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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.

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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.”

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

  1. Lauren English Avatar

    Wow, this describes so well m heart during our first year of marriage. When things were hard and confusing, it was so easy to ask God WHY and whine instead of looking to God’s comfort and how I could reach out and comfort others. I’ve had so many conversations since then where God has used our struggles to help me connect to and encourage other people! Love this!

    1. Christi Avatar

      Lauren, you are offering up such a beautiful gift to so many on your blog. Thankful for your willingness to be transparent and encouraged by your words over here on my space. Keep shining!

  2. janncobb Avatar

    umm, this was a great post! I particularly loved the Why quickly can turn into a whine! So much to think about today. Stopping by from Reflect. Please join the link up and share your post.

  3. helloredds Avatar

    Oh, my!

    Talk about convicting! Have you been hiding somewhere in our home and listening to our conversations?

    I’m going to have to read this post again and again because I like to ask God that word “why.” And, it does so often lead to whine!

    I came over to read this article and found myself so personally impacted.

    Thank you for allowing God to use you in my life and in others’ lives. You are a blessing~

    ~I’m sharing this today on FB – this morning and tonight!

    1. Christi Avatar

      Love it when I find friends who resonate with my struggles. Then I know I’m not crazy … or at least there’s two of us who are :) Thanks for your sweet words and for sharing YOUR life with me.

  4. sarahgirl3 Avatar

    Great minds think alike-I just wrote about the Isrealites whining too. :)
    You are so right, we can’t afford to ask why. Great post!

    1. Christi Avatar

      That’s awesome! I’ll have to come read it.

  5. Suzie Eller Avatar

    When “why turns into whine” is powerful.

    1. Christi Avatar

      Thanks, Suzie! Now to continually remind myself …

  6. Ruthie Gray Avatar

    Ecclesiastes 7:10 is going in the books. I cannot afford to forget that verse!!!
    Thanks for pointing us to the fact that God also asks why (even though He knows the answer). “Exposing toxic thoughts that were thwarting the process”.
    The whole noose, scars, and limp thing – so full of truth and balm for the soul. I once heard Beth Moore speak about the limp. She said that when others see you limping, it gives them hope that maybe they can do this too. I’ve never forgotten that, even though I sat on my calling for two more years out of the very fear that she was addressing in that conference.
    I’ve a friend who lost her husband a little over a year ago. Maybe I told you about her. We had coffee last night. She’s still struggling some days to make sense of it all, with three boys left to raise and no spouse for support. I falteringly gave her a few words of wisdom, but I’m sharing this with her today.
    Thanks, Tex, for once again pointing us to the Way.
    You are so very talented and wise! :)

    1. Christi Avatar

      I already told you this, but you are a master commenter! Thanks for that priceless affirmation that this might be a tender touch for someone who has experienced such heartache as your friend. Love that I call you that myself!
      I haven’t heard Beth’s talk about the limp but I would LOVE to find where she did and hear it.

  7. Kristin Hill Taylor Avatar
    Kristin Hill Taylor

    “Once we start pondering the “why” of our own dramas, all other healthy thoughts and forward motion are held hostage.” — Oh, that’s good. I’ve been reading through the Old Testament in our Seamless Bible study and heard the Israelites grumbling, again, so this post resonated with me on different levels. What a good reminder to focus on the only One who is in control.

    1. Christi Avatar

      I want to hear your thoughts on that Bible Study! My daughter is working through the teen version trying to decide if it is the right fit to lead a group of girls this fall. Thanks for the encouragement, btw … and for the gift of getting to know you!

  8. Dawn Boyer Avatar

    I continually find myself enriched and nourish when I visit you Christi. First of all, the way you weave the style of rhetoric in your writing always stands out to me, I love it. Mostly, you lead me to think… like bringing me to the deep waters and showing me how to drink fully.(Ps 42:7, Is 1:18) Reasoning through the study of His Word is a paradox in and of itself, I think. Every single time I think I have it, another ‘Aha’ moment happens. It is refreshing to see you passing through those valleys as you learn more of His grace in your every day.
    The million dollar question, “Why?” It is a Pandora’s box isn’t it? Or is it? I think you pointed us to a beautiful view of how the same things can be both to our advantage and also our disadvantage. The Why reminds me of my kids and their constant questions and how I need to remember that they are asking because they are processing the world around them.
    When we process the world around us, we too fall deeply into the dialectic stage of logic. However using our limited wisdom to understand the Ancient of Days always comes up short, doesn’t it? I don’t mind the why so much anymore, because I know that it is the path that leads to understanding. I don’t think the Lord minds the Why in that context either. It is different, though, when it leads to the whine, as you mentioned. Then faith has become excavated from the need to know and we are just pursuing a selfish end.

    You certainly piqued my thoughts this morning! Thanks for leading us to worship the One who meets us faithfully each and every time.

    Blessings to you!

    1. Christi Avatar

      Dawn, I had to read and reread the meaty encouragement and thoughtful additions you left here. First, I am sincerely out of words that would describe what your encouragement meant to me on this day. And next, I love how you made me think about how you aren’t bothered by this word later in life and the analogy of your kids. Great point!

      So blessed by you today. In ways and on levels you may not know this side of heaven. We must plan a coffee date when we get there … if we are ever able to get off our knees from worship!

  9. BlessingCounterDeb Avatar

    Christi, I love where you talk about why turning into whine. It’s so true! How quickly we can turn a day (or longer) into a pity party. Thanks for sharing these great insights. Moving forward this morning in love! Blessings!

    1. Christi Avatar

      Thank you Deb. Seeing your name always brings a smile before I ever read your words. I have been so guilty of pity parties and would love to be over this struggle. Hoping that by writing about it, I will hold myself accountable!

  10. joanneviola Avatar

    Christi, a wonderful post filled with much to think on. May we be so careful when our questions lead us to grumbling as it will so deprive us of God’s best for us. Grateful to have been here this morning. Blessings!

    1. Christi Avatar

      “deprived of God’s best for us …” Yes! You nailed it. Thanks for bringing that wisdom to this trail over here, Joanne!

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