What Questions Do That Answers Don’t

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“If there is a God who knows everything,” Collette Gary asked, “why does he ask questions?” Since God knows everything, they certainly are not for his own knowledge. What is it God knows questions do, that answers often don’t? 

In the Bible God asks a lot of questions. There are over 3,000 questions in the Bible and the majority of them are asked by God.

  • The first four things God said to Adam and Eve, after they disobeyed, were all questions. (Genesis 3:9-13)
  • The longest list of questions in the Bible was God’s response to the suffering of Job. (Job 38-39)
  • Jonah is the only book in the Bible that ends with a question. (Jonah 4:11) Any guesses who asked it?

So what is it that God knows questions do, that stating facts, or just explaining steps a person must take, doesn’t?

Questions make us think. They engage the mind. God wants to create engagement with what matters most. Questions invite us to get involved.

The better we get at engaging ourselves and others with profound questions and awakening the imagination to get involved, the more similar we are to approaching situations like God.

Question:
What is a situation where you can insert a question instead of an answer?

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What 5 Questions Do You Need To Ask Yourself?

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The New Testament records 183 questions that people asked Jesus. He gave a direct answer to three of those questions, but he asked 307 clarifying or redirecting questions in response. Jesus seemed to think one well-placed question is better than ten good answers.

Do you remember taking a class in school on how to ask great questions? No? That’s because there is no such class. Questions are a great tool for opening up the mind to think in new ways. However, we often haven’t been taught to use them.

The best way to learn is to pick one up and give it a try. Especially if you’re feeling stuck, questions are great tools for prying a situation loose. Give these five questions a try and see if any help you. Here are my 5 favorite:

1. What will be the impact of things staying the same?

What are the implications of not taking any action? Being aware of the consequences of inaction might be the motivation you need to act. Perhaps after answering this question you still aren’t incentivized to do something about it. That’s when you need to ask yourself why you are content with the inevitable.

2. What is the question that, if you had the answer, would change everything?

This is a trick to get you to confess to yourself what is really important. But it works. If someone says they don’t know the answer to something, this is kind of like asking them “Well if you did know, how would you answer?” The fact is, we are often lazy and thinking is hard work. So sometimes we have to trick ourselves into doing the hard work. Someone has said, “Whoever defines the question defines success.” It might as well be you.

3. Why did I come up with that question?

This question only works if you do the hard work above. Questioning our motives is a healthy habit to hone, because we can lie to ourselves—and we don’t even know it. We’re good. With the previous question I suggested you trick yourself. Now, I’m telling you to make sure you’re not tricking yourself. Are you confused? Perhaps you should question all the questions up to this point.

4. Is there a different question I should be asking?

Why did you come up with that question? Don’t let yourself get away with anything. What are you assuming is true with those questions? What are you assuming is false or an impossibility? Keep peeling the onion, because there is always more if you’ll give yourself time.

5. What else?

For me this is probably THE most powerful of questions. The beauty is both in its simplicity and the suggestion in the question that there IS something else. There is a closed (can be answered with yes or no) version of this question: “Is there anything else?” The ‘What’ prompts the brain to search and find, whereas the ‘Is there’ results in either a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’. For best results, ask yourself this question several times.

Are these five questions enough? They’re certainly enough to get you moving in a new direction!

Hungry for more great questions?

  1. The Five Most Important Questions
  2. 10 Questions Every Change Agent Must Answer
  3. 35 Question That Will Change Your Life

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4 Beautiful Questions to Ponder

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Sometimes we don’t find the answers we are looking for because we don’t ask ourselves the right questions. Maybe you feel stuck, are facing a problem, or need some added motivation. James Allen, in his book As a Man Thinketh, offers 4 great questions to ask yourself.  Ask yourself these 4 questions and see if they trigger something inside you. The poet E.E. Cummings wrote, “Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.”

Why?

The first beautiful question: Why? Do you know your why? Answering this question is the key to motivation, because motivation requires motive. You’re the only one that can answer your Whys? What is your list of whys? One of the thrusts of success is to come up with a strong enough why. If the why is powerful, the how is easy.

Talk show host Larry King retired in 2010 after 25 years and 6,120 episodes (to put that in perspective, there were only 180 episodes of Seinfeld; and Saturday Night Live, which has run for 40 years, has only racked up around 760). Can you imagine throughout that many shows and all those interviews all the questions he must have asked? On the final show, King offers an insightful answer when asked, “What question have you asked more than any other over the years?” King’s reply was, “Why.” He explains, “Why is the best question of all because it can’t be answered in one word and it forces the person to think.”

Why Not?

The best answer to the question Why? is the second beautiful question: Why not?

I once read about an interview conducted with Elie Wiesel–holocaust survivor, Jewish novelist, and writer on spirituality. The interviewer said “I’ve noticed that you Jews often answer questions by asking another question. Why do you do that?” To which Wiesel replied, “Why not?”

Why not try it? Why not take the risk? Why not reach out? Why not share? Why not go further? Why not push yourself? Why not put yourself out there? Why not take the responsibility? Why not?

Why Not You?

The third beautiful question is Why not you? I want you to take this personally: Why not you? You have the brains. You can make the decision. You can work the plan. Why not you? Why not you change? If one person can do it, why not you? If they can figure it out, why not you? If that person can turn it around, you can turn it around. If they can accomplish it, why not you? If anybody can do it, why not you?

Why Not Now?

The final beautiful question: Why not now? Why not now? Is there a better time than now? There is not a better time than now. What are you waiting for? If you’re going to give it a try, why not now? What could you gain if you started now? What will you lose if you wait? Why not do what you can now?

Why not make the decision now? Why not capture the thought now? Why not make the call now? Why not write the letter now? Why not do it now? Why not now decide to make it right? If you’re ready, then why not now? You may not be able to finish right now, but you can start, so why not now?

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What Questions Do That Answers Don’t

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“If there is God who knows everything,” Collette Gary asked, “why does he ask questions?” They are certainly not for himself. So what is it that God knows questions do that answers don’t. He certainly used them often. There are over 3,000 questions in the Bible and the majority of them are asked by God.

If someone had just ruined something you worked really hard to make or spoiled plans you spent a lot of time preparing, how would you respond? That’s what God faced after Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden. But did you know the first four things God said were all questions? (Genesis 3:9-13)

If someone you knew had been going through terrible pain and loss, for no fault of his own, and was looking for answers to his experience, how would you respond? God responded in this kind of situation with Job by asking questions. The longest list of questions in the Bible was God’s response to the suffering of Job. (Job 38-39)

Jonah was an awful missionary. The man had deep anger issues. He had no respect for his calling. He openly hated the people God asked him to minister to. He had no passion for his work. His main concern was his own comfort. His story is the only book in the Bible that ends with a question. It is a question that God asked. We know the question worked because the only reason we have the account of Jonah is because God broke through to Jonah and he was willing to disclose his self-condemning story.

So what is it that God knows questions do that doesn’t happen by simply unfolding the facts and necessary steps that a person must take?

Questions make us think. They engage the mind. In contrast, imperative statements are embedded conclusions. The next step has already been decided. The subject really isn’t involved, or at least given a choice. But God wants us involved. Questions invite us to get involved.

The better we get at engaging others and awakening the imagination to get involved, the closer we are to relating to others the way God relates to us.

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When an Answer May Not Be the Best Answer

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Of the 183 questions that Jesus was asked in the Gospels, He only answered three of them directly. The others, according to Dr. Robert Coleman, author of The Master Plan of Evangelism, Jesus answered by asking another question or telling a story or parable. Jesus understood the power of questions to get people thinking in new ways. Sometimes it’s a victory just to get people to think.

But no one asked more questions than Jesus. By one account, He asked 307! Someone has said if ever there was a person who had all the answers it was Jesus. Yet he rarely gave them at first. Jesus knew the power of a question to force a person to think, look at truth (i.e. reality) in a fresh way, and often themselves for the first time.

And he knew when to keep asking questions. I think of the episode with Peter in John 21. Jesus asked Peter the same question three times. This is ninja questioning. I would not recommend trying this with your boss or wife. Jesus understood the power of that question to help Peter surface what was really happening in his heart.

It is so tempting to give people the answer. Especially when we know the answer! Not knowing the answer usually doesn’t stop us either. We are helpless tellers. Sometimes an answer may not be the best answer. Energy may be better spent, figuring out how to ask the right question.

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If You Are Thirsty

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One of my favorite scenes in the Chronicles of Narnia is near the beginning of The Silver Chair when Jill Pole first meets Aslan, the lion.

She cried herself dry after her friend was blown off the cliff to who-knows-where by Aslan. She is “dreadfully” (said in the best British accent you can come up with) thirsty and thinks she hears water. She doesn’t want to meet the lion again, but her thirst is so bad, she heads toward the water anyway. She finds the stream, but also finds the lion. And Aslan speaks to her, “If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”

The exchange between Jill and Aslan has her asking a lot of questions. My favorite is “Do you eat girls?” to which the reply is,

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

The scene is an obvious bow to Jesus’ words in John 7:37, “If anybody’s thirsty, they should come to me and have a drink!.”

What stands out to me in what Lewis wrote and Jesus said, is the word if.

“If you are thirsty” can sounds like, “Supposing you really are thirsty” or “Provided you’re thirsty,” if that is true, have a drink. It can seem like there is doubt or uncertainty on the part of the one making the statement. But we can be sure that is not the case for either the all-knowing Aslan or Jesus.

So if the if isn’t for them, who is it for? Why not make a declarative statement? Why didn’t Jesus just say, “You are thirsty!”

It is an assumptive if that triggers a reflective pause. It is a kind approach when you stop and think about it. It is a gift. Because Jesus knows coming straight-out and telling us what he knows about us doesn’t always help. He gives the gift of awareness.

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A 3-letter Word Is the King of Curiosity

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cartoon-king-5Last week I wrote about listening. I mentioned three categories of listening and how natural curiosity generates the best listening.
 
There is one simple word that can help you create curiosity—for yourself and those around you.
 
Talk show host Larry King retired in 2010 after 25 years and 6,120 episodes. On the final show, Fred Armisen turned the tables on King and started asking “himself” questions. Apart from being a funny exchange, King offers an insightful answer when asked, “What question have I asked more than any over the years?” King’s reply was, “Why?” He explains, “Why is the best question of all because it can’t be answered in one word and it forces the person to think.”
 
I would submit that little, three-letter word is the king of curiosity. Ken Coleman, author of One Question, uses the phrase “habit of inquiry” to shed light on the need for more curiosity. He says by the time a child reaches the 8th grade the average number of questions asked on a given day is two or three. Little kids are notorious for asking why. Life quickly squeezes the curiosity out of us all. Intentionality is necessary to maintain this habit of inquiry. Without it, a person becomes the equivalent of listening zombies: conversationally brain-dead, replying in grunts.
 
Simon Sinek in his book Start With Why proposes the most important question to ask is why because of the fundamental need it meets. People want to understand and be understood. Asking why meets that need. Companies that are not afraid of why create deeper loyalty with customers and employees, Sinek says, because it reveals core motivation. I think relationships in general become closer and stronger when that small word is allowed to enter the conversation. It creates dialogue, because like Larry King said, it can’t be answered in one word and it requires thought.
 
Crown yourself king of curiosity in your next conversation by asking why.
 
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