Questions to Deepen Christian Relationships

In the past month, I’ve experienced three in-depth conversations with Christian friends that have significantly enriched my walk with Christ. Each time I came away from the small group discussion feeling that I knew my fellow believers better and that we had truly encouraged one another spiritually.

The Bible instructs us to, “…encourage one another and build each other up.” Conversation among Christians should edify us and “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” But we often spend an entire evening talking about sports, current events, children, restaurants, and movies but never go deeper and we waste opportunities to fortify one another in the Christian life.

Last Tuesday after dinner at a fairly quiet restaurant six of us were involved in a normal conversation when I mentioned recently participating in an icebreaker exercise where we answered the “Four Quaker Questions.” I explained that the original purpose of that exercise was to allow friends in the Quaker Church to get to know one another better and reinforce each other in the Lord.

Naturally, someone asked what the “Four Quaker Questions” were. I explained, “The first two are somewhat elementary, ‘Where did you grow up?’ and ‘What were the winters like there?’” Since we already knew each other pretty well, we skipped those and focused on the next two. “What was the center of warmth in the home where you grew up – was it a place or a person?’” We each took a few minutes to answer that question and gave some detail about our upbringing. Several got teary-eyed talking about their mother or dad or grandparent who cared for them.

The last question was, “When did Jesus Christ first become real in your life?” That was a bit more challenging and provided an opportunity for each of us to give testimony about our conversion experience, a memorable answer to prayer or a special worship service that we had participated in.

The next day one of the men who had been a part of that conversation commented to me, “That was one of the most enjoyable and meaningful evenings I’ve ever spent.” I felt the same way. I learned some things about my friends I hadn’t known and I walked away that night feeling closer to each of them and also closer to the Lord.

Spiritually edifying conversation is desperately needed in our day. There’s so much depressing news in our world and so much anti-Christian propaganda that it’s easy to get discouraged. That’s why Ephesians 4:29 admonishes us, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

One of the best ways to counter despair and build others up is a meaningful discussion with fellow believers. The Bible assures us, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). And, “Two are better than one…if either of them falls down, one can help the other up….though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Eccles 4:9-12).

I was in a completely different group setting ten days ago when the leader suggested, “Tonight, we’re going to go around the room and take turns asking one question that everyone else has to answer in thirty seconds or less.” He started by asking a simple question, “What’s is your least favorite food?” After everyone answered, the person next to him asked, “What’s your favorite movie?”

When people answer they invariably elaborate a little and others will chime in with their opinions. But eventually, someone will ask a more challenging question that deepens the discussion, “What is your favorite Christian song?” What was the most frightened you’ve ever been?” Or, “What’s your favorite Bible verse?”

Have you ever noticed how often Jesus asked questions?  Simple questions like: “Have you caught any fish?” Probing questions: “What were you arguing about as we walked along the way?” Easy questions: “Who do men say that I am?” Personal questions: “Who do you say that I am?” Difficult questions: “Why did you doubt?” Challenging questions: “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” Liberating questions: “Woman, where are your accusers?”

In-depth conversation can be initiated, and a lot can be learned by just asking questions. Stimulating inquiries give people an opportunity to reveal something about themselves others didn’t know before and they provide an opportunity for relationships to deepen.

Several weeks ago friends hosted my wife and me along with four other couples for dinner. At the end of a delicious meal when everyone was relaxed, the hostess said, “Now under your plate is a strip of paper with a question on it. We’re going to go around the table, and each of you answers your question.” The questions were subjective, and some had spiritual ramifications. “If you could select one other person to be sitting at this table who could it be?” “What person has had the greatest impact on your life?” “What Bible character, besides Jesus do you look forward to meeting in heaven?”

Everyone got to talk. We all had to think. There was a lot of laughter. There was transparency and some keen insights into people’s values. Admittedly, there was a little discomfort at first, but we managed to get beyond a conversation about the NFL, college basketball and the President’s latest tweet…and we left spiritually enriched.

Here’s an important qualifier for deepening the conversation and edifying one another: be interested, not just interesting. One of the challenges of any conversation is that we get so focused on what we’re going to say next that we don’t pay attention to what’s being said at the moment. When someone else is talking, move forward in your seat and give focused attention to the person speaking. Let them know you’re engaged by your eye contact, facial expression, and body language. You’ll draw out the best in them and encourage them by valuing their story. Even if it’s not melodramatic; it’s still important. A good listener always has plenty of friends.

“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:12-13).

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