Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (Matt 19:16)What is our biggest question in life? For those who are afraid, they will ask what it takes to be saved, or be less fearful. For those who are unsure of their direction in life, they will ask for a clearer path to take. For those of us who are bored with life, they ask for more exciting and entertaining options. Sometimes, we let fear dictate our questions. Fear of failure or not having. We can easily become victims of fear. In fact, this ‘fear’ factor has become such a serious concern that the famous Christian writer, Max Lucado recently published an entire book on it, entitled: “Fearless.” (you can read my review of the book here) In Fearless, Lucado points out the common fears that we all face and tries to help us bring fear into proper perspectives. Overall, it is a good read, even though it lacks the meaty stuff that I am used to.
As I reflect on the young man’s question to Jesus, I cannot help but be sad about the things that many people run after in life, the so-called rat-race. Whether we call it ‘making a living,’ or 'making ends meet,' we are all rats in a sense. We run after things. We chase schedules. We pursue goals, even honorable ones. Sometimes life looks like a hamster running quickly on a hamster wheel. The wheel spins very quickly, but the hamster remains stuck in the cage. The young man in Matthew 19 came prepared for Jesus’s first answer. He was not prepared for Jesus’s second answer. The man was caught off-guard, when the very ‘good thing’ he desires to do, involves the disposal of all his possessions and achievements. How can anyone give away all his achievements after the sweat and toil? In fact, fear of not possessing what other people have can depress us, isolate us, and leave behind a bitter aftertaste of unfairness. When others seem to possess ‘better’ things than us, we ask: “What about me?” When a tragic event happens, our biggest question becomes “Why me?” Perhaps, the clue to knowing what is our largest question in life, is to learn to ask the question behind the question. Like the young man, it is not ‘what must I do?’ (Matt 19:16) but ‘what am I still lacking?’ (Matt 19:20)
The Question Behind the Question
We may be worried about not getting something, but what about the expectations AFTER we get it? We may be concerned about not achieving our targets, but what about the actions AFTER we achieved our targets? We may agonize over exams, meet our family responsibilities, or struggle over our job expectations. My question is, what happens next, especially AFTER we achieve our targets? Unfortunately, many of us have no time to deal with this second question. The first question already sucks up more than 90% of all our energies and resources. Let me ask ourselves, how sure are we that we are different from the young man in Matthew 19? Are we prepared for Jesus’s second imperative?
Someone has said, that if we expect to find an answer to any of our questions, it simply means we have not asked a big enough question. What is your big question in life?
- If it is helping your children be successful, what about AFTER they achieved it?
- If it is having a happy marriage, what happens AFTER?
- If it is getting the promotion and recognition you crave at the office, what happens AFTER you get it?
- If it is getting the degree or over achieving a sales quota, what comes AFTER?
I struggle with this a lot. My first year after receiving my University degree has been anything but easy. I hear stories of people getting jobs even before graduation. I hear fellow classmates getting not one, but multiple job offers. I hear that some even get bonuses to join a particular team. “What about me?” I asked God. It is ironical. Graduation is supposed to be a proud moment. My parents were beaming with joy at the convocation. It was the culmination of many tough years of hard work. Little did I expect the emotional turmoil during the months AFTER this mountain top experience. Like the saying goes, after the summit, the next step is all downhill. At least it is true for me then. The optimistic ones among us will say that somewhere ahead is another mountain, a more challenging one to climb. However, in my mind, that mountain even if it exists, is too far away for me to glimpse. I feel less than fulfilled. Even failure. Even though I have my precious degree on one hand, my other hand is still empty. No job. No girlfriend. No car. No house. Whatever friends I have were all so busy. Their new jobs have given them air-tickets for overseas training and massive four figure salaries totally unheard of in my student years. For me, I avoided meeting friends, especially those who prefer to exchange name cards rather than a simple greeting. I disliked social gatherings where the first questions starts with “What are you doing?” instead of “How are you doing?” When approached, my conversations seem short. Money talks. Status talks. The unemployed walks.
People come loaded with questions pertaining to their new jobs, their great salaries, the products and services they deal in. They cannot offload them on me as I did not have answers to what they seek. For me, I just had my degree. Period. Mercifully, within a few months, I joined the crowd, but I became lost in the pursuit of answers to my first question, not the question behind the question. “What should I do with the money and reputation attained?”
In 2004, I gave up my comfy job to study theology. I had no inkling about what to do next, except to immerse myself in the study of God’s Word, something I loved. I must say, the experience is scary. It still is. The question behind the question may give us a clue to what should be the larger question in life. What is your question in life? If it is something related to the evil trilogy of temptations, like Money, Sex and Power (MSP), you’re way off track. Traveling along MSP lines, is like the young man in Matthew, buying a ticket to travel on the wrong train of life, even when we do good charitable deeds. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it succinctly:
“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.”Indeed, if our first step is wrong, the subsequent steps no matter how ‘right’ only delays, not prevent the impending destruction. Sometimes, the biggest problem is not failure, but what happens after. Allow me to paraphrase Tim Kizziar,
“The greatest threat we can ever face is not failure. It is success in things that does NOT matter.“Are we running after things that ultimately do not matter as much as we thought they would? Are we only seeking answers to the world’s first question, totally ignoring the more important question behind the question? Let us put our resources toward things that matter. Let us place our energies into the more important things in life. For me, the way I prepare for the second question is by first adopting a thankful heart, for whatever little I have or receive. May I encourage you to do the same.
Thought: What is your biggest question in life?