Searching for Peace in the Questions Jesus Asked: Amberly Neese
Fear. Worry. Pain: They can feel all-consuming. Author and speaker Amberley Neese believes that in the questions Jesus asks in the Gospels, there are answers big enough for all three.
The God of heaven and earth cares about what you care about. The God who made heavens and earth, the God who made the stars; that same God cares about all those things. I think worry happens, worry creeps in, when we take our eyes off of Jesus. I know that’s like the Sunday School answer, but guess what? It’s the Sunday School answer for a reason. -- Amberly Neese
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Fear. Worry. Pain: They can feel all-consuming. Author and speaker Amberley Neese believes that in the questions Jesus asks in the Gospels, there are answers big enough for all three.
Searching for Peace in the Questions Jesus Asked: Amberly Neese
Amberly: The God of heaven and earth cares about what you care about. The God who made heavens and earth, the God who made the stars; that same God cares about all those things. I think worry happens, worry creeps in, when we take our eyes off of Jesus. I know that’s like the Sunday School answer, but guess what? It’s the Sunday School answer for a reason.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: One of the things I found surprising about this stage of our life—empty nesters, grandkids, but kids are out of the house—is, I worry more.
Ann: I’d be up, not being able to sleep because I’m worrying about something. Over the years you’re like, “I slept great. What are you talking about?” But you’re saying now, you worry more.
Dave: I mean it’s just, stress and anxiety have hit me at a level that I’ve never experienced before. Often, it’s not bad, but it’s still, “Wow! Look at me. I’m thinking, and I can’t sleep.” There are many, many nights I wake up and can’t get back to sleep.
Ann: Why do you think?
Dave: Because I’m thinking through the future. It could be money, it could be our kids, it could be grandkids; you name it. All the stuff that used to keep you up at night. and I used to say, “Just trust God. He’s got it.” [Laughter] I’m scared at times. So, Amberly Neese is with us, and she’s not a therapist; well, maybe you are?
Dave: Is that one of your—
Ann: —she has many jobs.
Dave: –special gifts?
Ann: Many things she’s good at.
Dave: Yes, I mean, you’re a comedian, a humorist, a Bible teacher, a college professor, a mom, a wife. What am I missing?
Ann: A good friend.
Dave: Gee whiz, you do it all!
Amberly: Thank you, thank you. But mostly, I’m just excited to be here.
Dave: Yes, good.
Ann: Me, too.
Amberly: We’re going to unpack some stuff today.
Dave: Yes, and one of the Bible studies you’ve written is Untangling Faith: Reclaiming Hope in the Questions Jesus Asked. We’ve already talked about a couple of those, but how many questions did Jesus ask?
Amberly: Over 300.
Dave: That’s just—
Amberly: –in the New Testament. Isn’t that crazy?
Dave: Yes, I would have never thought it was that many.
Amberly: Nope, me neither. I went to Bible College. I have a master’s degree from a Bible College. When I started this, I thought, “This is crazy!” But once the Holy Spirit kind of heightens your awareness to something, now [you] can’t read it without all the questions. It’s unbelievable.
Dave: You dive in; and it’s a six week [study], right?
Amberly: It is a six-week study.
Dave: Video-based Bible Study.
Dave: And you look at all these different questions.
Dave: You don’t look at all of them?
Amberly: I don’t.
Amberly: I don’t. I kind of put them in categories, and then every day of the study is a different question. You’d think that the questions would bring about more uncertainty, but actually I think honestly, the questions of Jesus teach us more about His character and the depth of His love for us. It grounds us even more than we thought possible.
Dave: Yes, well one of the questions that I looked at in your study is what I just brought up.
Dave: It’s in Matthew 6. Jesus says, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” [Laughter] Do you ever worry?
Amberly: I do, and I think it’s so interesting you bring up the empty nest. We have one child who’s living at home, but then one who lives across the country, and I think it’s harder to parent now—
Amberly: –than when they were little.
Ann: I agree.
Amberly: I know young moms and dads who are listening—don’t feel like I’m minimizing [Laughter] your pain, because I totally get the pain. But I think now it’s harder, because we have no control. At least when they were younger, we thought we had some modicum of control. We have zippity do dah when it comes to control now.
Amberly: I think there’s definitely a little more worry. I love Jesus’s questions: “Can any of you add an hour to your life by worrying?” There is a silly meme from–that came from a movie years ago that Cher was in; it was Cher and Nicholas Cage—and she says this thing where she hits him upside the head and says, “Snap out of it!” And I feel like the Holy Spirit when I read that. That’s what I hear, “Amberly, snap out of it!” Not that the Holy Spirit would knock me upside the head. [Laughter]
However, I know that He’s saying, “I see what you’re worrying about. I’m not negating what you’re worrying about, but I am negating the energy you’re spending not remembering who I am.” I mean, the God of heaven and earth cares about what you care about. The God who made heavens and earth, the God who made the stars; that same God cares about all those things. I think worry happens, worry creeps in, when we take our eyes off of Jesus. I know that sounds like the Sunday School answer, but guess what? It’s the Sunday School answer for a reason. It’s because we are focused more on those issues than we are on the character of God.
The last time, we talked about the Ebenezers. That was because I needed a visual representation of how God provides. I’ve never been a bird person. I’ve often laughed and said depending on the season of your life birds have a different meaning. When you’re little, at least for me, I thought birds were what followed Snow White around. I wanted them to follow me around while I sing. [Laughter] But it’s been so cool to look at that same section of scripture in Matthew, talking about God providing for the birds and watching them trust— They come; even when I've blown it, and I haven’t filled it up, they still come. So, for me, I feel like I should come even when I don’t see His provision. I should still show up and be a part of it.
Dave: I mean, it isn’t [saying] “Don’t take care of your bank account. Don’t be careful with your budget,” or that kind of a thing. But it is saying, “I am the supplier of the food for the birds.”
Dave: And so, for you as well. So, that’s what you’re getting at with that question.
Amberly: You’re going to sleep well tonight.
Dave: I hope so! [Laughter]
Ann: I think, too, Dave worries about money. I worry about the kids. I worry about grandkids. We had a grandchild that had a 45-minute seizure. I don’t worry about myself sometimes, but I’ll worry about, again, things I don’t feel in control of—
Ann: –and that kind of thing, thinking, “I have no control over this. I don’t know anything about this.” I’m thinking about the listener who maybe has had a really hard diagnosis for themselves or for a family member, or a child that’s walked away. That’s when it’s really hard.
Ann: How do I not worry about that? My sister was 44 when she was diagnosed with lung cancer, and I had a pattern of when I would start thinking about something, I would try to solve it in my mind by walking through the entire scenario. So, if she has cancer, I would try to solve all the problems with it. “Well, what should we do? Where should we go? Who’s the best oncologist? What should we do with the kids?” That would seem to make me feel more at peace, as long as I had some control. But it started getting worse and worse. The diagnosis was not good, and I realized, “This is doing no good.”
Ann: What I realized was, I need to take every thought captive—
Amberly: –captive. You bet!
Ann: –and lay it before the king. And I remember thinking, “I’m not going to think about the future. Jesus, all I’m going to do is hand you the moment, hand you my worries, hand you my fears, and say them out loud to you. Lord, now I need your peace that surpasses all understanding.”
Ann: “I need you to help me to guard my mind and my heart in Christ Jesus.”
Amberly: Absolutely, and when you think about holding every thought captive—
Amberly: –we’ve all watched those movies where the captives, what do they want to do? They want to get free.
Amberly: And those thoughts want to do the same thing. When we think, “Fully bound; this thought is fully bound. I’ve totally relinquished it to the Lord.” That captive wants to get free.
Amberly: And oftentimes, they do in my mind, and then I’m back to, “Oh, man. I need to go—
Ann: Do you just go back again? Say you’ve given it to Jesus, you’ve bound it; and then a half-hour later, you’re triggered by something, and it comes back. What do you do?
Amberly: I often ask myself, “What do you know to be true?” right? God is good. He’s in control. He’s working in my best interest. I mean, it sounds like a silly mantra or trick to play on myself. It’s not. The way that I bind those thoughts—
Amberly: –is with the truth of God;--
Amberly: –of His character.
Ann: Yes; and the truth of His Word
Amberly: Absolutely, the truth of His Word. “What do I know to be true?” When I meet with young ladies I’m discipling, that’s often when they tell me their story. That’s the first question that comes out of my face, “What do you know to be true?” Because it gives a great framework for where they are spiritually and where they still have room to grow spiritually, which we all have.
Ann: What will they often say when you ask, “What do you know to be true?”
Amberly: “What do you know to be true?” “This is real,” or “My pain is in my face,” or often, what I get is, “I mean, I know that God is good, but this is really scary,” or “Whatever happens to me.” And you know what? That’s okay. I love the Psalms and Proverbs, especially when we talk about the Proverbs that we should seek wisdom as hidden treasure. That’s not a beautiful, simple process. Seeking for hidden treasure means we have stuff we need to dig up. We need to get serious with our fervor and getting to the bottom of it. We have to know that it’s worth it. I mean, all of those things factor into finding hidden treasure, and I think being willing to get to the bottom of some of our spiritual fervor; we need to have that same kind of fervor. We need to be diligent in trying to get to that and knowing it’s messy.
Ann: And it can often take us back to the question we asked earlier, “Who do you say that I am?”
Amberly: Right, absolutely.
Ann: If we’re not trusting Him, why is that? Who don’t we believe Him to be?
Amberly: Yes. “Which of you by worrying can add an hour to your life?” None of you. So essentially, “Snap out of it,” right? [Laughter] Focus on the character of God. I mean, I think that’s really what it comes down to. When I’m on the struggle bus, it is because I have taken my eyes off the Lord and focused on myself.
Dave: Yes, and it’s interesting you know, three verses later, what does Jesus say?
Dave: “Seek first”—
Ann: –“the Kingdom”—
Dave: –“the Kingdom, and all these things will be added.” And as I look back over, I don’t know, six decades of life, every one of those worries that kept me up at night, I look back on them, and God provided.
Dave: God took care. He showed up. Again, they weren’t all perfect little tie a bow on them things. Some of them were really hard. But as I look back, the track record is, “You don’t have to lay in bed and be up all night.”
Dave: “Get out of your bed, get on your knees, and say, “God I’m going to seek first you. I’m going to give this to you. I’m going to go back to sleep”—
Dave: –knowing that you’ve got it.” Again, I don’t know what that means in terms of the result, but to be able to put it in [His] hands and be like a robin, and say, “Okay, He will provide.
Amberly: And Jeremiah 29, you know we talk about Jeremiah 29:11—
Amberly: –but 13 is, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.” So, when you’re struggling with that worry, seek the heart of God, right? Seek with everything in you to try to figure out what is true.
Dave: I’ll say this really quick. I was just thinking of a family listening; if there’s a dad like me, or a mom, that used to lay in bed—I used to lay in bed and think about paying for my three sons’ college education. That was one of them. I don’t know if you lay in bed—
Ann: –I never once worried about that, but I did worry, “Are they going to party their guts out at college?” [Laughter] Those are the kinds of things I worried about.
Dave: And I thought, “Yes they will,” but I mean I can, I can remember many nights that we’re putting money away, but it’s not going to be enough—
Ann: –yes, yes—
Dave: –but now I can look back, and they’re all three graduated. God showed up in amazing ways.
Amberly: Immeasurably more than you can ask or imagine.
Dave: None are in debt. He provided. And I wasted all those nights, and I just want to say to that dad or that mom: ”Go to sleep. You can go to sleep tonight. He’s got them.” And again, I’m not saying that you don’t invest, you don’t put money aside. You do all the things on our side, but He will reveal Himself in a way that you’ll say, “Wow. I didn’t know He could be trusted that way.”
Amberly: Right. Why could Jesus sleep when the storm was happening? Because He knew who was in charge of the waves, right?
Amberly: When we’re having tumult in our lives, when we’re facing those waves, we can sleep knowing that the One who controls those waves is on our side.
Ann: Amberly, you’ve talked about going through nine years of struggling with infertility.
Ann: That is a long time.
Amberly: That’s a long time.
Ann: I can’t imagine the ups and the downs, the trauma; how that affected your marriage. You can just say it, but there’s a whole lot to that.
Amberly: Oh, you bet!
Ann: How did you give that to Jesus? What were some of the struggles in that?
Amberly: Well, some of the struggles for us, especially for my family because they weren’t believers, were like, “Well, if the Jesus couple can’t get what they want out of God, how can the rest of us have a shot?” I kept saying, “Lord, this could be such a great tool for my family.”
Amberly: It’s so funny. I have to beseech the Lord by appealing to His intellect, as if He’s not the most—He’s all logic! He’s everything. There was that. Physically, I thought, “Wow, I’m not enough.” We say, “Oh, in Bible times, a woman’s worth is having children.” @e can look back on that—
Ann: –used to be—
Amberly: –[and] the truth is, it’s still a thing, right? When they [ask], “When you going to start a family?” Wait, we’re a family already, right? Somehow, we bought and sold and probably perpetuated the idea that we were incomplete without having children. We have this great desire, and I would say, “If you don’t want me to have a baby, Lord, just rip this desire out of me.”
It was such a deep desire. I wanted to give my husband a child. I didn’t grow up in a Christian family. I wanted a Christian family. There was a lot of that, but also physically, it was really hard on my body. What we found out later, probably too much information, but when we finally had Judah, our daughter’s name is Judah—
Amberly: –which means, “I will praise God for this child,” my mother said, “I don’t know if I like that name.” I said, “Well, you don’t have to pay for the therapy, so it’s fine.” [Laughter] She loves it now. But when we got pregnant with Judah, when I finally got to a place where we knew this one was going to stick or whatever, they didn’t know why she wasn’t turning. So, they had to do surgery. The doctor said—I know she’s not a believer, but she said, “I know you guys are like God-people, so thank whatever god you’re supposed to, because there is no way this baby should have gone full-term.” I had a misshapen uterus, so that’s why all the babies were dying, They would grow to a certain place, and then they would stop. She said, “This is unbelievable!” And my husband said, “What about subsequent children?” and I said, “Dude, back off! [Laughter] I just had a baby!” He was saying, “No, I just want to know.” And she said, “Your daughter has made a way for future babies,”
Amberly: So, we understood all of that, but there was a lot of testing. There was a lot of–it’s very intrusive on a marriage. You know, lots of questions. Lots of our church ladies—because my husband is on staff, all these cute little church ladies—that would say, “Well, tell me about this…” and I would think, “I do not want to have this conversation with you. Just pray for us. Just pray for us.” But even if God had not provided the opportunity for us to have biological children, He’s still God. He still loves us, and He’s still working for our best interest. But I’m so thankful. Judah and Josiah, we have a daughter Judah Katherine.
Ann: Those are the best names!
Amberly: I know, right? And Josiah Caleb. We’re so thankful for them and man, they teach us a lot about Jesus, I’ll just tell you. Our daughter is so full of life and joy and passion, and I love that we get to explore the creative part of God; and then our son is so methodical. He wants to be a patent lawyer, and I said, “So, Josiah tell me why that’s your choice?” And he said, “Mom, it’s like the marriage of engineering and law. Can you think of anything more exciting?” [Laughter]
I don’t know, dental work. [Laughter] So different! But he teaches us so much about the logical, the mathematical, the “not a God of disorder but order and peace.” He teaches us so much about that, and I’m so thankful for the things that I see in them. It’s pretty awesome, but yes, it’s very hard on a marriage. It’s very hard on each individual person. Scott felt terrible, because he couldn’t help me deal with any of the mourning. I think actually, when you lose a child, it’s as hard on the man, because all the focus is put on the woman, because she’s going through the physical stuff, but the man is left—
Amberly: -–crushed, and yes, forsaken for sure. So, I’m glad that’s in the rearview mirror for us.
Ann: Thanks for sharing.
Amberly: Of course.
Dave: In our last few minutes, you have another question in there; you’ve got a bunch of them.
Amberly: I do.
Dave: I’d love to hear your thoughts on when Jesus says, “Do you want to be healed?”
Dave: Which seems like, “Why would He even ask that? Of course”—
Ann: —agreed. “Who doesn’t want to be healed?”
Dave: —”somebody that’s sick wants to be healed!”
Dave: But He asks, “Do you want to be healed?” What’s that all about?
Amberly: I took the same approach you did, which is, “Of course he does, Jesus! He wants to get well.” And yet, we can get really complacent and comfortable in our suffering, in our pain; but also sometimes in our sin. And He—I think it’s so gracious of Him that He would say to this man, “Do you want to get well?” Giving the man the opportunity to make the choice. That’s the gentleman Jesus is. He does give us choice, but no matter what the situation is, He gives us this opportunity to say, “I have the power to heal you. Do you want to get well? Are you willing to leave the comfort of that?”
Years ago, we used to watch a television program—it’s not a Bible study television program—that was called ER. There was a character on there who had a cane. The whole length of the show, she had a cane. Somebody said to her—it was like the end of the shift, and they said—“So, Carrie, you have surgery tomorrow. What is it going to feel like to not have your cane anymore?” And she said, “I’ve had it for so long. I don’t know who I am without it.”
Ann: It had become her identity.
Amberly: It had become her identity; and sometimes we hold onto past mistakes, past choices, even current situations. We hold on so tight, that we don’t know who we are apart from it. So, God says to you, “Do you want to get well?” Right? That can be a myriad, a litany, of things. But He said it to me so many times in my life. I held onto being infertile for a long time, and He said, “Do you want to get well?” Even if the child never comes, or unforgiveness?
There’s some past hurt in my life (going back to our original [family]. There are lots of knots in my tree; and He said, “Do you want to give me glory, or do you want it to be about your knots?” And so, even then, He says, “Do you want to get well?” I also love me some food. I’m Italian. [Laughter] I don’t know why the UN doesn’t just [tell] Italy to feed the world, because nobody would go hungry! However, food has become a thing for me, right? It has become an idol for me, and many times He has said lovingly, caringly, in the gentlest way, “Amberly, do you want to get well? Are you ready for me to be your portion? Are you ready to taste and see that I am good?” He’s been gentle, and He’s been patient, and every day is a new opportunity to explore that: “Do you want to get well?”
Ann: I think that I was doing that in our marriage.
Amberly: You were?
Ann: Year 10, Dave had become my idol. I had taken my eyes off of Jesus, and I thought, “Dave, you can make me well.” In other words, “Dave, you can make me happy. It’s your job to make me happy!”
Ann: Then I could also—if that wasn’t working it would be easy for me to—place that on my children.
Amberly: Oh, yes.
Ann: I say, “You guys can make me happy. You can fulfill me. You can meet the needs that your dad isn’t meeting. And yet, Jesus is saying, “Do you want to get well?”
Ann: Because ultimately, everything and everyone will let you down; but “I can heal the depths of your pain—”
Ann: —the depths of your longings. That’s My job.”
Ann: I love that you’re asking these questions. I love that Jesus asks the questions—
Ann: –because He’s asking us those questions every day.
Dave: Well, I think what you just got at—I mean, it just hit me when you were talking— is, if we were honest, we would say, “Actually, I don’t. I don’t want to get well.”
Dave: Because how many of us—
Amberly: –“I don’t know who I am without this, separate from this.”
Dave: Yes. I was thinking, even as we think of listeners right now, I think of so many guys [to whom] I’ve said, “Get to a marriage conference. We have a conference called the Weekend to Remember®. Come to it.” They say, “Yeah, I don’t…” And I say, “You really don’t want a better marriage, do you? You’re satisfied.” Or “Go to a counselor.” “No, I’m not going to a counselor.” “Why? You really are okay being unhealthy. Your marriage isn’t well.” You know what I mean?
Even a wife has probably said to her husband, “You should listen to FamilyLife Today every day.” He’s not doing it. Again, I’m ripping on guys here. It could be the other way, but I think when we don’t take that step, it’s almost like God is saying to us, “I’ve given you a way to get well, and because you’ve said, ‘Ah, it’s too much money,’ or ‘I’m not going to go away for a weekend,’ or ‘I can’t miss this football game,’ or whatever reason it is, you’re really saying, ‘I’m okay, I don’t need to get well. I’m not even sick’.”
Everything around you is saying you are sick. Will you accept Jesus’s invitation, which could be from your neighbor or your pastor or friend or small group leader, who is even saying, “Hey, let’s go through this Untangling Faith small group together.” “I don’t have time.” You’re saying, “I don’t want to get well,” because this study is going to help you get well.
Dave: Even though that’s your answer.
Amberly: Even though, exactly—so even though—Jesus asked these questions thousands of years ago to people that we will never meet this side of glory, this question still rings true for us. They are still open invitations for us to invest in these questions and get to the bottom of our own spiritual stuff.
Ann: I love that question. So, listeners, friends, do you want to get well?
Dave: If you do, prove it. Prove it. Prove it to your wife. Prove it to your kids.
Dave: “I really want to get well, and I know what it’s going to take.” It’s going to take going to this or showing up–it may be to go to church. Get in a church this weekend, and lead your family there, and watch God help your family get well.
Shelby: You know, in our own power, we lack the strength to just get better. What we lack in ability, God has in abundance, so why don’t you ask Him today to give you the strength to make the changes necessary and see growth in your life? Then get ready because He’s going to show up!
I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Amberly Neese on FamilyLife Today. Amberly has created Untangling Faith. This is a video- driven small group study about reclaiming the hope in the questions Jesus asks. You can find a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com in the show notes. Earlier this week, we had Brant Hansen on the show. Brant has written a book called Blessed are the Misfits: Great News for Believers Who Are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They’re Missing Something. This is a fantastic book, and it’s our gift to you when you partner with us financially.
You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com or give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800-‘F’ as in family, ‘L’ as in life. and then the word ‘TODAY.’ Feel free to drop us something in the mail if you’d like. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, Florida 32832.
Well, what’s the importance of impactful grandparenting? Can you put a price tag on it? Can you put a label on it? Tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined by Mark Gregston and Larry Fowler to talk about dispelling stereotypes and offering wisdom and nurturing relationships as grandparents. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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