3 questions to ask yourself before you change the world

Change the world is a tired, over-used phrase. I know that. But you know, we could say the same thing about “I love you” so I’m just going to go with it. These three questions are for anyone who wonders if it might finally be time to do something – write, teach, move, speak, listen, join, or quit. They are questions that help me – but maybe your questions are different. I’d love to hear what they are.

3 questions

In an interview Jeff Goins did with Seth Godin, he (Seth) said all his books were a result of his being frustrated by something. (By the way, raise your hand if you have ever called them Jeff Godin and Seth Goins – I mean, really. Could their names BE any more similar?)

Seth: “For me, I don’t wake up in the morning saying I need something to write about or I owe the world a book. It’s totally fine with me if I don’t have anything. If I’m gonna name something or if I’m going to bother going the year long trouble of writing a book, it’s because I’m frustrated. The only reason I do any of this is because no one else has done it in a way that I think is going to push an idea forward that I think is worth addressing.”

I’ve thought about this for a while and compared what he says to the way I feel about why I write or explore an idea.

I wrote Grace for the Good Girl and Graceful because I saw myself in the girls in our youth group. Jesus didn’t seem to be an answer to real problems in their lives. He was only an example to follow when they wanted to be good Christians.

This gross distortion of the Gospel broke my heart and made me mad. Are we teaching our students a compartmental salvation? And am I partially to blame for that?

So yes, frustration was the first spark of my motivation.

Being frustrated didn’t make me qualified or ready. But it did wake something up within me, something that compelled me to move, something that made me want to get ready.

The frustration rolled into a compulsion towards change – passion to communicate a message, to move into the chaos of the questions even if I didn’t have all the answers.

But being frustrated about an issue and compelled to do something about it won’t sustain the message for the long-term. For me, what really keeps me moving is the hope of something better.

In my experience, when I am frustrated and passionate without hope, I’m vulnerable to cynicism. If I don’t have hope for change, despair creeps in and I want to give up.

Am I able to peer behind the mysterious curtain of the present and catch a glimpse of what could be?

Am I willing to move into the darkness even though I don’t feel fully qualified or confident or prepared?

These are important questions for me to ask about the work I do. There are plenty of things that frustrate me. But that doesn’t mean I am called to tackle them all. It’s only when I sense all three of these motivations working together that I begin to accept I might need to explore an idea, a thought, or move towards influencing change.

Frustration wakes me up.

Passion gets me moving.

Hope keeps me going.

What about you?

What frustrates you?

What compels you?

What do you most hope for?

Maybe these questions will help you define and refine your goals, your dreams for yourself or for others, and your desire for change.

A quick thanks to you for your kind comments, emails and prayers regarding my last post. John read some of your responses as well and afterwards he looked at me and said, “Wow. A lot of people are in transition.” So here’s to waiting, to believing, and to seeing what’s next.


  1. says

    This is awesome. Thanks Emily. I SO identify. The frustration, yes, but also knowing that if I simply stay frustrated it’ll lead to disillusionment. Hoping for something better – believing that God’s heart is absolutely committed to something better – is what makes it worth trying to provoke change.

  2. says

    I needed this today, as I keep wrestling, feeling frustrated, but not sure I feel able enough to do anything about my frustration – should I quit or stay? Now I have some great questions to ponder and better yet, more direction to think about in frustrations. A big ole thank you for little old me.

  3. Anna says

    I was thinking of you the other evening as I went to a new small group and I thought ‘God has so many children who are trying to be good’. The discussion was about how we can live the expansive life Paul encourages. I realised my answer would have to be stopping trying to be good. But how bad does that sound? I kept kind of quiet but knew things I could say would make me sound rather reckless. That’s ok around here where there’s an understanding of being and not being good but, Emily, expert ex- good girl (!) what would/ do you say in these situations?

    • says

      Short answer? Just give them my book :)

      Seriously, though, it’s a fantastic (and important) conversation to have. And without being in the room with you and hearing the perspectives, it’s hard to comment on it. But in general, if they were talking about how to live the life Paul encourages, it seems to me using Paul’s own words would be sufficient – he says himself – it is no longer I who live but Christ Himself who lives within me.

      It isn’t so much a matter of “not being good” as it is an understanding of where our goodness comes from – and where our energy comes from to live life at all.

      Does that make sense?

  4. says

    Am I able to peer behind the mysterious curtain of the present and catch a glimpse of what could be?
    YES!!!! I am there! I am there! I am there! (I just felt like the little people on the fuzz ball in Horton Hears a Who. ) I’m coming out of a fog and I’ve been asking how I’m uniquely created for this place I’ve been called. I’ve been dreaming and reconnecting with those things that make my heart beat a little bit faster and I’ve been asking all of these questions.
    This one thing that’s been a little buried in the past 5 years is coming to light and YES, I can catch a glimpse of what it could be, what it could mean for the mamas in my square on the map.
    Thank you for being used of God to just speak my heart in your own beautiful way. And your names are on a sticky note on my mirror – praying God’s direction for you guys.
    Much Love~

    • says


      Great example, I too feel like I’m coming out of a fog. I understand God’s direction, but the voice isn’t that strong yet. God’s working on it though!

  5. says

    These are great questions to ask before starting any project or ministry! I think it leads to much more intentional living in general. I’ll definitely be pondering these questions over the next few day!

  6. says

    My first thought when I read your title was, “Oh, I’m sure the first question is, ‘Are you unselfish enough or should you just step back so that someone more spiritually mature and advanced in holiness can do it well?'”

    So your actual 3 questions have me a bit misty-eyed.

    What frustrates me is all the time I wasted settling for — make that celebrating! — doing nothing because I was so terrified of criticism. What compels me is the knowledge that SOMEthing is better than NOthing and almost anything can be revised from okay to better to incredible. What I most hope for is to connect with other terrified hearts and coax them out of hiding and into connection with those of us who are learning to laugh at our imperfections and, most of all, into the Light.

    P.S. One of my Bible study girls asked me a few weeks ago if I could recommend a book to help her not be so hard on herself…so, of course, I gave her Graceful. This week she reported loudly that it’s the best book she’s ever read and she’s recommending it to all her friends. I told her to send them to me…I have 9 more copies and will gladly re-order!

  7. says

    What frustrates me. Driving behind a big truck, that I cannot see around, who is going toooooooooo S L O W L Y whenIAmTryingToGetSomewhereFAST! That’s how life feel so many times, You know?

    I am encouraged when the Lord whispers in those frustrating moments, “Slow down just a little, I don’t want you to miss the beauty that I have arranged for you today.” Boy, that will humble me in a heartbeat! And bring me to tears when I think that He has arranged beauty, I am rushing past not even admiring all the work He has done – for me.

    My hope, is that the lessons behind the big truck will cause me to appreciate where I am right here and now. That’ll preach. I think I may blog that! =)

  8. says

    God has definitely frustrated my heart with some of the things that burden his. (human trafficking, the state of our culture, the state of the family) I have seen such amazing things happen when people allow his passions to burn inside of them . . . As they grasp that hope and his vision for what can be. Life-changing and world-changing things happen as we trust him enough to take that step forward. This is an excellent post. You articulated some important points so well.

  9. Donna says

    Thank you for the formula. We recently moved to a new state for my husband’s career. We prayed about the move and we know that God wants us here, and that there’s a Godly plan and purpose. What I don’t know is the plan, purpose and my role in it all. I’ve been praying and reading and studying and now I’m going to apply this formula! I believe God lead me to you because you have been so helpful throughout this move. Thank you much

  10. says

    Love the questions, Emily. They really help crystallize my passions.

    And the “not fully confident or prepared” part? Yeah, I’m there. But it seems that’s not so unusual after all. Grateful for blogs like yours and Jeff’s that make me realize I’m not alone.

  11. says

    Yes, yes, and amen! So many ideas rattle around in what I need to be doing in my life or sharing in my writing, and this nicely sums up the direction. For me, it’s summed up in faith, hope, and love. Faith is the frustration you talk about–the duty we have and the challenges this sinful world throws in; hope is the reassurance that there are answers; and love, well, love is the greatest of these three. Love is the passion and motivation to pursue God, love His people and wade through those challenges to help find answers for myself and others. Thank you for sharing this encouragement and reassurance.

  12. merry says

    Oh I’m so grateful I’ve just recently come across your blog and this post is one of those -just what I needed to hear!! Thank you! I’m in the ‘feeling so inadequate phase’ of desiring to bring healing to the body of Christ between Protestants and Catholics. As a passionate Catholic I’ve witnessed so many ‘I’m going to convert you’ conversations from both sides and I just desire to encourage others to dialogue in LOVE not just emotion or frustration. To heal and unite Christians, not create more wounds. Yet to me, that is like trying to change the whole world. :) Thank you for your encouragement, I just keep giving my desires back to the Lord and pray His will be done. Peace and blessings!

  13. says

    Hi Emily, I just recently found your blog after your posts started circulated among my Facebook friends. Fantastic! I especially loved this post and to be honest lots of things frustrate me but my biggest frustration is usually Me! Good grief.
    I also loved that interview with Seth Godin and I’m raising my hand high that I would totally get their names mixed up. :)

  14. says

    This brings such clarity. When we get stuck before getting to the hope stage it gets interesting. :) If frustration doesn’t push you to action then it turns to complaining and in my case withdrawal. Stopping at moving without direction and hope can end in a whole lot of effort and exhaustion with no fruit. Very applicable to my life right now. I am letting go of most “ministry” responsibilities to do what we feel is what we are supposed to do. Some of that is clear and some of it is not.

    Thank you for sharing this. I usually lurk but I resonated with this so much that I couldn’t move on without responding.

  15. says

    Chiming in a few days late…
    I have the frustration, and have been compelled, and I have hope. My questions, which come from God, would be:
    — Don’t you see the value of this “changing the world” for me?
    — Don’t you realize that all you need to do is trust me?
    — Don’t you know that I have placed you (and have given you all that you need) for such a time as this?”

    Unfortunately the answers are usually something along the lines of “but Lord, what if I fail?”
    Continuing the struggle!

  16. Larita Raabe says

    I read this post with patience and all I can say, brilliant, so much frustration came in…

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