Have you ever watched one of those dating shows on TV where two people are on their very first date? Invariably, either the guy or girl goes on and on and on talking about himself or herself. It’s painful to watch. In fact, it’s so painful you either must look away, turn the channel, or yell at the TV screen, “Just shut up already!” There is no way the chronic talker is getting a second date.
Even though we hate watching someone talk too much, it’s often exactly what many of us do in our relationships. We are so concerned about getting our point across, so concerned about being understood, so concerned about looking smart, so concerned about, well, ourselves . . .
When my husband, Troy, and I first moved to Kansas City to start Restore Community Church (www.restorecc.org), we spent hours and hours in meetings with people. We met in coffee shops, restaurants, workplaces, and homes (our home included).
In fact, I prepared what we now refer to as the “company dinner.” I am not a great cook, so I practiced just one meal until it was decent and edible, and then I cooked it over and over again (the only thing to change was the number of people eating it).
We had many conversations with people who would eventually become part of Restore’s launch team. Before each meeting, Troy and I often would remind each other to be a good “first date,” which was code for shut up and ask good questions.
When Jesus calls us to follow him, he wants us to be part of the mission of helping people enter into an eternity-changing relationship with him. In my years of vocational ministry, I have found the best way to accomplish this mission is to be in authentic relationships with people who are far from God.
“Keep Your Mouth Shut”
But here’s the tricky part—relationships are complicated. But if we figure out how to do ONE thing, and if we do it consistently, our relationships with people who are not yet Christ followers will occur more naturally and easily. ONE thing. Could it really be that simple?
Here’s the ONE thing . . . SHUT UP. Now if you are like me, your mother didn’t like you to use those words. Perhaps your mouth got washed out with soap. But nothing describes what we need to do better than those two words.
The Bible says, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). Another translation puts it this way, “Be sensible and keep your mouth shut” (New Living Translation).
Jesus had many fascinating conversations with people who were not yet Christ followers (which was pretty much everyone in his day). Most of his conversations included questions. Jesus knew how to ask questions. In fact the book of Matthew alone recorded 82 of them! Here are some of Jesus’ brilliant questions:
• Why are you so afraid?
• Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your heart?
• What did you go out into the desert to see?
• Have you understood all these things?
• Why did you doubt?
• Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?
• Who do people say the Son of Man is?
• But what about you?
• Who do you say that I am?
• What do you think?
• What do you want me to do for you?
Sometimes I think we Christ followers think we need all the right answers—especially when we’re talking with those who are not yet followers. In fact, many times that is what holds us back from intentionally building relationships with people far from God. But as it turns out, what we really need to be effective in our relationships is not to give the right answers, but to ask the right questions.
Questions Are Powerful Things
Have you ever been in a situation where someone is saying or doing something and you know you have the right piece of wisdom for them? You know exactly what they need to hear . . . and you can’t wait to get it out . . . and in your mind you are jumping up and down, raising your hand thinking, pick me, pick me, I know what you should do. Everything in you wants to give them a piece of wisdom.
About two weeks before my father died, I posted something on Facebook thanking people for their prayers for him. A high school friend posted this response, “I hope all goes well, but I will not pray for him, I don’t believe in that junk.” He used a different four-letter word instead of junk.
I was so angry I immediately got into a private Facebook chat with him and gave him a piece of my mind. It was quite interesting. When I finally began to listen, I gained a whole new perspective. I learned his father had died less than six months earlier. As I listened, my anger turned to compassion.
I then wished I had started the dialogue differently. Perhaps I could have asked this simple question, “Why don’t you believe in prayer?”
Questions are powerful things. They communicate that we do not know everything and that we are interested in the other person. Questions help us think of someone else for a change. When we talk too much before asking questions, what we’re really communicating is this: what I have to say is more important than understanding you.
Paul wrote this about Timothy:
I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel (Philippians 2:20-22).
When we shut up and ask good questions, we become like Timothy, whom Paul describes as taking a genuine interest in others. Paul then directly contrasts Timothy’s genuine interest with self-interest. Paul essentially is saying, most people only care about themselves, but Timothy is different. Timothy has the same interests as Jesus Christ. He is interested in others.
Another New Testament writer says it this way, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19). Here is how The Message paraphrases it, “Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue.” “Post at all intersections” in today’s context means, “Facebook, Twitter, and blog about this one!”
I actually saw this Facebook post the other day, “Never miss a good opportunity to shut up.”
Play a little game the next time you meet someone for the first time. Only use sentences that end in a question mark. Try to have a conversation where all you do is ask questions. See what happens. I imagine you will become someone people want to talk to over and over again. And who knows? Your wise and well-asked questions may someday help someone find their way back to God.
So go on now and shut up!
Janet McMahon serves as church planter and community life director with Restore Community Church, Kansas City, Missouri (www.restorecc.org).