At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our new series called More Than Words.
Jesus often asked questions of others, and in that, he modeled an important behavior for us all. People respond best when they feel heard and loved. So, how can asking questions and listening well, like Jesus did, lead to meaningful spiritual conversations with others?
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
MESSAGE AUDIO FROM GATEWAY IN SOUTH AUSTIN:
MESSAGE NOTES FROM THE TEACHING TEAM:
It was the early 1990s, I was young and engaged to Deborah who is now my wife. We had dated from a distance while we were in college. She lived in Irving just outside of Dallas. I lived in Waco. I was serving as a youth pastor at an old Baptist church and working with kids who had difficult family situations. I had never worked with kids who had suffered abuse or didn’t have enough food in the house for a meal on the weekend before. During spring break, my fiancée and I went on a ski trip with a college group from a church out of Dallas. The college pastor was a really fun, energetic, and inspring person named Norm. We had a great time together. A few months later when I was back in Dallas/Fort Worth, Deborah and I decided to go visit Norm just to say hello. We were surprised to find out from him that he was moving to Seattle to plant a church. By the end of our conversation, we were even more surprised. He invited us to move out to join his church planting team. He even offered me the chance to become the student pastor at the new church.
Ironically, we had planned to take our honeymoon in Seattle. Neither of us had ever been, but we loved snow skiing and heard we could do that even as late as May which was when our wedding was planned at the time. This invitation led to many more conversations in which Norm encouraged us to come and eventually talked about paying me to be the student pastor. We decided this was more than just an invitation from Norm. This was what God was calling us to do! You see, when Deborah and I met we had both sensed a calling from God to be missionaries. Deborah was working on her degree in Spanish and hoped to be a missionary in Mexico. I was hoping to become a missionary in India. That was the one major issue in our relationship because there aren’t a lot of Mexicans in India or Indians in Mexico so we decided to move to Seattle. We knew we wanted to be together wherever that may end up. We thought it was silly to go on our honeymoon to a place where we were going to live, so we decided to go to Los Angeles for our honeymoon instead.
God used Norm to guide us towards what God had for us.
We’re in this series talking about how God can use your words as a Pivot Point in another person’s life.
Last week we looked at Jesus initiating conversation by crossing societal divides, dignifying this Samaritan Woman, and pointing her the Source of the Love she longed for.
Now until Easter, you’ll be seeing more and more on billboards, social media, all round town asking What’s After Life?
- Over 150 churches and organizations are participating in this citywide conversation.
- It’s based on a book by our senior pastor, John Burke.
- We are giving you free copies to give to your neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends who might not know God is real or how much God loves them.
- Medical Doctors are saying this is scientific evidence for the existence of God and an afterlife.
- We are asking you to read it, and start praying for people God wants you to give it to—then follow up with a conversation.
- That conversation could be the catalyst God uses to change a life.
We’re talking about Guiding spiritual conversations.
Maybe that sounds scary—but it’s actually really easy. It starts by following God’s promptings, being a curious learner, asking questions, and listening well to people.
Let’s look at another spiritual conversation Jesus has to learn how we can do this better as we follow up with those we give books to.
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” – John 5:1-6
While in Jerusalem, Jesus went to the pool of Bethesda.
- John tells us that “a great number of disabled people” would sit by the pool, believing an angel would stir the water and the first person into the pool would be healed.
- Jesus gets a prompting from the Father to notice one particular person.
- For thirty-eight years this guy had been confined to a mat.
- For years, he crawled hand over hand to be first into the water, only to have his hopes beaten down by someone faster, more able; he had no one to help him.
- Interestingly, this is the guy Jesus “sees” out of all the infirmed.
So how do we guide others?
First, follow God’s promptings.
As you regularly pray for 3 or 5 or 20 of the people around you, God will lead you in the same way He led Jesus. At various times, you’ll see a need He wants to meet. Focus there. Or you’ll be prompted to give a book away that wasn’t planned. You told us and designated that book for someone else, but God prompts you to give it to someone else. Is that legal? YES, we’re not legalistic! Give her the book, write her name for us later and we’ll give you another one to give the original person.
God is always at work—he’s doing things in the people you interact with, prompting them, trying to show them things, trying to draw them back to Himself if they’ve wandered or rejected him due to lies about God.
Jesus had to listen closely to God’s promptings and then be willing to initiate conversation and guide.
It’s exciting when you start to ask God to use you to cooperate with what He’s doing or wants to do to love and serve people around you.
As you seek to Love your neighbors, coworkers, classmates, it’s like an adventure with God. God Cares, he sees, and He wants to love people through you.
One day I was walking through a used bookstore on my way to the “Religion” section to find some books to encourage me in my relationship with God, just as I passed by the “New Age” section I noticed a man perusing through one of the books. In that exact moment I had the strangest thought? “Buy that man a Bible.”
Immediately, I began arguing with myself in my mind. “Why would you do that? He would think you were crazy! No complete stranger would want a Bible from you. He would think you are in a cult!”
I promise I have never been diagnosed with schizophrenia. In the midst of this personal argument I realized how absurd I was. I would never have a thought that was so courageous and selfless. This thought had to be from God. I knew the thought was not from Satan because it was actually an idea that could help encourage this man toward Christ. I heard God’s Voice. I wish I could say I immediately went to talk to this man.
Instead, realizing this was a thought from God, I began arguing with Him using the same objections from earlier. Another thought then crossed my mind: “How can you claim to follow me yet ignore my voice?”
In spite of my reservation, I turned from the religion section and approached this stranger. Remarkably he was interested in reading the Bible. In fact he mentioned that he was on a spiritual quest. I was stunned and excited. He walked with me toward the shelf that held the Bibles. I encouraged him to pick whichever one he wanted. I am ashamed to admit, at that moment, I silently prayed that he wouldn’t choose the $50 leather-bound Bible in front of him. God answered my cheap prayer as he chose a $10 paperback Bible.
I purchased the Bible for him and gave him the receipt. Before leaving I gave him my phone number expecting him to call me within a day to exclaim his newfound devotion to Christ giving me a great story to tell.
After several weeks passed without a phone call (and without my great story), I wondered why he had never called and why I went through this whole experience in the first place. Another thought immediately entered my mind – a thought given to me by God: “I wanted to see if you were listening to my voice.”
How many times do we ignore these impressions from God? How many times do we ignore God’s guidance to be more selfless and courageous in order to advance his kingdom? The more often we ignore his voice, the quieter and less frequent his voice becomes, and we miss the opportunities to help others in the process. Fortunately the opposite is also true. The more we hear and respond the louder and clearer his voice becomes.
To this day, I have no idea if that man ever read the Bible or came to faith, but I do know I was learning how to hear God’s voice and follow His promptings.
I know it’s God’s whisper when my thoughts are selfless, require courage,
and are consistent with His character as revealed in the Scriptures.
Jesus was fully God, but also fully man. As a finite human, he had to do the same things we have to do: He had to listen–to God and people! As the perfect human, he stayed perfectly connected to God’s Spirit and did whatever the Father was doing. In fact, later in this passage, Jesus will say:
“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. – John 5:19-20
So be in a season of prayer. Every person you see at work or in your neighborhood—just ask “God, what are doing in Joe right now?” “God, show me what you’re doing in Susan right now”
Second, to guide others, we need to ask questions.
The text says,
“When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’” – John 5:6
A strange question, don’t you think? Why wouldn’t the guy want to get well? We will come back to this, but this actually gives insight into the ways of God, and why Jesus more often asked questions than answered them.
Doug Shaup points out that if you read the Gospels, the 4 eyewitnesses of Jesus life, Jesus was asked 183 questions, but do you know Jesus asked 307 questions back! Jesus asked almost twice as many questions as he was asked—and he knew everything! Or had access to that understanding. Why ask so many questions?
See, people long to be listened to, but everybody talks, nobody listens.
Did you know that one in ten U.S adults suffer from depression? Loneliness is an epidemic, and many people quietly suffer in many ways, yet God Cares, and He wants us to learn to Care because Love Cares.
Even in cities with millions of people milling around, men and women go through their day without one meaningful interaction or even a single experience of human touch. Perhaps this is especially true in cities with millions of people. We all assume that the people around us must have others in their lives, when in reality, the feeling of loneliness and even depression grows like a fog over their hearts.
We live in the midst of a crowd of loners.
Several years ago, a middle-aged man was riding in a crowded subway train in New York City when he instantly died from a heart attack. His body slumped over, leaning next to the window. For the next six hours, his lifeless body rode along without anyone noticing. It wasn’t until the subway driver pulled into the station at the end of his shift that paramedics were called to help this man who had stopped breathing. Obviously, it was way too late.
While reading a book about Los Angeles after moving there in 1998, I was not surprised to learn that many people in Los Angeles live in isolation. The book mentioned that people can live in the same place for ten years and never even know their neighbor’s name. What did surprise me was the date the book was published—1930.
In our day, the term “neighbor” no longer has a warm connotation implying someone near you who is trustworthy or friendly. Across our country, we have redefined what it means to be a neighbor. The way we often live our isolated lives has shifted the meaning of “neighbor” to simply refer to the people who live in close proximity. We need to recapture and redefine the word “neighbor” to include friendship – much like Mr. Rogers!
Austin is a beautiful place, but it can also be a very lonely place. We can be that neighbor, that friend, that the people around us are hoping they had.
Back to Jesus.
“Jesus saw him lying there and learned….” – John 5:6
To guide people, we need to listen deeply.
Listening to others is a way to show them you care. And by the way, if you’re saying, “I’m an introvert—the thought of meeting and talking to my neighbors terrifies me.” I get it—I’m slightly more introvert than extrovert, so if left to myself, I’ll stay to myself. But here’s the deal—introverts are often way better listeners than extroverts, so you have something important to offer your neighbors—plus, Jesus didn’t say “Love your neighbor, unless you’re more introverted—then you get a pass.” So pray for courage to care more about about others than about what’s comfortable.
Listen to how this one woman came out of her depression—won’t be the case for all as depression has many causes—but hear what she said:
“Many factors contributed to my depression—of course loneliness and lack of social support were the obvious factors—but the major contributor was that I didn’t feel understood. It was a transition year for me, as I had left my corporate job to find more meaningful work. With the time off, I started feeling and sensing how much past pain and resentments I had stored inside my heart. I felt a huge void, as if I was a failure in more than one aspect of my life…[this continued on she said, until one day a person deeply listened to her]. What appeared for me was a powerful listener. Though this person was a complete stranger to me, they listened so patiently and intently to my words and feelings, both expressed and unexpressed, it felt so incredible that I didn’t want to stop sharing. I emptied my entire heart, all my fears, disappointments, and pain. I released all of it. It was a pure, non-judgmental, patient, and empathetic space where I got to express and feel understood and validated. I didn’t get any solutions, advice, or answers. Instead, I got thought provoking questions, [like “What does your soul really want?” “What makes you happy?” “What are you grateful for?” and “How can you forgive?”] It was this powerful listening that provided immeasurable healing. It was the first time in my life I actually felt like I had been heard, really understood—…Slowly but surely, I was able to walk out of the depression with the help of powerful listening.”
People LOVE to be listened to. They crave it—why?
Because so few people listen well. Listening well is like offering water to thirsty nomads. That’s why James, Jesus’ half brother, says
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak….
– James 1:19
Quick to listen—the opposite of our natural tendency. What’s naturally going on in your mind as you listen? Thinking of what you want to say—right? We’re quick to speak. James says, whoa, slow down thinking about what you want to say, and instead, be quick to listen.
Think about it, you’ve felt most loved by others, because they wanted to know about you…right? They took interest to listen and understand who you are and what makes you tick. Love Listens. Jesus sometimes seemed to have a divine advantage of knowing what was going on in someone’s life. But if you observe his life and teachings closely, those insights came from the same Spirit who lives in all who trust him. Jesus had to listen and learn first!
There’s another reason asking questions is important. It will gauge a person’s interest.
Jesus asks the question “What do you want?” –God always works with our willingness, and Jesus knows the truth: sometimes we don’t want to get well! Sometimes our infirmities, addictions, hated fears actually become comforting excuses.
So he asks.
“Do you want to get well?”7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. – John 5:6-9
Think about it—this guy had been living in this paradigm of life—if I can just get into the water when it stirs, I’ll get well. But he’d been trying this path to a better life for 38 years. You know what it’s called when you do the same thing over and over again—expecting different results? Insanity! It’s a phrase often quoted in recovery circles because it’s not just this disabled guy who had gotten insanely comfortable with this hopeless routine. But here’s what to remember—God wants to heal us and help us all—but we have to want His help. That’s why Jesus asks. The disabled guy gives Jesus an excuse “I can’t.” And he has his reasons. Yet Jesus has compassion and does heal him.
As you follow God’s promptings, give a book, and initiate spiritual conversations—sometimes what you’ll get are “reasons or excuses.”
John Burke gave someone a book who always said to him: “I don’t believe in fairy tales—I believe in evidence—scientific proof.” John said to him: “Hey, you know how you’re always wanting scientific proof God is real—here it is. Read it.”
When he asked the next week: “Hey did you read it?”
He said, “I started.”
I said, “it’s only 90 minutes of one day.”
The next week, “did you read it, what do you think?”
“I’m just really busy right now.”
Stop and think about what’s going on with John’s friend though.
If this is all true—there really is a God who created us, loves us, and point of human existence is to learn to love and trust God…yet he keeps busily distracting himself from even considering what Life is all about—that’s silly! People get stuck in their paradigms. I imagine you have friends like this too.
Here’s the good news: sometimes it takes questions to clear the fog so people see.
“Are you even Open to the possibility there’s a God—or are you close minded to it?”
“What do you believe happens after life? Why?
“What if millions of people who have died said God is real, would you consider it then?”
Some will and they’ll find hope and healing like the disabled man in the pool—some will stay stuck in their paradigm of life without God.
In fact, the rest of the story included how the religious leaders were upset with Jesus for healing this man on the Sabbath! They were more concerned with their religious rules than the fact that a man who could not walk was now walking!! That is definitely putting the EmphAses on the wrong SyLlable! They confronted the man to find out who had healed him, and he did not hesitate to turn on Jesus. Once they discovered it was Jesus they confronted Him.
17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. – John 5:9-19
Yeah, he was healing and making himself equal with God because he WAS God—but even though they heard it, saw it, had all the evidence in the world—they ended up killing Jesus to hold onto their paradigm of life. Some people you give a book to, or have conversation with, despite evidence of millions of people saying “this is real—there’s really a God, life goes on and it’s more real than this one.” Despite all the evidence of the prophets foretelling Jesus coming, some people don’t want to consider it. Don’t take it personally, it’s not about you at all.
“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” – Luke 10:16.
Finally, encourage towards a next step.
You don’t have to force, just prompt openness, thoughtfulness.
Jesus modeled this—if you pay attention to Jesus’ encounters with people, he didn’t go around trying to change behavior (the only time he did was with religious abuse of the temple)—instead he went around trying to reconnect people to the Source of Life.
Look at the clear next step that Jesus gives the man.
8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. – John 5:6-9
Now, you and I may not be able to heal someone, but we know the One who can! We can point towards Jesus. We can pray for healing for them or even serve them if they are in need of healing.
Part of our challenge is that people do not realize that God’s desire is to bring healing to our lives. Many people mistakenly believe that God’s goal is to get people to do the right things and stop doing wrong things. Pharisees try to assist God in forcing people to obey. But have you ever considered that if God’s main goal is to get people to obey him, then God’s pretty impotent. Because people disobey regularly and God seems to do nothing about it. In fact, God gives astounding freedom for people to completely go against His ways.
Why? Why does he allow freedom to go against his will, and why does he allow all the hurt and pain and brokenness that results? I think it’s because God wants our hearts—hearts that realize this life is broken, something’s wrong in this Godforsaken world, and we need God’s help.
For those who realize this and seek God’s help willingly, He gives them not what they deserve, but generous mercy, grace, and relational help to become more and more of the Masterpiece He intended.
- That’s what changes people from the heart so that they don’t want to keep on doing stuff that hurts them, others, or their connection to God.
- That’s what Jesus modeled—not trying to change people through condemnation engineering, but through a Life-giving Connection to the Source of Life.
- Conversations that respect the free will God’s given us, and works with people’s willingness, asks questions to prompt spiritual openess.
Here are some great questions to help prompt spiritual curiosity include:
- “What’s your spiritual background?”
- “So where are you at with God?”
- “Ever wonder what life’s all about? This book is about people who died, were resuscitated, and found out first hand—it’s fascinating.”
- “I read this book—it’s scientific evidence for God and Life after death—I’d love to get your opinion on it.”
Don’t say “My church is doing this campaign” then it’s not that they matter, it’s a project.
Let me ask you something: who helped you along in your spiritual journey? Maybe they invited you to Gateway or introduced you to Jesus years ago. Think of that person. Have their name? On the count of 3, say their name outloud: 1, 2, 3…
These amazing people followed a prompting and cared enough for you to guide you.
Do you realize: God loves you so much that He brought that person into your life to help you find Him!
Now consider: God loves that neighbor, family member, friend, and co-worker in your life so much that He brought him or her into your life so that you can help him or her.
Who does God want you to love on this week? To serve this week? To guide this week?