Bill Mowry

Alongsider Briefings: Reflections of a Life Lived with God

Curiosity shouldn’t kill the cat! Discovering a second lost disciplemaking tool.

cat

It’s easy to settle for safety and predictability in life and ministry. The older I get the more I long for life and ministry to be pre-programmed. There’s a safety and security in following evangelism scripts or step-by-step life success plans. Unfortunately, this conformity and predictability pushes out something important — curiosity.

Adult life squeezes out curiosity. Gone are our childhood days when we could ask “Why?” over and over again. When has an employer commended you for gazing out the window in curious reflection? When have you explored a subject out of curiosity and not necessity? 

Curiosity should not stay in the domain of children nor be an outcast in an adult’s world. Curiosity is a missing tool in our disciplemaking toolbox.

Curiosity is simply an eagerness to know. It restlessly probes and inquires, seeking out new discoveries and insights. When we partner with curiosity, ministry and life becomes a journey of discovery. Curiosity unlocks the wonder of God in the marvelous complexity of people and culture.

God’s use of curiosity pops up subtly in the Bible. Here’s an example. Proverbs 1:5-6 gives one picture of the role curiosity plays in our lives: “Let the wise listen and add to their learning . . . for understanding proverbs and  parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.” Now I’m curious. Why talk about riddles? How do riddles connect with wisdom?

Riddles are strange to us; they’re not part of our cultural dialogue. We prefer logic and systematic order. The Near Eastern culture learned through these enigmatic sayings. Riddles provided both entertainment at meals and teaching opportunities. I need curiosity to untangle a riddle or parable; curiosity drives me to know what the riddle means.

One commentator describes riddles as “an enigma that deliberately blocks immediate understanding by ambiguities and obscurities.” Why use these enigmatic devices? Theologian Daniel Estes writes that Old Testament teachers used enigma as “a strategy designed to tease the hearer to reflection.” My curiosity “teases” me to reflect in order solve the riddle. Without reflection, there’s little growth in wisdom.

We jokingly say that “curiosity killed the cat.” This statement pictures curiosity as something to be feared or distrusted instead of a practice to be cultivated. Without curiosity we miss the fruit of wisdom. While I might prefer people telling me the answer, I’ll fail to grow in wisdom. Curiosity stokes thinking, thinking births wisdom, and wisdom leads to worship (Proverbs 1:7).

To practice the tool of curiosity, I’m working at being curious about three things.

I want to be curious about God. The Methodist evangelist E. Stanley Jones wrote that “Jesus is an unfolding revelation: the more you see, the more you see there is to be seen.” Jesus invites us to “come and see” (John 1:39). He arouses our curiosity to know more about Him. 

The older I get the more I’m curious about his “ways.” Ways describe a pattern of behavior and values. I long to discover more about His ways in shaping my life, His ways of working in our culture, and His ways of shaping the lives of others. Curiosity enhances my understanding and worship of our Lord.

I want to be curious about the Bible. The Psalmist prayed that he might “see wonderful things in your law” (Psalm 119:18). I want to avoid the “drive-by” syndrome of the well-traveled passage. We all travel routes to work or to homes that become so familiar we drive-by without looking at the scenery. God forbid that the Bible becomes a drive-by experience. 

I work at being curious about the Bible. I bombard a text with questions to counter the drive-by effect. What keeps me going is the joy of discovering “wonderful things” in the Scriptures. Curiosity is a joy-igniter as I study the Bible, unlocking the wonder of God’s revelation

I want to be curious about people. Proverbs 20:5 instructs us that “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” All of us have a side to life that lies beneath the surface of our expressions and actions. This “deep water” side is where our true selves hide — our values, beliefs, longings, dreams, and fears. 

The understanding person knows how to dip into those deep waters to draw out this deep side of people. The tools I use to draw out this water are curiosity and listening. Curiosity prompts me to ask questions. Listening forces me to stop and pay attention. As I dip into the deep waters of people’s lives I discover that each person is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Curiosity draws me to a loving Creator. Curiosity is a missing tool in disciplemaking.

As you come alongside others in disciplemaking this coming week, consider asking one of these three questions:

  • How can I encourage people to be curious about God?
  • How can I encourage people to be curious about the Bible?
  • How can I encourage people to be curious about others?

Curiosity was a partner in the origins of modern science, a discipline shaped by Christians such as Roger Bacon. Bacon wrote:

“The glory of God is to conceal a thing but the glory of the king is to find it out” (Proverbs 25:2); as if, according to the innocent play of children, the Divine Majesty took delight to hide his works, to the end to have them found out; and as if kings could not obtain a greater honor than be God’s play-fellows in that game.

Roger Bacon

Curiosity drives me to “find out” God’s fingerprints in life and people. We become like innocent children, “play-fellows” making discoveries in God’s delight-filled playground of creation. Without curiosity we settle for the stale routine of formulas and methods, scripts and safety. Without curiosity, we fail to become wise. With curiosity, we’ll see the wonder, the artistry, and bow to worship the One who invites us to “come and see.”

One Comment

  1. I like the tenor of this post. Wonderfully warm. Earlier today I sent some reflections related to an academic article by Howard Snyder (author of books such as Wineskins, The Radical Wesley, Liberating the Church, etc). He has a high regard –like C.S. Lewis– for the animate animal kingdom in its proximity to our species, albeit without the Imago Dei that humans alone possess here on earth. If he responds I’ll send that and my remarks to him. God bless brother.

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