Pastoral Perspectives

The heart of asking questions

For many, the highlight of Chinese New Year is that we get to have some extended time to catch up with family members and friends and to celebrate the festive occasion over food. Admittedly, when we were younger, it was probably all those delicious snacks and collection of ang baos that made the occasion something worthwhile to look forward to.

However, it may only be a matter of time that for some, they begin to dread such a season. Depending on our personalities, some may feel annoyed or awkward whenever we are bombarded with questions, comments and comparisons about one’s marital status, number of children, children’s exam results, career, etc. Indeed, it seems like a common experience that whenever relatives gather, especially those whom we only meet on special occasions, the conversations would inevitably evolve around such topics.

Instead of trying our best to avoid certain folks, I believe that Christians can do better and make the best of out such a situation. After all, God’s Word reminds us to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let our speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6). Although the immediate context has more to do with how Christians need not be ashamed of Paul’s imprisonment but should continue relating with non-believers in such an honourable and attractive way that would commend the gospel to them, I think there are some principles which are applicable here too.

Firstly, when we are confronted with questions, it is always wise to take a step back and be slow to answer rather than respond with a rebuff. If we desire to mature spiritually, we must learn to examine our hearts and to reflect upon our emotions and mindset. We may need to consider the reasons for our negative reactions to the questions and comments of others. Could it be that those questions have hit a raw nerve because these are matters which we have not resolved with God? Perhaps we have been hurt in the past or are feeling that God has withheld a good thing from us. If that is so, we need to seek refuge in God’s truth and experience healing and rest in His unfailing goodness. Likewise, if envy is creeping in whenever we hear of the success of others, we need to come before God in repentance and ask Him to help us recover the delight of following and trusting Christ.

Secondly, we can learn to turn the questions into opportunities for further conversations. For example, if we are single and someone asks us about why we are not dating or suggests that we may soon be left on the shelf, we could try to deftly deflect the questions with a smile. Instead of walking away from the person, we could proceed to enquire about the person’s life and marriage. We should do so with the sincere intention of getting to know this person better by hearing about how she met her spouse, what were some interesting moments and how has marriage changed her. In this way, the attention is shifted to the “questioner” and more importantly, it creates an opportunity to build relationships and hopefully lead unto deeper and more meaningful conversations.

Likewise, if someone passes comments about having more children or makes comparison about how others are excelling in school, we need not be defensive. We could try to ask them about their children – How do their personalities differ? What were some challenges they faced as parents? What are they thankful for regarding their children?

When our desire is to build relationships rather than simply exchange pleasantries and maintain superficial cordiality, I believe that God will sovereignly open doors for us to be a blessing to others. In the midst of our conversations, we should learn to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting as there could be opportunities for us to pray for others or point them to God. Indeed, our approach must be to start from where the person is. It will certainly help in our Christian witness and evangelism efforts when we are seeking to understand others first rather than getting them to understand us and our convictions about certain matters.

When Apostle Paul exhorts our speech to be “seasoned with salt”, it brings to mind how Jesus has also called his disciples to be “the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13). God can use our intentional conversations to cultivate a thirst for spiritual realities within the hearts of others. Undoubtedly, we can all grow in this area of learning to connect our ordinary interaction with others to spiritual truths and ultimately, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When we meet up with people this Chinese New Year, let us not be in a hurry to simply shove an evangelistic tract or cajole them to attend an evangelistic event. Instead, let us be pray and be wise with the opportunities that God will present before us. And we continue to walk humbly, may God enable us to explain why Christ is far more precious and that God’s grace is truly the best gift than anyone can ever receive.

Rev Edwin Wong

February 7, 2016