gospel-centered questions

The Art of Asking Questions


A few weeks ago I was sitting across the table from a friend who asked, “What is it about discipline that makes you feel steady?” Whoa. My head took a minute to catch up with my heart, which felt like it just took a tailspin in the rain. The intent of her question was obvious—I was losing my sense of self because of the lack of consistency in my life. I felt undone, and I really needed something about each day to be certain.

Her question pierced my heart, not because she knew the intricacy of my condition, but because she knew me. It was the ideal question to make me process what was happening in my heart.

Question Asking Is an Art

Question asking is an art. It’s perhaps the greatest art within networking, parenting, discipleship, and marriage. Questions make people look inside themselves, and whether that’s a frequent occurrence or a rare one, it’s an investment people are created to cherish.

The wonderful truth about God is that he often asks his people questions to lead them where they need to be. Sometimes he uses his authority to tell them, but time and time again in Scripture we see people venture into his purposes because of a question.

I have recently been taken back to Genesis, reading about the beginning of mankind and our fall in the garden. When Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord and hid from him in their shame, he called out to them. All the while, he knew they had run away and why they were hiding.

Still he asks, “Adam, where are you?” He gently calls to them and pursues their hearts in his concern. His tender prodding is not accusatory, shaming, or passive-aggressive. Rather, it penetrates their defenses with care and boldly invites them into introspection.

Adam immediately unfolds himself in honesty. I heard you, and I was scared because I knew I was naked, that you would surely see what I did. Again, God uses a question to prod at him, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

Adam then shifts the blame to Eve, and God turns to ask her, “What have you done?” It’s not that God didn’t know; it’s not even that God needed a confession; what they needed was personal reflection.

Our remorse is greater when it comes from knowing ourselves, rather than a guilt-ridden accusation. God knew that if Adam and Eve could ask themselves these questions, they would discover so much more than how they wronged him. They wouldn’t answer out of fear, guilt, or even a desire to please. They would answer out of brokenness. We get to discover our dependence on God when we process the condition of our naked hearts.

Questions Lead Us into Awareness

The right questions lead us into the awareness that we aren’t self-sufficient. We are drawn to see just how broken we are, and just how compassionate God is. This is true today, and it was true so many centuries ago with Adam and Eve in the garden.

Questions give space for knowing in a way that telling never could. The great thing is that this doesn’t only apply to sin and brokenness, but also to joy and fulfillment. How much greater is a relationship when you pursue one another’s hearts in care and loving investment? Isn’t a gift sweeter when you know someone sought you out in their giving?

God has the ability to uncover himself in a situation simply by asking us to look closer. When we ask, “God, where are you?!” Often we ask in a frenzied, doubtful panic, but God doesn’t usually reply, “RIGHT HERE!”

Instead, he typically responds with grace and control: “Do you remember when I called Noah to build a ship, or Abraham to be a father, or even Peter to walk on water?” Our anxiety subsides and we’re able to say, “Ah, yes. You were with them, and you’re right here with me.”

I think about Jesus, and the way he used questions to lead the disciples. He used questions to reveal truth, reveal purpose, and reveal understanding. Like Jesus, we need to adopt the art of asking questions in discipleship.

The process of understanding can only be transformational when we take ownership of our faith. If we don’t take ownership, then we won’t ever test our belief, our trust, or our faith. We won’t ever ask questions to ourselves either.

I look at so many young girls, even myself, as they move out from under their parents’ wing and venture into “the real world.” They begin jobs where they rub shoulders with non-believers; they are confronted with the temptation to party, or date guys without boundaries. They are exposed to a world without protection and they wander into it. They never had the space to test their faith, and never had the mentor to help them. Jesus asked big questions:

  • “Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
  • "Why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:31)
  • "Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?” (Luke 5:22)

The thing I love most about this is that Jesus wasn’t afraid of people’s doubt. He didn’t hold back from challenging his disciples’ questioning, fear, or disobedience. He didn’t demand they stop—he just lovingly looked at them and questioned why.

How would we change if our mentors simply helped us process what was happening in our hearts and lives? If the approach they took was to help us relate to what was happening inside instead of forcing us to abandon those feelings?

We are scared or ashamed to doubt. As if doubt ever scared Jesus. If he is the authority, then he can disqualify our doubt with one word. Instead, he uses our doubt like a tool to bring us back to him. The thing is, we can do that too. We can manipulate doubt in such a way that the people we’ve been given to shepherd actually get to know God in deeper, more intimate ways because of their questions. If we let them.

A Generation of Vulnerable

This generation is not scared to be vulnerable. We are known for putting all our junk on social media. Whether it’s a passive-aggressive post, or an emotional, unedited photo caption . We don’t hold back from letting our hearts be seen by all the world.

This can be dangerous if it’s not harnessed. If we aren’t careful, our vulnerability will be cheap. It will become an imitation of humility that doesn’t actually better anyone, except our perception that we’re known. I believe that if close friends and mentors learn to ask good questions, our bent towards vulnerability could actually become a tool for mass transformation.

God asked Adam and Eve where they were. We can start there, simply by assessing where our heart is and how to get there. When we survey the condition of our heart, it’s like a roadmap of what truths we need to cling to, what prayers we need to pray, and what lies we may be believing.

The gentle prodding that God models, whether with Adam or with the disciples, is the posture we should take as fellow disciple-makers. When we see the condition of another’s heart, what questions will lead them to the truth they need to receive?

How can you use a question instead of a Bible verse? How can you lead them to think for themselves, towards processing their emotions, and through confronting disbelief?

These questions become profound tools they will use for their entire life. These are the questions they will use to disciple others. They’re the start of a story they’ll tell of transformation.

Chelsea Vaughn (@chelsea725is currently living in Nashville but has spent time in Texas, Thailand, and Australia. Obviously travel is a passion, along with hours in the kitchen or across the table from good friends. She does freelance writing, editing, and speaking for various organizations and non-profits. She hopes to spend her life using her gift for communication to reach culture and communities with the love of Jesus.