A third step towards developing impactful biblical friendships:
1. Follow Jesus.
2. Pursue People.
3. Ask Questions.
And this I suppose is just an application of the step before. But we often overlook it, so I want to emphasize it. One of the best ways to understand where someone is coming from is to ask them.
There’s a proverb. Proverbs 18:13. And it says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” To me this is a really basic discipleship principle: “If I think I can help you without listening to you, I am an idiot.” Or maybe to say it another way, as Christians, we don’t believe in psychic disciplers, where someone can know what’s going on inside another person, without asking questions.
One of the beautiful things about biblical discipleship, and this is part of how it is even different than preaching, when you are discipling someone you have the opportunity to apply God’s Word directly to the life of a person where they are at. I mean, when I am preaching, I am just generally handing out truths and God’s Holy Spirit is a great counselor and he takes those truths and he applies them to your life individually, but in discipleship you are not just handing out general truths, you are applying truth to a person’s life, to what they are facing, and to do that, you need to ask questions, to be able to discover what they are facing.
Can you imagine going to a doctor, and before you even enter the room, he yells out, antibiotics, you need antibiotics. Now he might once in a while be right, but the first thing a doctor usually has to do, is investigate a little to figure out what your problem actually is, and as a discipler you need to do that, and one of the ways you do that is through the skillful asking of questions.
What we are talking about here is learning to have intentional conversations. And by intentional conversations, I don’t mean, just you talk and enjoy yourself for an hour, but learning to draw information out of people for the purpose of being a real help to them. I am pretty passionate about this, and I think probably one reason is because of the way my own father discipled me. I can’t tell you how many times I would go to him to ask for counsel, and he would say, Josh, I don’t have enough information, and it used to drive me crazy because I just wanted an answer, but what I should have wanted was not just an answer, but the right answer and to give the right answer, my dad knew he needed information, and the way you most often get the information you need to help someone is by asking questions.
Now there are at least three reasons why people who are discipling others don’t ask questions. One, sometimes disciplers are foolish in that they don’t know how to ask good questions. Two, sometimes disciplers are foolish in that they don’t think they need to ask good questions. And then three, sometimes disciplers are foolish in that they are too impatient to ask good questions.
If you are not much into asking questions, you might evaluate what kind of foolish are you? If you are impatient, you need to pray God helps you care enough about people to slow down and listen to them; if you don’t think you need to ask questions, you should pray God humbles you enough so you don’t think so much of your own opinion that you don’t need information; and then if you don’t know how to ask good questions, then you need to pray God gives you the strength to work on learning how.
Because asking questions in discipleship is a skill, and I think it is one that by God’s grace you can learn. The writer of Proverbs puts it like this, 20:5, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” And the idea is that a wise man understands how to get to the heart of people.
Specifically, I think there are two important facets to asking good questions that you are going to want to learn.
The first is the manner in which you ask the questions. There is a way to ask questions that shuts people down and they don’t want to open up, and then there is a way to ask questions that kinds of spurs them on to giving you even more than you need to know.
And then the second is the content of the questions themselves. It’s not only important to ask questions in the right way, you also want to learn to ask the right kinds of questions and to become better at that you might look to a list like this of some sample kinds of questions that illustrate the kind of information you are going to need to get to as you go about discipling someone else.
I know this is challenging in different cultures, and I just don’t think we can get around this in discipleship, I haven’t figured out a way to get the information you need to help apply the Bible to people’s problems, without asking them questions. Otherwise, it is really just random guessing, isn’t it? When I am discipling I am not just trying to show someone how much I know, I am trying to help them know, and to help them know, I have to know what they know and the only way I can do that, is by asking questions.
First, you need to know about what is going on in their life? This includes their physical condition, obviously. You need to know a little about their physical condition. Because our physical condition impacts us spiritually. If someone isn’t getting any sleep for example, that may be why he is falling asleep in his devotions and not because he just isn’t interested. And it also includes their living conditions, and then just the pressures that they are facing, like do they have a job, where are they living, and all of that. What are their circumstances?
Then, a second area you need to take into consideration are the resources they have at their disposal to help them change? Are they Christians for example? Are they really involved in a good church where they are getting taught the word of God? Do they have good biblical friends? Are they good readers where you can give them a good book and they will just go for it? These are all vital areas, because before you send someone on a fifty mile hiking trip, you probably want to make sure they have food to make it, and when you are discipling someone, you need to know, do they even have the resources to do what you are asking of them. What’s going on in their life, and what do they have that’s good that can help them deal with what’s going on, what don’t they have that they need if they are going to deal with what’s going on correctly?
It helps when you are exploring their resources, also to get to know their history a bit. What I am talking about is where they came from, what they have struggled with in the past, how they have been sinned against, their testimony, if you try to disciple someone without knowing much about these kinds of things, you are going to end up giving them a whole lot of inadequate help.
A third area to ask some questions about is how are they feeling about what’s going on in their lives. This is important because the way a person feels often tells us something about the way they think and what they really believe. For example, if I say Christ is the most important person in the world to me, but I feel upset when I have to make sacrifices to be with God’s people but I am happy to make those same sacrifices to be with my buddies watching a soccer game then, that feeling tells me something about what I really believe.
Then there’s what they are doing in response to their circumstances. And then you can explore more, and look at their life as a whole, and ask what are the typical ways they respond to situations and people? Are there any patterns in their life, in terms of how they react to things? What do they do?
A fifth area to investigate is what they are thinking? This is really where you have to get to help someone, but man, it’s hard because people are so good at being polite and just repeating to you what they think you want them to say, when they really are thinking something completely different and so you are like why is this guy not changing, when the problem is his thinking hasn’t changed and so you need to find different ways to ask questions to discover people’s real convictions, expectations, values.
When you go to disciple someone, if you are thinking about this, and you should be!, be asking yourself am I following Jesus, how can I enter their world, and then you work on getting together with them, and lovingly getting to know them by asking appropriate questions to discover where they actually need help.
David Powlison summarizes the kinds of questions we should be asking like this:
1. What’s really going on in your life?
2. How do you feel about what’s happening?
3. What are you thinking about it all?
4. What are people around you telling you about what’s taking place?
5. What do you think God has to do and say about what’s going on in your life?
6. What does God actually say He is doing in the middle of what is going on in your life?
There are some questions that are just like money questions, and by that I mean profitable questions when it comes to discipleship, and better than other kinds of questions, so when we talk about asking questions, and these are the kinds of questions you need to get good at, when we say ask questions we are not just like saying, ask what did you have for lunch yesterday, but learn to ask questions that get the kind of information we have described that will be helpful for helping someone change.
Now of course, I want to emphasize doing that in the appropriate way.
The goal is not to make people feel nervous, where they are like hello, and you are like, hello, I was wondering, what’s your biggest sin? No, obviously not. The goal is to really get to know the person, so you even know how to go about discipling them, and you are not going be able to do that well if you are freaking them out, where they are running away from you, so if you are going to disciple others, what I am saying is you are going to want to work on asking questions in a way that is clear to them, that you are for them and seeking their best, so they are open with you and you are able to work with who they really are.