“And a certain man was there [the pool of Bethesda], who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, ‘Do you want to get well?’” (John 5:5-6)
Jesus knew how to ask good questions and used questions like a shepherd’s crook—reaching out with them to snag His wandering sheep. And in this encounter He knows this hobbled man has been coming to the “healing pool” near Jerusalem’s sheep gate for almost four decades, so He quickly assesses the man’s interior narrative, then asks the one question no one else in his life has likely ever asked him. It’s a question fueled by artful pursuit, and it does the trick.
Instead of scorning Jesus because He’s asked an obvious question, the man publicly affirms his hunger for healing and meekly offers an explanation for why he’s been coming to the pool for so long, with no good result. In effect, he tells Jesus that he wants healing, but needs help. And so Jesus reaches out with His question-crook and drags the man’s desperate dependence and faith out of hiding—he must respond to His pursuit before Jesus will “give what He has to give.” When Jesus pursues He’s intentional—He listens and studies before He invites…
A while back a friend wrote to ask for help in pursuing the heart of a young foster-care girl who she’d recently committed to mentoring. Her normal, “frontal” approach to engaging this girl in conversation was failing—their times together were dominated by awkward silences. Here’s what she wrote:
I recently starting mentoring a 16-year-old girl. She is really quiet, really sweet. We have done some “activities” together—group volleyball, took her to Extreme Community Makeover on Saturday, and so on. But when I have just taken her out for ice cream or a picnic, there have been some quiet moments. I know her “file”—she’s living in a foster home and her foster mother is trying to adopt her and they have a good relationship. The foster mom has shared some with me, too. She’s been in foster care since she was nine, and in this home for three years. I know some about her biological parents—she’s not seen two younger siblings since she was nine. She sees a therapist; it’s all pretty heavy and I’m not a therapist! She refers to her foster mom as “my mom.” I guess I’m looking for some “safe” but thought-provoking topics to discuss. I was hoping you might have guidance for me as I go into these unchartered, out-of-my-comfort-zone waters!
Three ways to ask good questions
My response to my friend centered around a three-filter strategy I use to train ministry leaders in a more proactive, penetrating, and unlocking way to pursue people. It’s an intentional, leveraging approach to “can-opening” people—one that Jesus used, over and over. The three question-filters are:
- Surprising—The person doesn’t see the question coming.
- Specific—It’s a question about one, specific thing—not multiple issues.
- Personal—It asks for a personal—not a general, rhetorical, or theoretical—response.
So I sent my friend a few examples of the kind of questions I was suggesting, crafted with this girl in mind…
- Some people would love to win the lottery because they think that would solve all their problems—what do you think would “solve all your problems”? Why?
- What’s something about yourself that you secretly admire, and why?
- What qualities are common threads that run through your friends? Why are you drawn to the friends you have?
- When you’re really troubled or worried, what helps you feel at peace again? Explain why that’s true for you.
Like riding a bike for the first time, when we’re first learning to pursue people like Jesus does, we tend to over-think the “formula” and stumble around. But the more we do it, the more we can stop over-thinking our questions and have fun with them. Once you learn how to “ride this bike,” it will take you to places faster than you’ve ever been able to get to on foot—I mean, you will lever open authentic places in the lives of your friends, enemies, and the person you’re standing behind in the grocery checkout line.
Here’s Jesus teaching His disciples about the leveraging power of pursuit:
“Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence” (Luke 11:5-8).
“Shameless persistence” is leveraging because it is forceful. And “shamelessly persistent” questions act as a kind of virus that others can’t get out of their head…
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith. His new book is The Suicide Solution: Finding Your Way Out of the Darkness. He’s the general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, including The Jesus-Centered Life and the new daily devotional Jesus-Centered Daily.