Author Interview: Part 2 of an Interview with Jodie Niznik, Author of Crossroads
In her nine-week inductive Bible study, Crossroads: A Study of Esther and Jonah for Boldly Responding to Your Call (Kregel Publications), Jodie Niznik invites readers to learn that each Christian is uniquely equipped and called by God for a particular assignment in a specific time and place. As each of us stands at a crossroads, the choice is ours. Will we choose to boldly respond like Esther, or will we fight our calling like Jonah? With thoughtful questions and practical exercises, Niznik will gently help each participant examine their life through the lens of Scripture and take brave, bold steps forward in their Christian walk. While Queen Esther and the prophet Jonah endured wildly different circumstances and had distinctly singular callings, they were both appointed by God. They were placed in a certain time and space in history. God carried them through unique experiences and gave them specific gifts. Despite their opposite attitudes of willingness, their lives are proof of the great things we can accomplish when we follow God's call.
Q: Unlike Esther, Jonah’s calling from God was clear, and God was very much seen as a main character in his story. How can we discern our calling from God? Jonah was fortunate in that he got to hear the unmistakable and audible voice of God directing him. While God can certainly tell us in an audible voice what he wants us to do, this is not our normative experience. We discover God’s calling in our lives as we prayerfully notice where God is, what he is stirring in us, and what we think he is leading us to. When I am trying to discern God’s leading and calling in my life, I like to use a tool called the daily examen. An examen is an intentional time to notice and reflect upon the last twenty-four hours and to ask God to guide you into the next twenty-four hours. The examen uses a set list of questions that helps you reflect on each day by noticing where you felt close to God and distant from God—among other things. The intention is to help you start to see his presence and promptings throughout your day. While God may not speak to us in an audible voice, he is present and moving. He also leads us through his Word, his people, and the circumstances around us. The examen helps me pay attention to all these things. While God can sometimes feel mysterious to us, he will never make his will a mystery when we earnestly seek him and are willing to follow wherever he leads. Q: We don’t get swallowed by a giant fish when we don’t follow God’s call, but how does God get our attention in other ways? One of the ways that God gets our attention is through the storms of life. Jonah found himself in a literal storm and wound up nearly drowning, only to be saved by an enormous fish. For us, storms can come into our lives when we run from or resist God. These storms are never meant to punish us because we do not serve a punishing God. These storms are meant to help us turn back to God and away from our resistance and running. One of the things Jonah (as well as many other Scriptures) teaches us is that our God is a God of second, third, and even one hundredth or more chances. God lovingly pursued Jonah and gave him a second chance to do what he was asking. God does the same for me—and he does the same for you. Even if, for some reason, a particular calling has passed and just can’t be done anymore, God still wants us to follow him. He is full of forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Jonah shows us this. It’s also worth noting here that not all storms come into our lives because of something we have done. We can see this in the fact that the storm Jonah kicked up also impacted a lot of innocent people around him. Sometimes storms come into our lives because of the actions of others, and sometimes they come just because we live in a sinful and broken world. But, no matter why the storm is there, God wants you to seek him in the midst of it. Q: What should we learn from Jonah about talking to others about Jesus? Why did Jonah get mad when the people of Nineveh responded to his message? Jonah was sent to the city of Nineveh with very specific instructions to tell them the message God would give him. Jonah was to go and tell. We are given a similar calling today. As believers, we are called to go and tell people about Jesus. Jesus himself commissioned us to do this good work (Matthew 28:18–20), and the book of Romans echoes this by reminding us that people need to know about Jesus, but “how can they hear about him unless someone tells them (Romans 10:14 NLT)?” As followers of Jesus, our calling to tell others about him is crystal clear. The difference between us and Jonah is that we probably won’t be called to wander through a hostile town full of people who had terrorized and murdered our ancestors while heralding the good news and calling people to repentance. This is why Jonah ran away in the first place. He didn’t want to go to these people because he didn’t believe they deserved God’s mercy. And then, when he did go, the strangest thing happened—they repented and turned to God, and God had mercy on them. Jonah was livid. His worst fear had materialized. Oddly, we don’t get to hear how Jonah reconciled all this with God, but I’m pretty sure he came around and learned a thing or two about his own brokenness and need for mercy, because otherwise how would his story have ever been told? Someone had to tell all the details about Jonah’s journey, and the only person who knew all the details was Jonah himself. Q: Do we all have a distinct calling? What do we misunderstand about our calling? We do have distinct callings. We have been created on purpose for a purpose. Like Esther and Jonah, we have been providentially placed in a specific time and place in history and given distinct gifts and experiences that enable us to do things that only we can do. To help us discern the next steps of our calling, God will use things like our circumstances, trusted advisers, his Word, and prayer. I do want to dispel a myth many people have about callings: your calling isn’t a needle-in-a-haystack hunt for the one thing you are supposed to discover and do for the rest of your life. I mean, I guess it could happen that way, but that hasn’t been my or most people’s experience. Callings change and grow; they ebb and flow. Some callings are bigger and longer, like my calling to be in vocational ministry. Some callings are smaller and more embedded into our lives, such as my calling to love my neighbor well by reaching out to her today. Some callings are temporary, like going on a mission trip. Some callings are lifelong, such as being a disciple of Jesus. We are chosen by God to do many things over the course of our lives. In order to constantly follow where he leads, we need to maintain a vital and loving relationship with him. Q: Crossroads is the second release in the Real People, Real Faith Bible study series. In what ways does the series look at familiar people from the Bible in new ways? I think sometimes we forget that the people in Scripture were real people who lived real lives. And while it sounds obvious, they had to live their lives in real time—which means they didn’t know how their story would end. We have the advantage of knowing their whole story, which on the one hand is helpful, but I also think it can be an impediment for a deeper understanding of their journey with God. When I dive into a character’s story, I try to slow down and really consider what was it like for them to walk through those moments of not knowing. What was it like for Esther to enter into the king’s presence? What was it like for Jonah to find himself inside the belly of a fish? What was it like for him to share God’s message with people he despised? Every story in Scripture has so much to teach us about God and ourselves. My hope and prayer for each of my studies is that women grow deeper in their love for God and find courage to take another step with him in some way. Q: Can you share a little bit about Choose, which is the first book in the series? Who will the next study be about? Choose: A Study of Moses for a Life That Matters follows the life of Moses. Like Esther and Jonah, Moses was invited to follow God on an extraordinary journey. There are so many practical lessons to be learned from Moses. Studying his life and seeing how he consistently chose to follow God’s lead inspires me to do the same. Moses truly led a life that matters, and so can we. The next study coming out in the series is called Trust: A Study of Joseph for Persevering Through Life’s Challenges. As the title states, it is a study on the life of Joseph in the Old Testament. I wrote most of this study while we were in lockdown for COVID, which made it so timely for me. Joseph had so many hard things happen in his life—and each step of the way he trusted God. His life is a rich testimony to us that we can trust God no matter what comes our way. Joseph reminded me that God’s plan is good—even when the journey is hard or doesn’t make sense to us.
About the Author
Jodie Niznik has served in various roles on the pastoral team at her church over the last twelve years, including pastor to women. Her calling and passion is to equip people to take the next step in their journey with Jesus. She loves to write about and teach scriptural truths in practical and easy-to-understand ways.
Niznik has an undergraduate degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Colorado and a master’s degree in Christian education with an emphasis in women’s ministry from Dallas Theological Seminary. She is the author of Crossroads: A Study of Esther and Jonah for Boldly Responding to Your Call and Choose: A Study of Moses for a Life That Matters, and the coauthor of Galatians: Discovering Freedom in Christ Through Daily Practice with Sue Edwards. She is also the host of the So Much More podcast.
Niznik and her husband, Tim, live in the Dallas area and have two young adult daughters, Taylor and Billie. The Nizniks miss their daughters but love their quiet Saturdays. Niznik believes gummy bears and coffee are sweet gifts from the Lord that provide fuel as she writes Bible studies and prepares biblical teachings.