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Monday, March 13, 2006

asking good questions

i was venting something difficult in my life to someone recently and when i had finished "venting," this person immediately went in to possible solutions to my predicament. not that their solutions weren't helpful, but i found myself thinking, "i don't want help solving the problem, i just want to be listened to."

do you ever feel that way? do you ever feel like no one is really listenting to you as a person? i suspect you do and how often do we talk about our struggles with someone anxiously hoping to finish speaking so they can give us the solution? i would bet less than 5% of the time. usually we talk about our struggles looking for someone who will listen, enter in and empathize.

why then, as christians, are we so quick to want to solve people's problems? i don't think we truly listen when we do this. i don't know about you, but what i really need is someone to help me get to the true problem - my heart. when i voice a struggle to someone, what i really need help with is my perspective, not the problem itself. when i get the right perspective, i find that the problem becomes smaller.

how do we do this? how do we help people with their perspective in a way that doesn't just give them a trite "biblical platitude"? how often have we told someone in the midst of a problem "god is sovereign and he works all things out for good for those who love him." this is a true statement, but it does little for someone who is struggling.

this gets back to some previous discussions on community and getting to know people better in the daily interactions we have with them. how do we deepen our relationships and offer true perspective in the midst of 20 minute convesations around the water cooler? we do it by asking good questions.

i know we've been quoting a lot from paul tripp lately, but he has been food for our souls and offers some of the most practical stuff christian and i have had in all of seminary combined. if we haven't convinced you to pick up his book instruments in the redeemer's hands yet, i'm not sure we will.
when you bring well-constucted, creative, biblically-shaped question's to a person's life, you are doing more than getting to know them and uncovering where change is needed. You are, in fact, ministering to that person (p173).
so what do you do when someone begins to tell you a struggle in their life? do you begin thinking about possible solution or verses you can give them to help? i confess that this is what i do. instead, i'd like to encourage you to begin thinking of questions that might encourage them to probe themselves more deeply.

one of the keys to asking good questions so that you really understand what a person is going through is to ask them to define terms. one of the things we do instinctively is define people's terms for them. for example if someone tells you that she had a "big fight" with her husband, ask her what she means by "big fight." You know what "big fight" means to you, but your conception and her conception may be totally different. Ask the person to define terms.

if you are like me, good questioning doesn't come naturally. this is something we have to work at. don't be quick to offer solutions or to share your own experience. good questions will make the person feel like you are actually listening, interested and truly empathetic to their situation.

how did that make you feel? what was it like for you when your spouse walked away from the fight leaving things unresolved? what did you do afterwards? how has this affected your prayer life? what thoughts about god did this situation invoke? have you been able to read your bible? have you told anyone else? who else are you getting advice from?

when people ask me these types of questions i dig further into the situation that is troubling me and i begin to see things more clearly. i begin to see how my heart is active in interpreting the situation. if we begin to engage people's stories, they will be more apt to disclose things to us in the future - things that may reveal deeper issues about god and life.

sorry that this is a bit of a random post - i don't have a good conclusion for wrapping it all up, but i hope it makes you think about how you engage people in everyday ordinary conversations. this is where the gospel is really lived out.

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