I find that often the very thing that keeps me from hearing from God the TRUE answer to questions I have is the answer I EXPECT to hear. Minor league philosopher that I am, I rarely have questions that I don't actually think I have at least a partial answer for. I suppose that is the height of arrogance when it should be to me the evidence of my limitations – I can only question those things that I have the ability to know that I don't understand. Armed with a pre-conceived notion of what I think will be my resolution, I often look less for truth and more for validation. While the Almighty speaks clearly, my hearing is dulled by the buzz of all the possible answers that I will “allow” Him.

To wit, indulge me a story:

The scene is a country road at an hour long after the sun had run its course. My family box-on-wheels ambles down the lonely road belching dust behind its rear tires. Its weary cargo stares lazily out the windows at the sparkle of the night sky. Clothing scratches against the salty resin of sweat and pool water. It is summer. The deep recesses of their minds have long since lost any grasp of time or its position in the week. The occasional banter in the box behind me drifts to tales of the great deeds they had witnessed that evening. They had waged an admirable battle against fatigue and boredom. The heroes of the day had performed front flips off of the diving board and successfully navigated the angry waters of “Marco Polo."

The idea finally dawned on one of them. The testimony of the fact we were driving home brought the epiphany that bedtime was on the horizon. As none of them have yet reached the age at which sleep ITSELF was a desirous destination, their thoughts naturally drifted to what new adventures would await them when the sun once again crept out of its heavenly bedchamber to shed light on their world full of possibility. Lost in the fog of summer, a sister asks, “What are we going to do tomorrow?” Now, mind you, my children enjoy the warm fellowship of our great church. However, the fact is that Sunday mornings start earlier than most summer days, require that they wear something other than pajamas or swim suits, and occupy some pristine mid-morning hours. Armed with this knowledge, I try to set the mood by joyfully announcing, “We get to go to church tomorrow!”

My kids love me. And they know what I do for a living. But, when the cold reality that the week had caught up with them began to sink in, I could almost hear the creaking arms on the scales of their thoughts. My two beautiful daughters have passed this way before. Their years have given way to wisdom. Their paternal admiration and the recollection of the warmth of worship eventually outweighed their initial disappointment that tomorrow will not begin with early-afternoon pancakes. They say nothing – satisfied with the knowledge of what the coming day will bring. Not so the little brother. With his will not yet shaped by the knowledge of past mistakes, he forges onward. He is not yet keen enough to be elusive. He simply asks, “Do we HAVE to go to church tomorrow?”

As I ponder the content and tenor of the young man's question and how I might respond, my pastor-dad mind decides that this is a moment ripe for spiritual insight. I had been preparing a sermon all week and the passage I was using had a section (Malachi 1:13) for which this moment was a perfect application. I did some quick mental context work and responded thusly: “You know, Jack, it's interesting that you ask that. We're actually looking at a passage in Scripture this week in which God talks to His people about the fact that they think worshipping Him has become a chore and something they HAVE to do when He has designed it to be a JOY!”

Oh man. Wow. Even as the sound waves pulsed past my lips I was amazed at the power of the statement. I could sense the ache of the philosophical bowstring as it cast this pristine arrow of logic over the bow of my son's defenses. I had even made it simply a statement and not a command! I almost felt sorry for the little guy. The deafening silence that followed my treatise was evidence that he had indeed been struck. I was almost ready to send in the relational paramedics to resuscitate my boy's staggering will. But then came the backseat retort that illuminated the fact that my assault had instead missed its target and struck the deck.

My little adversary lobbed back this fatal blow, “Um ... so ... do we HAVE to go to church tomorrow?”

Win one for preconceived notions. I had painted a picture and all he wanted was a telegram. So much like me. I often give God a note asking Him to check “yes” or “no” -- unaware that He might prefer to answer with a skilfully rendered illustration of a deeper answer. And it appears that He did just that.