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The word that holds us hostage and 2 substitute questions to break free

This post considers the word “Why” in Scripture and how it can undermine our resolve in accepting God’s will. Here are 2 substitute questions to move your faith forward instead of stalling on “Why.”

It’s one word. Three letters. In word economics, it should be cheap.
You could fill a tweet with it more than 40 times.
It’s so small. Seemingly insignificant.

But when you let it invade your thoughts, infect your heart, and cross your lips, it sets up camp and charges rent. And the price is exorbitant. What is that one word? Why.

No, this isn’t an Abbot and Costello routine. I’m not asking you why you want to know the word; I’m telling you the word is W.H.Y.

Held Hostage by ONE Word

This word rarely comes up when life is behaving according to our script.

It’s during those times when the background is crashing around us, the actors aren’t delivering their lines as planned, and our role as director and producer of our lives is being challenged that this prima donna of a word enters stage right onto the scene.

Drama queen. Headed straight for center stage.
And once it is planted there, all other action stops.
No one moves forward or moves on.
You might as well find a chair and have a seat because you’re going to be there a while.

I admit that’s a lot of personification to make a point.

The bottom line is this:
Once we start pondering the “why” of our own dramas, all other healthy thoughts and forward motion are held hostage.

 The default word for the Israelites

We see this in the record of the Israelites’ behavior after leaving Egypt. They quickly resorted to grumbling, looking back at Egypt with a collective selective memory.

Over and over their use of the word “why” is documented. And it’s never a pretty picture. They definitey had trouble accepting God’s will.
(All emphases that follow are mine.)

As they stood at the Red Sea:
“Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way …” (Ex. 14:11, NASB)

Less than a month after God provided manna and quail:
Why, did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Ex. 17:3)

Just before God sent fiery serpents, after they had become “impatient because of the journey”:
“And the people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?’” (Num. 21:5)

It goes on and on, but I think you get the point.

“Why” turns into whine

We all can self-identify to some extent with the people of Israel if we’re honest. We spend much of our lives looking back at what “could have been”— and often with rose-colored glasses. An equally large portion is spent wishing for an easier route to the Promised Land.

Asking “why” quickly morphs into whine in either scenario and Solomon cautions that this is never wise.

Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
    For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
(Ecc. 7:10)

And as the why ferments into whine, we find ourselves stalled.

We can’t simultaneously move forward while we stand still asking, “Why did this happen,” pause to look back longingly for the days before it did, or go on strike until we are assured of a better future.

Two New Substitute Questions

Whenever I teach about recognizing the enemy’s lies and resisting them, I end with explaining that it’s not enough to simply recognize and remove.
We have to replace lies with specific truth.

The same is true with eliminating “why” as our own default response when trouble and trials arise.

Consider these two questions as understudies-turned-leading actors when the dramas unfold in your life. They will assist in accepting God’s will:

1. How do I make this count and cooperate with God’s work in my life?

You’ve likely heard it stated many times that God is more interested in character forming than circumstance shaping.
But when we submit to the difficult circumstances, our character actually comes out both shaped and reformed.

Lysa TerKeurst says, “Nothing will make God so real to you as seeing Him change your character. Not change who you are — your personality, your strengths, and your abilities — but how you are — your character.1

Trials refine so that you reflect your Savior more visibly, just like silver reflects more clearly after it has been melted and hammered and buffed.

You are transformed by
submitting to God’s design for the circumstances
and embracing the work of the master’s hands.
Not by changing the circumstances,
crawling off the anvil,
and running from the silversmith’s shop.

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
    your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Do not forsake the work of your hands.

(Ps. 138:8)

In God’s economy, nothing is wasted.
He can and He will make this count, both for your good and His glory. Start by pondering what you are supposed to learn and considering what:

  • lies need resisted
  • habits need submitted
  • bitterness needs relinquished

Entreat Him to give you a passion for His Word and the wisdom to understand what He will show you during this difficult time. In the end, that is the ultimate Make.It.Count experience.2

2. Who can I comfort because of what I’ve experienced?

As I began to delve into God’s Word, looking for answers after my own year of drama, I was led over and over to a recurring theme:

Restoration and recovery
after failure and hardship
lead to
encouragement and comfort
for others.

When those who have “been there” look around, they see the struggle of others more quickly.
You know when to sit beside and say, “I’m sorry,” and how deeply that counts.
And you know when to stand and cheer, “It’s time to move,” and how much that helps.

God intends for you to use your experience of weakness — where you learned that His grace was sufficient and His power was your strength — for good.

  • The noose that once threatened to take your last breath transforms into a lifeline for someone else.
  • Your scars become calling cards that open doors to speak truth to others who recognize them as credentials.
  • And as you limp, you will lead others toward the light — many who never would have followed if you were sprinting ahead of them.

When you comfort, encourage, and proclaim, “There is a way forward after fear, failure, and famine,” you participate in redeeming your pain.

Go Forward

Consider God’s response to the Israelites’ seemingly impossible situation:

“The Lord said to Moses,
Why do you cry to me?
Tell the people of Israel to go forward.’”

(Ex. 14:15; all emphases here and below are mine)

Did you notice that the same word used by the group to grumble is the word their God used to give marching orders?

I had never made the connection until I began studying for this post.
I was floored at the synergy and the irony.

Yes, going forward is the goal.
Yes, we must give up our perceived right to ask, “Why” in accepting God’s will.
But whoa. Be prepared that as part of the forward progress, we may first be faced with God asking the questions.

When God asks, “Why …”

Over and over throughout both testaments, the Lord asks this question.
It’s never because He doesn’t know the answer.
But it always reveals something the questionees need to remove or refine in their lives.

“The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?’” (Gen. 4:6)
“The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, that I am old?’” (Gen. 18:13)
“The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Get up! Why have you fallen on your face?’” (Josh. 7:10)

“But Jesus, knowing their thoughts said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts?’” (Matt. 9:4)
Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40)
Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field grow …” (Matt. 6:28)
Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46)
Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38)

These selected verses only scratch the surface.
This word appears to have been one of Jesus’ favorites.
He wasted no time in getting to the root of the problem and exposing the toxic thoughts that were thwarting forward progress.

Thus the paradox:
The same word
you can’t afford to stand still asking
about your circumstances
is the same word
you can’t afford not to answer
when it’s your God
moving you forward.

Like I said in the beginning.
It’s one word.
Seemingly so small and insignificant but, in reality, a double-edged sword.

May God grant us the wisdom to replace it in our own questions and the discernment to let it do its full work of revealing when He is the one asking.

{This post contains affiliate links for your convenience and to support this blog. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.}

1. Lysa TerKeurst, What Happens When Women Walk in Faith (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2005), 119
2. With thanks to Bronwyn Lea, whose blog post inspired the idea of praying, “Make it count.”

[clickToTweet tweet=”Once we start pondering the “why” of our own dramas, all forward motion is held hostage.” quote=”Once we start pondering the “why” of our own dramas, all forward motion is held hostage.”]

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Why’ often ferments into ‘whine’” quote=”‘Why’ often ferments into ‘whine’”]

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66 responses to “The word that holds us hostage and 2 substitute questions to break free”

  1. Angie Avatar

    Before I became a wife/mom, I was a social worker. When questions start with “why” the responder automatically goes into defensive mode, which is in the frontal lobe – emotional, reflex – part of the brain. This is not the part of the brain responsible for rational thought. To get a person to think through a decision or circumstance, questions have to be open ended – like you pointed out with, “How do I make this count?”

    I enjoyed stopping by today (though I’ve managed to let my own cup of coffee get cold this morning). Thank you for sharing these thoughts on the link up today!

    1. Christi Avatar

      Wow, Angie! I love knowing the science behind things like this.
      Thank you for stopping by and encouraging me with your thoughts.
      I have to smile at your cold cup of coffee…I have gotten lost in so many good reads in this community lately ~ where I was drinking from the fire hydrant of inspiration that I forgot to takes sips of my own coffee :-)

      I really look forward to seeing you around!

  2. Dawn Boyer Avatar

    So much in this post had me saying, “Yes!”. I loved spending time with you in this today. These are relevant and relational and leading us to more of His grace in our journeys.
    Thank you, Christi!

    1. Christi Avatar

      Thank you Dawn!
      “Loved spending ‘time’ with you in this today.” Wow, that is so touching.
      I have felt just as you say that stopping by others’ virtual homes is like dropping by for a cup of coffee.
      I’m looking forward to getting to know more about you and spending time with you in your words.
      I’ll stop by later this weekend.

  3. Elizabeth Spencer Avatar

    “Why turns into whine.” Brilliant. Also, painfully familiar. Thank you for afflicting the comfortable (that would be me) this morning, Christi!

    1. Christi Avatar

      Hi Elizabeth! Thank you for stopping by. Excited to find out more about you through what you choose to share.
      ~Your partner in overcoming comfortable!

  4. Sarah @ Sarah on Purpose Avatar

    Who can I comfort because of what I’ve experienced? Yes! Such a good question! Thank you for this paradigm shift.

    1. Christi Avatar

      Thank you for stopping by, Sarah. It is a paradigm shift in thinking, isn’t it?

  5. sarahgirl3 Avatar

    I will probably never know why I had to lose my Mom in my early 20’s, but I do know what others are going through when it happens to them. It is great being able to help in a small way.
    You have so much truth here!

    1. Christi Avatar

      Sarah, I am so honored to meet you.
      My mom lost her mom when I was very young and I often think about how different things would be if that happened to me.
      Just recently when I told her how much of an encourager she was to me, she commented that she never had an example of how to mother older adult kids. Wow.

      So to hear words of affirmation from you is a real blessing to me today.
      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment and connect.
      I look forward to getting to know more about you.

  6. rmclellan1949 Avatar

    I’ve been so guilty of saying the words “why.” And sometimes I get an answer but more often I’m left to just trust with faith that all God is doing is in my favor. Thanks for the reminder. Visiting from Holley Gerth Link Up.

    1. Christi Avatar

      Thanks for visiting and letting me know it resonated with you also ;) We need reminded that we aren’t crazy as we do battle. I believe one of the great lies of the enemy is “You’re the only one struggling with this.”

  7. Dana H. Avatar

    Great post! I really needed to read this today. I need to stop asking why and just “go forward” and do what God wants me to do. Visiting from Coffee for your Heart link-up.

    1. Christi Avatar

      Thanks for taking the time, Dana! Easier said than done, right :). Looking forward to connecting more via these link-ups. There is so much inspiration out there to be absorbed by those who are trying to do life God’s way!

  8. Tania Vaughan (@TaniaJVaughan) Avatar

    Such a great post and reminder that ‘Why’ is often a stumbling block and was the cause of the Israelites taking so long to get into the promised land. It does indeed make us stand still when God is trying ot move us forward. A good deal to ponder here – thank you for sharing on the #RaRaLinkup

    1. Christi Avatar

      Thank you so much for that encouragement. I have to admit I roll my eyes much less when I teach about the Israelites than I did in my 20s. I’ve discovered just how much I need to view their story with a mirror instead of a magnifying glass! I’m off to go discover what wisdom you’ve left for others to find. Thanks again for stopping by!

  9. Tasha Avatar

    Wow…loved this. Thank you so much for sharing! I look forward to getting to “know” you as I follow your posts…Have a fantastic weekend!

    1. Christi Avatar

      Thanks! Went to find you and left you a message on your blog. Love how technology shrinks our world so that we connect with other believers and are assured “we are not alone” in this great big world.

  10. Dana Avatar

    I enjoyed this. We shouldn’t feel like we have a right to ask WHY when things don’t go our way. We need to trust God and move forward!!
    Thank you!

    1. Christi Avatar

      So true! Thank you for taking the time to stop by!

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