Wrong Question #3 – What If You Knew … ?

What if you knew you had only one week to live…  What if you knew Christ was coming back in three days…  What if you knew that tomorrow morning was the last time you would see your child… What would you do differently than you’re doing now?

Those are powerful questions. When sudden tragedies come up – like those that occurred last week in a number of churches that I know – questions like these often arise and cause us to think differently about life.

They can be used to motivate us to do things we should probably do. When I consider those questions, I’m likely to recognize the importance of my relationships. I’d probably focus on my fellowship with Christ. And yes, I’d be very careful to show love, and not let a small annoyance turn into something I’d regret later.

I’d probably take some other steps, too — steps that maybe aren’t so helpful.

Unintended Consequences

If I knew I only had one week to live, I’d transition every responsibility I have to someone else. If I knew Christ was coming back in three days, I’d throw every dollar I had at anything with a remote possibility in evangelizing. (Three days isn’t enough time to research a wise investment.) I’d “cash in” all the relationship-building I’ve done over the years and spend every moment begging people to accept Christ. If I knew that tomorrow morning was the last time I’d see my child, I’d stay up all night with them to savor each final moment.

And those are just a few of the extreme ideas I might come up with.

Try asking an investor what he’d do with his stock if he knew the company would be bankrupt within the week.

Try asking a marathon runner at mile 3 what she’d do if she knew the next 400 meters were the last 400 meters of the race.

Try asking a sales representative how to approach a market where you only get one chance to talk to each prospect.

What do these scenarios have in common? They all focus on people who normally work with a long-term mindset, but are forced to plan only for the short term. Our work on earth is a long-term project, too, and it needs a long-term approach.

That investor would probably sell the stock (ignoring insider trading laws, for the sake of the illustration). That marathon runner would probably quicken her pace, turning her marathon into a sprint. That sales representative would try to close the deal early without taking the time to build a more lasting and lucrative relationship. All of these would destroy their chances for success.

Motivating Questions

Only God knows the future; the rest of us have to work with what God reveals to us and from there consider what is probable. By asking yourself what you would do “if you knew” something that’s likely untrue, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

On the other hand, those questions can be motivating ones. How can we bring about the helpful changes while avoiding the unintended consequences? Let’s try a few different questions that can also be motivating, but without the potential for disaster.

  1. What do I want to accomplish in this life? What steps can you take right now to make progress? If you imagine you have only one week to live, your priorities will change. Instead, ask what you can do to make progress towards your real priorities. Then go take action!
  2. What opportunities do I have to impact people for Christ? Which have you been neglecting? For me, I was recently convicted about building relationships in our neighborhood. I’ve missed out on opportunities to witness to them because I never bothered to spend any time with them. We’re changing that now in the Dwire home.
  3. How would I like my child to remember me today? What can you do to model Christ for your child today? A habit of asking (and answering) this question daily will lead to strong, effective relationships without the emotional roller-coaster.

When we try to change behavior with heart-wrenching, emotional questions, we’re setting ourselves up for unintended consequences. Find replacement questions to encourage responsible behavior.

Take Action

What kind of dangerous emotional questions have you been trying to answer? Leave a Reply below to share what you’ll be asking instead.

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