The Formative Power of Hard Questions

There are questions aimed at information, and then there are questions aimed at formation.

When I first began reading the Bible and would come across passages like Matthew 16:13–20, where Jesus asks the disciples who people said he was and then asks who the disciples say he was, I thought Jesus was asking for information. Jesus seemed, to me, concerned about his reputation and—I thought—rightfully so.

Every human cares about their reputation in some way. We all want to know the salacious details of who a person is or who others say they are or, really, who we are ourselves. Who do you think I am? What do you think of me? How do you judge me? How do I measure up? Am I in? Out? Do you think I am with you or against you? Do you think I am a heretic if I align with this denomination or movement? Do you think I am wrong if I vote this way? What am I to you?


From my vantage, there are two different kinds of questions: those aimed at helping the asker know the one they’re questioning and those aimed at helping the one questioned to know themselves. A first meeting might utilize the first, a counselor might utilize the second. Jesus, in this passage, used the second. He was not looking for information; he was looking to the formation of his disciples by helping them know the truth of their own hearts.

A.W. Tozer has often been quoted saying, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Jesus was asking his followers to reveal what they really thought about who he was, not to bolster his resume or self-confidence, but to teach his disciples to be honest about their doubts or faith, to name Christ as “Liar, lunatic or Lord” (C.S. Lewis). Jesus wanted his followers to know he wasn’t afraid of their answer, he could handle it.

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A friend and I have been taking turns each week counseling with one another. We are both prone to pandering, but a well-directed question aimed at the layers below reveals more than mere information. We ask hard questions not to gain information about the other, but to help the other reveal to themselves the truth beneath the surface things. We want to help the other uncover, ultimately, any lies we’re believing about who God is or isn’t.

The depths of the human heart, mind, body and soul are finite, and only God truly knows them, but they often feel fathomless to most of us because the work to map them seems too difficult to manage, too time-consuming to undertake and too frightening to engage. The art of asking a question aimed at the fathoms is difficult to learn and priceless to have practiced. “God,” I pray often, “Make me a good question asker.” I pray this for all of God’s people, too, that instead of categorizing who’s in and who’s out, we reach across and ask not only to know them, but if we can help one another know ourselves, and therefore know who God is.


When you have a chance while talking with someone you love, try asking them these questions. Try to get the idea of the “right” answer out of your head. There is no right or wrong answer to these. Your only aim is to help them reveal to themselves how they see God.

How did that make you feel?
Do you think what was said to you was true?
Does it feel true?
Do you think God would say that to you?
What is your expectation in XYZ?
Has God promised you that? How?
What has comforted you in God’s word regarding this?
How is this revealing who God is or who you think he is to you?
Where was God in this for you?

This article originally appeared on and is reposted her by permission.