe to this blog by email (see the box on the upper right part of the page), or follow my blog’s RSS feed here.


Photo Credit: Ben Kerckx (2014), public domain

How to Ask Better Questions

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Asking questions is like sending email. We do it many times each day, mostly without thinking. Our patterns are familiar and comfortable.

But questions, like email, are a foundational way we interact with other people. We all have room to improve.

The Importance of Questions

Questions are the way we learn. Without questions, you’ll have no understanding, no wisdom, no growth.

This is obvious in the world of facts and ideas. Where was the bicycle invented? What are the drawbacks of socialism? We don’t often get answers without questions.

But this is also (and more importantly) true with people. Questions drive conversations, and better questions lead deeper. A good question sidesteps small talk and draws out ideas and passions—it makes space to hear a person’s heartbeat.

Because questions are a key way to get to know other people, they are vital for being a neighborly human. And for the Christian, they are essential.

We all want to grow in our love for other people. So how can we improve in this area?

How to Improve

I offer no cheat sheet. You won’t find “5 easy tricks” here.

Instead, I have some hard news: To ask better questions, you need to grow. For most of us, the barrier to good conversations is our selfishness and our lack of love for God and neighbor.

Be Curious

Curious people are a delight. Instead of making polite conversation, they take an interest in you. They make good eye contact, they follow up, and they think about your words before responding.

Curious people are always learning. They are intrigued by everything from sea turtles to Saturn, from the periodic table to the printing press. And curious Christians are fascinated by their neighbors.

Growing in curiosity begins with worshiping God as creator. If God is creative, infinite, and wise, then everything he makes—from bamboo to Barbara in HR—is worth investigating. Any Christian who loves God and worships him as creator will never be bored. Everything is interesting; everyone is interesting.

Curious people reject the simplistic reflex that files people in boxes. He’s a gun-loving Republican. She’s a liberal academic. God makes people individually, and love demands we get to know people instead of making assumptions.

Be Humble

Honest questions involve admitting we don’t know the answer. We speak up because we lack some knowledge or explanation.

But no one likes looking ignorant or naive. So, depending on the listening audience or our conversation partner, we keep silent. We don’t mind confessing our limitations in the abstract, but when a specific person learns of a specific deficit of ours, it feels like torture.

In order to ask better questions, we must make peace with looking silly. Take a sledgehammer to your fascade of omniscience. God knows everything and you do not. That doesn’t make you weak or stupid, it makes you human. You’re only weak if you care more about the opinion of others than seeking the truth in love.

Listen

Many of us need to hear this word from James again and again.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19–20, ESV)

So often we only listen up to a point. We think of a response or a connection to our experience, and we start looking to jump back in. We ignore the other person by looking out for ourselves.

We must repent of selfishness in conversations. We can only ask good questions as we hear the other person and advance the conversation accordingly.

Listening requires a loving focus on the other person. With man this is impossible, but all things are possible with God because of Jesus.

Love Your Neighbor

Christians must be concerned about loving our neighbors, and the skill of asking good questions is crucial for the spread of the gospel.

Evangelism is much more than keeping a tally of monthly gospel shares. This approach makes the gospel seem like a water balloon we’re just waiting to pop over a person’s head. (Got one!) It smooths out distinctions between people and implies our task is limited to one conversation. We’re tempted to shoehorn the gospel in where it doesn’t belong or where its introduction is premature.

The gospel is rich, full, and deep, and it answers all of life’s questions and difficulties. But if we don’t know our friend’s struggles, they won’t see how the gospel addresses them personally.

Think through your conversational patterns and repent of them where appropriate. Take up the task of asking good questions of your friends. And pray for opportunities to introduce them to Jesus.

This isn’t just strategic and winsome, it’s the loving way forward.


Some of the ideas in this post were inspired by an interview with the author Malcolm Gladwell on Tim Ferriss’s podcast. Skip ahead to the 41-minute mark to hear Gladwell talk about the best question-asker he knows: his father.


Photo Credit: anonymous, public domain

3 Questions for the New Year

Tear down your calendar and tack up the new one. The new year has arrived—you must have heard the shotguns at midnight.

It’s time for everyone and his hair gel-loving cousin to trumpet the importance of resolutions, new habits, and goals. Like pork and sauerkraut, it’s a dependable (if off-putting) tradition.

I’ll leave the goal-setting courses and motivational programs to the gurus. Instead I’m posing some hard questions to help frame the next 12 months. Take a look with me. Answer if you dare.

Where do you need to grow spiritually?

All Christians admit they’re forgiven sinners who continue to sin. So confession and repentance are regular features of our spiritual lives. But too often our confession is vague, and ambiguous confession leads to no repentance at all. Ongoing sin eats away at our souls, so we need to rustle the bushes and scare the specific sins into the open field. Be prepared, they’ll run.

Both the Bible and prayer are essential. We need to read the Bible to remember the features of our rebellion. God hates sin, and we would rather look away than feel his gentle finger pulling up that squeaky floor board.

We pray for God to spotlight the uprisings in our hearts. We need his intervention. Occasionally our sin is so blatant and offensive that it blinks in neon, but more often it slithers away into the dark alleys. We need to face our sin with the courage and confidence that comes from knowing we have been forgiven. Then when God brings the sin to our face, we must be merciless in putting it to death.

How well do you rest?

For some people, resting is difficult; it can feel unproductive and lazy. Of course, these are the people who most need to rest.

Most of us would feel dramatically better if we simply slept more. Track your sleep for a week and see what you learn. (I did this recently and found I slept far less than I would have guessed.)

Rest includes sleep, but it’s bigger. Under this umbrella you should include a weekly sabbath, a yearly vacation, and other stolen hours here and there throughout the months.

Rest requires planning and might look very different from person to person. What recharges you? What renews your physical, emotional, and mental energy? What are you doing to incorporate those activities into your life?

How can you stretch yourself for the kingdom of God this year?

Here I enter the realm of goal-setting, but with a twist. I’m not asking this question to encourage a bigger audience or bank account. As God leads and wills, we should want to have an impact for his kingdom this year. How can we best use our skills and talents and opportunities toward this end? What risks can we take to stretch ourselves?

First, let’s talk evangelism. Who has God put in your life so that you could share the gospel with them? Who can you invite to coffee? To dinner at your house? To church? How can you show God’s saving love to those around you?

What projects are out there for you? Outside of normal office and home activities, what ventures could you undertake to glorify God? These might be artistic or technical, collaborative or individual, public or private. Is there a way for you to tell a God-glorifying story in a medium where you have skill?

What questions are you asking yourself heading into the new year?