The New Year is a great time to take inventory as you look back over the past year and do some “holy daydreaming” as you approach the new one. A primary tool for the most effective assessment and planning is asking good questions.
Questions have the power to change our lives. They move us from being spectators to participants. They cause us to stop and take stock of what we believe and how we behave. They push us to challenge our assumptions, assess our needs, clarify our thinking and confront our imposed limitations. They prod us to analyze, criticize and synthesize.
The Greek philosopher Socrates is best known for recognizing the power of leading students to discovery through questions.
In the course of writing my book Questions God Asks, Questions Satan Asks, I was intrigued by the spiritual power of questions in the Bible. In the course of my research, I became acquainted with Bobb Biehl, President of Masterplanning Group International (Yes, there are two ‘b’s in his first name). In his booklet, Asking to Win: One Hundred Profound Questions, he writes,
As you master the art of asking profound questions you’ll be able to unlock information, insight and wisdom with a friend in any situation. You’ll be able to open doors to inner motivation and dreams which no one has ever been able to unlock. You’ll be able to solve problems, analyze risks and take leadership you’ve never before dreamed possible. For questions are like intricate brass keys which unlock the lock boxes of people’s minds and heart, their hopes and dreams.
I appreciate Bobb’s image of questions as keys. Another image I see is that the right question is like a jeweler’s chisel that breaks open an uncut, dull-looking stone into a precious treasure with gleaming facets of beauty and value.
While we could explore literally hundreds of stimulating questions, that would be overwhelming. My hope is that you will use this blog in the coming days for some intentional reflection and planning. The best way to make any progress is to focus on a narrow framework of simply looking back and looking forward.
Remember: Five questions for looking back to celebrate and learn.
The Bible places a great deal of emphasis on remembering what God has done (and also crying out to God to remember his covenant with his people). Memory awakens gratitude and also provides the context for learning from our lives.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord, yes, I will remember your wonders of old. (Psalm 77:11 English Standard Version).
- Where and when did I see you, Lord, working this past year?
- If I had to summarize my year in one word or phrase, what would it be? Why?
- What opportunity/ opportunities came my way I never expected?
- What opportunity/ opportunities did I miss?
- What was my primary accomplishment this past year?
Anticipate: Five question for looking forward to maximize your time.
The Bible calls us to be intentional and make the most of the time God gives. There’s power when we focus on specific goals.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16 ESV).
- What are two or three important goals I have for the coming year? (Think, for example, in terms of personal, relational, vocational and recreational—relaxation and renewal—areas).
- What projects would energize me this year?
- What do I need to stop?
- What do I need to start?
- What word or phrase can I use to keep my focus in this coming year?
These are my suggestions. I encourage you to ask and respond to additional questions that you feel will be most helpful. You’ll notice I haven’t asked any direct questions in the area of confession and repentance — though that is a rich area for prayer and reflection. Give yourself the gift of time– to make the most of the time God provides.
While wrong questions take us on senseless detours, the right questions take us to the very heart of life.
[Portions of this blog are adapted from my book Questions God Asks, Questions Satan Asks, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1998, “Introduction,” xi-xii.]