The Power of a Question
Download Audio (9.5MB)
Jesus was a master of questions. He used them to engage people and draw them in. He asked questions to make others think about important issues and help them understand who he was and what he had come to do. He also used questions to blunt attacks by the religious authorities of the day, turning confrontations into an opportunity to teach…
Here are just a few examples of different types of questions he employed:
Questions to engage others. Jesus used simple, short questions to create a connection and draw people in. In the Gospel of Matthew, for example, he frequently asks his disciples, “What do you think?” On the road to the village of Emmaus, described in Luke, the resurrected Christ says to the two unsuspecting men, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”1 When he takes his disciples through Samaria and stops at a well, he asks the lone woman, “Will you get me a drink?”2
Empowerment questions to instill faith. When Jesus encounters Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, he asks, “What do you want me to do?”3 In John 5:6, at the Bethsaida springs, he asks the lame man, “Do you want to get well?” He is seeking an affirmation of a desire to change and of their faith.
Questions that force his listeners to think about who he is. … Before entering Jerusalem to face his death, he asks his disciples one of the most significant questions ever posed, “Who do the people say I am?”4 When they give a somewhat equivocal answer, he turns to Peter and demands, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”5
Counter-questions to fend off his attackers. In Mark chapter 11, Jesus is in the temple courts, and the religious authorities challenge his authority to be there and teach. In reply, Jesus says, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!” …
Questions that teach. In Luke chapter 10, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. It begins with a question from a religious authority, “And who is my neighbor?” When Jesus finishes the parable, he asks, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” And the religious authority can only answer, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Thoughtful questions are your most important tools for connecting with others, learning who they are, and building deep relationships with them. Powerful questions also help define the real problem and frame the right issues. There is no better role model for how to do these things than Jesus Christ.—Andrew Sobel6
The Columbo tactic
Using simple, leading questions is an almost effortless way to introduce spiritual topics to a conversation without seeming abrupt. … We call this the “Columbo” tactic, named after the bumbling and seemingly inept TV detective whose remarkable success was based on an innocent query: “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“Columbo” is most powerful if you have a game plan for the conversation. Generally when I ask a question I have a goal in mind. I’m alerted to some weakness, flaw, or contradiction in another’s view that I want to expose in a disarming way.
Other times the question is an open-ended “What do you mean by that?” delivered in a mild, genuinely inquisitive fashion. The general topic can be anything broadly related to spiritual things. Then begin to probe with questions, gently guiding the conversation in a more spiritually productive direction.
The follow-up question, “How did you come to that conclusion?,” graciously assumes the non-Christian has reasons for her view and is not just emoting. It gives her a chance to express her rationale (if she has one), giving you more material to work with.
Occasionally someone will quip, “I don’t have any reasons; I just believe it,” to which I ask, “Why would you believe something when you have no reason to think it’s true?” This is a genuine—and very appropriate—question. And it’s simple.
You may not always have an answer, but you can always ask a question, especially a well-placed one. That’s the value of the Columbo tactic.—Greg Koukl7
The first step to witnessing: Ask questions
If you have the love of Jesus, you cannot hide it. “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid, and if men have a candlestick, they don’t put it under the table; they put it on the table that it may give light to the whole house.”8 If you have this light, you cannot hide it—it’s impossible! We have to tell others about Him. If you believe it, if you have Him in your heart, if you have His love, you’ll show it; you’ll tell others and you’ll share Him with them. This is what faith is all about—standing up and witnessing for Jesus and the truth.
The Bible says, “He that winneth souls is wise.”9 It takes a lot of wisdom and a lot of love. Here are a few very valuable witnessing pointers to remember.
Ask questions. In other words, show you’re interested in the person you are witnessing to. If you understand them better, you’re much better able to witness to them and know what they need the most. How are you going to find out who the guy is, what he is, what he does, what his religion is, or anything about him at all unless you ask questions?
Listen to the answers—even if it takes them an hour or all night to tell it. There’s one subject almost everybody likes to talk about—themselves. They’ll pour out their troubles and their life history, and maybe that’s one of the best things in the world you could do for them. Maybe they just need somebody to talk to, somebody to unburden to.
Many witnesses talk too much and quote too much scripture, without listening. That’s not showing much genuine personal concern for the individual if you’re not willing to take time to listen to his story and to his troubles and problems, and to advise and counsel him as you go along. Then, of course, as you’re listening, sometimes you have a chance to interject the next point:
Give God’s answers. Give them God’s answers to their problems. The main one, of course, is accepting the Lord. So after you listen to their answers, you can say, “Yes, but you know the Bible says so-and-so.” “Jesus said that what you need to do is so-and-so, to be born again,” and so on.
You sort of circle around looking for an opening. Did you ever watch boxers in the ring? They’ll dance around each other trying to find an opening and then barrel in. In a way you’re fighting a spiritual battle and you’re trying to find out where their need is, where the opening is, the real soft spot in their heart. How can you really touch them and reach them?—Not to hit them or hurt them, but to pour on the balm of love and the oil of the Spirit to heal them.—David Brandt Berg
Introducing the gospel with questions
Starting a discussion about spirituality is often the biggest barrier to sharing your faith in Jesus Christ. Do you wonder how to approach the subject in the midst of everyday conversation? You can make this a much easier task by using the simple technique of asking your friend questions about his beliefs. This technique usually has two benefits. First, your friend may be more obliged to listen to your beliefs once you have listened to his. Second, and more important, this technique allows you to know what is going on in your friend’s life so that you can better minister to him.
Here are a few questions that can move the conversation from a secular topic to a spiritual topic. The questions act as a funnel to introduce the Gospel.
- Do you have any kind of spiritual beliefs?
- To you, who is Jesus?
- Do you think there is a heaven or a hell?
- If you died tonight, where would you go?
- By the way, if what you were believing is not true, would you want to know?
These five questions, asked in the order listed above, can move a conversation from the secular to the spiritual. And if your friend answers “yes” to the final question, you will have the privilege of sharing your faith with your friend.—From AllAboutGod.com10
Published on Anchor January 2018. Read by Jerry Paladino.
1 Luke 24:17 NIV.
2 John 4:7.
3 Mark 10:51.
4 Matthew 16:13.
5 Matthew 16:15, but also Mark 8:29 and Luke 9:20.
8 Matthew 5:14–15.
9 Proverbs 11:30.