From 1988 to 2008, 20 years, my preaching income was supplemented by working as a reporter, editor or news director for local newspapers and radio stations. Having never received formal journalistic training, my education came from editors and publishers.
One of my most valuable lessons was how to question politicians and police officers. The best method, by far, was asking six very simple questions: who, what, when, where, why and how. I learned those easy questions cut through the pretense and arrived at the heart of a story.
God asked people simple questions. In Eden, God asked Adam, “Where are you?” This is such an unassuming, simple question it doesn’t appear to do what it does. It cut through the layers of Adam’s pretense and allowed him to say, “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
God asked Cain a similar question: “Where is Abel, your brother? What have you done?” God knew. The questions cut Cain’s heart to pieces so that he said, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.”
King Saul was commanded to destroy the Amalekites and all they had but did not. God’s prophet didn’t even get a chance to start the conversation before Saul said he had obeyed God. He didn’t. Samuel asked him this penetrating question, “What, then, is bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of oxen which I hear?”
The great prophet Elijah, who had established the one true God of Israel against Baal in 1 Kings 18, left Mt. Carmel and went to hide in a cave because Jezebel made a death threat. One would think that in this moment of triumph, Elijah would have been in Samaria trying to get Ahab and his wife to see the truth. Instead, he fled.
God came to Elijah in the cave and asked a simple, yet penetrating question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” The prophet freaked. Can you hear him shouting through the centuries? “I HAVE BEEN VERY ZEALOUS FOR THE LORD GOD OF HOSTS!”
Nope. That’ was not an answer to the question, was it? That’s a defense mechanism. What was the answer? Elijah admitted he was afraid of the threat Jezebel made. Elijah told God how afraid and alone he felt.
So, God repeated the question (1 Kings 19:9, 13). “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
That was a more penetrating question than many may think. Elijah should have been in Samaria doing his job. He wasn’t. His fear had made him do something illogical. His brave stand before the 450 prophets of Baal had been eclipsed by his fear of Jezebel.
All of us have low points in our lives and have done things we are not proud. But, it was God’s question that brought out the truth in Elijah’s heart: I’m afraid.
If God asked you and me the same question, how would we answer? “John, what are you doing here?” Frankly, the question might cut into my heart as it must have Elijah’s, but I must still answer.
What are you doing here? What is your life about? For many, life is about doing what “matters,” “making a difference.” A difference in what? What matters? Ah, there’s the rub. For many, success is what matters. For others, it may involve the accumulation of money or possessions. For some, self-respect and the respect of others is important.
But we’re not talking about what a testimonial dinner might show about your life. We’re talking about what we would tell God if he asked, “What are you doing here?”
What are you doing here for the Lord God? That penetrating question is one many people would rather not answer because it is a very direct and honest question. It is pertinent, though, isn’t it? God has given us our lives and everything we have. Shouldn’t he be given an honest answer?
What are you doing here?