January 30, 2012

The Heart of the Matter

My dentist is a wise man. At my kids’ check-up, he patiently examines their teeth, polishing and scraping, all the while asking me and them about our daily life. Have we been on vacation recently? Where do the kids go to school? Are we enjoying this beautiful weather? Then, at the very end, he gets to the heart of the matter. He turns to me with the same calm smile and says: “When you floss their teeth, are you getting behind the last molars?”

I am exposed. In one calm question, he has gone beyond canines and incisors, beyond techniques and tools. When I floss their teeth? When? On prayer meeting night, way past bedtime and everyone’s crabby? On session meeting night, the only adult in the house and finding the Buzz Lightyear pjs is a superhero effort? When? And mentally I add: Why don’t I care about my kids’ teeth? And how can I change my ways?

I leave the dentist’s office ready to floss every molar, every night. He is a wise man.

In ministry, we are not unlike dentists. There is room in our relationships for general conversation. (“The weather and the state of the roads,” as Jane Austen put it.) But if we never bring our chatter around to the matter of spiritual decay and disease and the Remedy for both, we aren’t very useful.

Like dentists, we are often speaking with people who have arrived defensive, evasive, and scared to have their habits probed.

Of course, when people are caught in obvious, enslaving sin, we must—for their good—speak directly and urgently. For others, the spiritually unsure or immature, we need to formulate gentle questions, usually ones that assume the best, to get to people’s hearts where the Lord Jesus, the great physician, does His work.

Sincerity of love for others is more important than asking the right questions, but let me suggest a few questions as tools to nudge conversation from general to spiritual. Their answers will show you something, and the Spirit can lead you from there. . . .
  • Can you give me one request that I can be praying for you?
  • Will your new roommate/boyfriend/employer be good for you spiritually?
  • What attracted you to him/her?
  • Are your children walking with the Lord?
  • Who in your life is a spiritual encouragement to you?
  • Why do you want to pursue that career/degree/hobby/sport?
  • What are the ethical issues that come up in your job?
  • How did you decide to attend that event?
  • Where will you worship while you are out of town/on vacation/at college?
  • I’ve been struggling to be joyful/patient/content; how would you address this in your life?
  • I have found God’s sovereignty/omnipresence/justice to be so precious this week; what has been delighting you?
  • What has the Lord been teaching you recently?
What do you ask?


  1. When I talk to a first-time visitor, I ask, "What brings you to our church?" I learn about their spiritual interest and which outreach efforts are effective in one answer.

  2. As a fairly new pastor's wife I find this a very helpful post. Sometimes it is so difficult to bring up those touchy (to some people) subjects that are oh so important!


Join the conversation!
All comments become the property of Sunday Women.

COMMENTING HINTS: If you are baffled by the "Comment As_____" choices, you can simply select "Anonymous" and include your name in the comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...