“You can never ask too many questions.”
“There’s no such thing as a bad question!”
“You shouldn’t question things. Accept it as it is.”
“Just because…don’t ask why.”
“…we’ve just always done it like this, I don’t know why.”
“Be careful with questioning everything- it can get you into trouble.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve personally heard every single one of these above statements at one point or another.
I’d definitely say that I often air on the side of more questions rather than less. If I’m starting a job, given a new task or even thinking of taking a trip, I’ll immediately have a dozen questions before getting started. Those of you who know me can definitely vouch for that! I don’t often step into something without asking questions. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m always right. I’ve been told at times that I even ask too many questions.
Today we’re going to talk about good questions though. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the question why. I’ve determined that this question is probably up there with the most valuable questions we can ask. Probably even more important than the what and how…because if you don’t know the why then those other things don’t even matter. I’ll spend the remainder of this post elaborating on that and making my case!
First, let’s start by back tracking a little bit. In the last month or so I’ve had a few occasions on which this question of why has come up in my life. First of all on a personal level, I had a situation happen with someone where I reacted a certain way and for the first time was truly self aware and reflected on the question, “Why did I react like that?” It caused me to go deeper to the root of the issue, and there I saw pride. In the work setting we found ourselves having a time of re-evaluation and asking, “Why do we do what we do, and does that still align with our values and vision?” On a spiritual level, I found myself confronted with questions like, “Why do I believe what I believe?” “Why do we go to Church?” and “Why do I hold certain things to be truth?”
We’ll get more into the heart of those things as we go further into this post, but long story short i’ve come to realize that asking why questions can be incredibly beneficial to every aspect of life: our mental health, personal life, spiritual life, relationships, work, church- ALL of it.
Jesus himself led by example in asking good questions. He crafted his questions masterfully, in such a way that was both thoughtful and thought-provoking. As I recently read in this article 135 questions Jesus asked, “He never asked a question because he needed to know the answer. He used questions the way a surgeon uses a scalpel, to delicately cut into a new level of understanding.” As I start looking at the huge list of questions that Jesus asked in the Bible, I see how much He desires to cause us to reflect. Here are just a few of the great questions Jesus asked:
- “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 6:27)
- “Why are you thinking these things?” (Mark 2:8)
- “Why are you so afraid?” (Matthew 8:26)
- “Why do you call me good?” (Mark 10:18)
- “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your heart?” (Matthew 9:4)
- “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)
- “Why did you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Mat. 15:3)
- “What is it you want?”(Matthew 20:21)
- “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:57)
I can see pretty clearly, even just reading through those ten questions, that Jesus cared a lot about asking good questions. He gave us the beautiful gift of a mind to think and reason with, and I believe we do a total disservice to that gift when we choose not to use our minds to ask good questions. In fact, it really glorifies and honours God when we use our minds to think about how we can change, improve or modify things to best represent His Kingdom.
Let’s go through five why questions together now and hopefully go deeper into personal reflection, evaluation and growth!
1. Why do I think this way?
This is a question we often don’t ask enough. There are SO many factors that shape the way we think. The way we think then also has a ripple effect to what we say and do. So it’s a pretty big deal to reflect on the question: why do I think this way? What about my culture, history, background, upbringing, etc. has shaped the way I think? What is my personal geography and my story?
If there’s one thing I’ve really seen in a whole new light lately, it’s that context matters. My family, friendships, neighbourhoods, schools, post-secondary education, jobs, volunteer experience, Church, cultural background and personality type all contribute towards shaping the way I think.
Let me give four examples of the context in which some of these “why” questions have come up for me personally or could arise for you:
- Work ethic. If you grow up in certain cultures (or families!) you are taught to have a strong work ethic. Growing up german, I’d say I have the tendency to think that things need to be done efficiently and effectively. So I might find myself questioning things like, “why aren’t they working harder?” or “why don’t we do it like this to do it faster” or “don’t they see how their laziness effects others?” When I start to reflect on why my responses are what they are, I realize it stems from my cultural upbringing.
- Family. Each of us grew up very differently. Rules were different, punishment looked different, family time is different and even the value placed on family or community is different. I know that many Asian and Indian cultures place extraordinary emphasis on family and community. Having grown up in a german community, I’d also say there’s a lot of emphasis on the value of community. In my interactions with others I might find myself wondering things like, “how can they care so little about time with family?” or “why do they disregard the value of community?” or “how can they live with three generations of families all under one roof like that??”. Once again, I need to reflect on why I think this way.
- Communication. In my home growing up people weren’t actually fantastic at communicating sometimes. Certain subjects were avoided, tough topics were sometimes shelved or just communicated via writing rather than speaking. Sometimes miscommunication happened as a result, but it also meant that certain communication styles became more or less comfortable for me. When I find myself now thinking things like, “why do I find this conversation so awkward?” or “I’d like to write a note to this person to say thanks” or “we really need to talk about this face to face so there isn’t miscommunication”, I’m understanding that these thoughts result from my own upbringing.
- Church. I grew up attending Church, and as a result did very little questioning of why. I realized that, in general, a lot of people who attend Church don’t stop to reflect on why- especially if they grew up attending Church. As I got older I found myself asking important why questions about Church. Why do believers go to Church? What’s the purpose of the Church? Are my reasons for going to Church the same reasons that God intended? Are the things we’re doing at Church fulfilling the mission of God’s Church?
Those are just a few examples, but I’d love to encourage you to also go back up to the list of different things that influence the way we think and reflect on them personally. What’s your story? When it comes to things like family, work ethic, career choices, politics, social justice, religion, etc… why do you think the way you do?
2. Why do I do it this way?
When reflecting on this question, I believe that it’s so important to specifically ask four additional questions:
a) Is it simply to uphold tradition?
b) Is it simply out of habit?
c) Is it what really works best or reaps the most benefit or aligns best with the vision?
d) Is it most effective or efficient?
If I find myself doing something to uphold tradition or out of habit that does not mean it’s always a bad thing. For example, I can enjoy a certain type of cultural food I grew up with or enjoy the German cultural tendency towards community fellowship. I can also form a disciplined habit of doing my devotions in the morning so that I start my day with God, or set up a strategic schedule for work so that I stay on track. Those are good things. However, that being said, I believe that doing things purely out of habit and for sake of tradition can become dangerous if left unchecked.
I think the next two questions need to then be asked in order to figure out whether doing things out of habit or for the sake of tradition are truly the right thing. Is this what really works best or best aligns with the vision? Is this the most effective or efficient way to do this?
I immediately think of my work when these questions come up. Because our ministry is contextualized, it means that rather than having things set in stone we have the flexibility to constantly re-evaluate and ask questions about programs: Is this program still doing what we originally intended for it to do? Why are we continuing with this program? Is this program allowing us to share Jesus in a relevant way? Are we seeing the number of kids attending this program increase over time, or are the numbers decreasing? Is there a way we can alter this program so that it targets a more specific sub-group, such as kids who need to be discipled?
The reason that asking questions like this is so fantastic is because then we aren’t doing things just for the sake of doing them. We have the freedom to cut things that aren’t working. We have the flexibility to alter or adjust in ways that allows for growth. We’re able to use our questions to help us to do our ministry better and share the gospel of Christ in the most relevant way possible to each group of teens we work with. That’s so great in my opinion because if we just keep moving blindly forward, doing things “the way we’ve always done them”, how are we best reaching teens for Christ?!
3. Why don’t I do it this way?
The question why do I do it this way is almost useless to reflect on if it isn’t also paired with this next question of why don’t I do it this way. In my time of personal reflection, I’ve identified a few reasons why I don’t do things a certain way. I think that beyond my own personal application, these can really be applied broadly to a lot of scenarios:
- Fear. Being burned in the past, fear or rejection, fear of what others will think.
- Feeling ill equipped or limited. Seeing barriers or obstacles that seem too difficult.
- Not understanding
- Not wanting to see or understand
- Thinking “my way is the only/best way”
- Too much pride to change or admit my way isn’t best
- Not wanting to change
And of course, the last alternative remains that maybe it’s not actually the best way and what you’re doing now is actually better.
Can you relate with any of these too? I know that when Wes and I were first married we had to learn how to have healthy conflict resolution in this new context of our relationship. I could definitely identify multiple times that I could’ve prevented arguments or found simple solutions if I had been willing to lay down stubbornness and pride and see things from his perspective instead of my own. I think that happens in a lot of relationship or team settings. But it might be valuable to follow with the question, “Are these reasons for not doing/trying/changing something really going to outweigh the benefit of just being humble and willing to try?” This leads into my next two questions…
4. What will asking why cost me?
Asking why can definitely have cost attached to it, I won’t lie about that. It’s not always comfortable or enjoyable. But it’s worth weighing the costs against the benefits.
Firstly, it takes a lot of humility sometimes. Like I shared in my example at the beginning, asking why can sometimes surface some ugly motives or selfish desires. It takes humility to also acknowledge that the way I think or the reasons I do something might not actually mean that it’s the right or best way.
Secondly, asking why might mean that in the end I’m admitting that I’m wrong or that something possibly needs to change. It usually feels better to stick to your comfort zone- I mean, who honestly loves working out?! Maybe it’s a bad example…but if you’re doing something new that’s going to force you to use “new muscles”, it’s usually painful or uncomfortable for a while before you grow into a new normal.
Thirdly, asking why often means you need to surrender your personal bias or desires. It requires willingness to be objective or look at reality, keeping in mind the big picture and what will be best for the greatest amount of people.
Lastly, relationships can sometimes be the cost to asking why. Sometimes the questions only affect me, but other times they’ll affect others. Obviously it’s not the ideal end scenario to have a relationship suffer. I do everything possible, according to my own power and relying on the Holy Spirit, to keep peace. I try to go about asking questions in a wise way. But that doesn’t mean everyone will love the questions I ask. Their pride might be hurt in the process, or they’ll be hurt that something they’ve put effort into is being questioned. But if it’s more harmful to NOT ask, then the questions must be asked… but move forward with as much grace and love as possible.
Now let’s move on to the next question…
5. How could asking why benefit me AND others?
I think by now you’re already starting to get the picture: Asking questions can be SO beneficial for SO many reasons! But I decided to just throw a couple of the reasons up on here anyways. I don’t think I need to get into too many details though.
Here are some ways that asking the question why can benefit both you and others:
- Opportunity for growth
- Change for the greater good
- Defining or redefining vision
- More effective way of doing something
- Opportunity for learning or new ways of doing things
- Chances to collaborate and learn from others
- Respect from others as they see your humility
Lastly, I think it’s important to also acknowledge that listening to God is never going to fail you. When you ask a question and ask God to lead you in finding the answers, He’ll give you wisdom and insight that you couldn’t ever have on your own. He never does things capriciously. It says right in scripture that He always works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), that He has plans to prosper and not to harm (Jeremiah 29), and that the Father prunes and disciplines those that He loves in order to grow them (Hebrews 12 and John 5).
Walk in grace this week my friend. Ask some good questions and let yourself be challenged by the questions of Jesus. As you go into the rest of your week I’d love to encourage you to go through the five questions again on a personal level. Your own application will likely look different than mine. Where do you need to ask some big why questions? It might be regarding your Church or your faith in general, it might be toxic habits in your life or relationships, it might be related to your work… Whatever it is for you, I’ll be praying that you let God walk together with you and end up being pruned, growing and flourishing as a result!