Explore 14 of the New Testament’s one-time encounters with Christ

 Part 2 of an interview with Marlo Schalesky,
author of Reaching for Wonder

In Reaching for Wonder (Abingdon Press), Marlo Schalesky explores fourteen of the New Testament’s one-time encounters with Christ to illuminate the surprising character of a God who transforms our pain into wonder. Perhaps you’ve faced a spiritual crisis of disappointment, doubt, or a feeling of distance from God due to unanswered prayers and painful circumstances. But what does it mean to encounter Christ in those times? What does he say to us when we have nothing left to say? How do we see him when pain has silenced our prayers and blinded our souls?

Because sometimes life isn’t at all as we want it to be...

Because we lose the wonder in the hardships of life ...

Because encountering Christ changes everything...

Like those who have gone before, following God’s call isn’t about easy faith, a life of effortlessness, or every prayer answered when and how we want. Instead, it’s about encountering God so deeply, so significantly, that everything about your circumstances, about your life, about you, changes because of God. 

Q: Reaching for Wonder looks at one-time encounters with Christ in the Bible. Many of these stories are very familiar to us, so how should we focus on these stories differently?

A: The things I saw in these stories and share in the book changed the way I encounter Christ in my pain. For example, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well. Usually when we read that story we focus on how Jesus talks about living water or how we are to worship in spirit and in truth. However, that’s not really what that story is about. It’s about how Jesus confronts and completely transforms a woman’s deepest shame into the very thing she uses to get a whole town to come and see Jesus.

I am the woman at the well. You are the woman at the well. God is waiting there to take the very things we most want to hide, the things that cause us the most pain and shame, and make them into the things that bring him glory.

That’s who God is. That’s what Reaching for Wonder is about – seeing God in our deepest pain, in ways that do more than heal, they urge us to reach out for the wonder of what God offers, especially when life hurts the most.

We can find the wonder of God in the place we least expect it to be: in the very places of our deepest pain and shame. We find that wonder not by trying to do an end-around our pain, not by skirting the darkest parts of it, but by encountering Christ in it and through it. In the darkest, most hopeless-seeming times of our pain is precisely when God is offering us his most breath-taking wonder, and he’s calling us to hope one more time and reach for him.

Q: You introduce each story and discussion of the encounter in a unique way. Can you share a little bit more about the format of Reaching for Wonder?

A: Only a personal encounter with Christ can touch those hidden places within us that hurt when life is hard. A solely intellectual experience is not enough, but simply an emotional experience isn’t either. The format of Reaching for Wonder is designed to help the reader encounter Christ in a real way through the biblical stories.

I start with a quick introduction to each chapter that brings out some questions, some unique and perhaps surprising elements of the biblical encounter. I then move to a fictional retelling of the encounter. This is Biblical imagination, which brings in a ton of research to try to capture what it might have been like for that person to encounter Christ at the worst moment of his or her life. I’m hoping the reader will identify with the biblical character and be able to experience the story at a deep level.

Then, I move on to analyzing the story and what it might mean in our own lives. I use modern day examples, stories from my own life, analysis of the Greek, history, everything I can to bring out the richness of the encounter and help us delve its depths.

I follow up with a “Who is This God?” section where we look at the surprising character of God and use other parts of scripture to illuminate who God really is in our lives. Each chapter ends with a prayer to encourage the reader to come to Christ and encounter him in a personal way.

This is the third book where I’ve used this format, and I’m really finding it helps the reader to have a full, whole-person experience that is truly transformational.

Q: In Reaching for Wonder, you talk about how Jesus heals a woman who’s been bleeding for twelve years. What do you see in that story that speaks to hurting people today?

A: I love this story because things have gone from bad to worse for this woman, and now she’s lost everything. She’s lost all hope, and then Jesus comes by in a huge crowd. Somehow, she weaves her way through the crowd with one goal in mind: She’s going to touch the edge of his cloak and be healed. When she does, and she’s healed, that should be the end of the story. Except it’s not.

Instead, Jesus stops the whole crowd so that he can look this hurting woman in the eye and call her daughter. She already had what she came for, but Jesus wanted to give her more. He wanted to give her himself.

That’s how it is for us. We want too little from our God. We come wanting only the very edge of his cloak, but Jesus is not satisfied with that. He’ll stop the world so that we see him face-to-face, so that he can call us daughter and make sure we know we are his own. That’s the true healing, and it’s found in a face-to-face encounter with the living God.

We should settle for nothing less.

Q: What do you mean when you say our focus is wrong when life is at its worst? Doesn’t it make sense to focus on getting things fixed as soon as possible?

A: I was shocked to discover that while my focus is on healing during the hardest times of life, God’s is not. I grapple with the idea that his focus is on relationship, on revealing himself to us and drawing us closer to him at the very time when all we want is relief from the pain. Discovering the reality of this truth has changed the way I approach the hard things in my life. Now, I’m looking for that moment when he stops the clamoring and calls me daughter. I’m listening for the words, “Do you want to be healed?” I know that my doubts in the midst of my pain are something he accepts and doesn’t scorn. Focusing on him instead of my need for a quick fix has opened me receiving and recognizing what he’s doing both in me and in my situation.

Q: How does this focus on relationship make a difference in our worst times?

A: It opens our eyes and allows us to see God where we would have thought he was absent. When life hurts, and we pray for relief, we tend to have in our minds a very specific picture of what our answered prayers should look like. Very rarely do those pictures match up with God’s plans. Opening our vision allows us to recognize where and how he’s actually working around us and in us. That’s where we can connect with the wonder of God even in the worst of circumstances.

Q: Where can people find out more about Reaching for Wonder and your other books?

A: I hope they’ll visit my website at VividGod.com and sign up for my newsletter. I also love to connect with and encourage readers through my Facebook page and through Twitter. That’s where I try to post daily encouragements to reach for the wonder of God in our lives, especially during the toughest times.

Find out more at VividGod.com. She can also be found on Facebook (MarloSchalesky) and Twitter (@MarloSchalesky).