Read Luke 1:34

A couple of years ago I was reading Adam Bryant’s excellent book on CEOs and came across this quote that caught my attention: ‘Though CEOs are paid to have answers, their greatest contribution to their organisations may be asking the right questions.’ I remember stopping short at that point and thinking and agreeing with those words. The ability to ask the right question is a crucial quality to possess and an essential characteristic of a leader.

So, what kind of questions are you asking?  

Re-read the Advent stories and you’ll discover two very different characters being met on two separate occasions by the same angel – Gabriel. The two are Zechariah and Mary. And as Gabriel delivers his message to each, both ask a question. On the face of it, both questions look very similar and seem good things to ask. The kind of questions Adam Bryant and others would encourage. 

When told that he and wife will have a special Holy-Spirit filled son despite being ‘very old’ and past the age of child-bearing, Zechariah’s question is: ‘How can this be?’

When told that she will be the mother of the Son of God, whose kingdom will never end, Mary’s question is: ‘How will this be?’

The response of the angel Gabriel has fascinated and confused many over the years. Because he doesn`t answer Zechariah’s question but he does Mary’s. And Zechariah loses his speech for 9 months and Mary doesn’t. 

So what’s going on? Why does the angel seem unhappy with Zechariah’s question but not Mary’s? It can’t be Zechariah’s question, as his and Mary’s are virtually identical. And anyway the bible is full of people asking questions, which elsewhere in Scripture God seems to encourage. So what was different about Zechariah’s question compared to Mary’s? The answer is found in the seven simple words Gabriel spoke to Zechariah (in Lk 1:20): ‘because you did not believe my words’. Whilst Mary did.

This means that although their questions looked identical, there was a different heart-attitude behind each. Most humans wouldn’t see the difference, but God does because he sees right into our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7; Acts 15:8). Mary believed and trusted in her heart. The angel (who like God sees the heart) could see this and that she was wanting a little more clarification and information. Zechariah did not believe or trust in his heart. The angel could tell the difference.

In fact Zechariah may well have been getting close to unbelief. (Unbelief is not the same as doubt. Doubt is when we cannot understand what God is doing and why. Unbelief is refusing to believe God’s word and what he tells us to do. Unbelief, as opposed to doubt, is never viewed positively in the bible).
So it’s not the questioning. It’s the heart. 

The best questions are genuine questions. Questions with a positive attitude behind them. Questions that are open. Questions that want to really explore more. Questions that seek understanding and wisdom. And then there are other kinds of questions. Questions with a negative attitude behind them. Cynical questions. Questions seeking to trip up. 

So questions are good. But perhaps more than most aspects of speech, questions reveal our hearts to God. This shouldn’t stop us asking questions to God, or to others. Not at all. It’s definitely good to ask questions! But when asking questions we must also be aware of our hearts. 

In the end, no-one is responsible for the state of my heart but me (Proverbs 4:23). It’s my responsibility to make sure my heart is open, flexible and available to God and ready to say ‘yes’ to whatever Christ calls me to. When I ask a question I need to check my heart and self-reflect and ask: Why am I asking this? What’s behind it? Because that’s what God sees. And he responds to that, more than the question. 

God really values your questions. But he’s even more concerned for the state of your heart.


ACTION: With a Notebook to hand, read and reflect on some bible verses about our hearts, eg: 1 Samuel 16:17; Hebrews 3:12; Mark 6:1-6. Having done this, is there a question you would like to ask the Lord today? A question, like Mary, that is open and seeks understanding?

PRAY: That the Lord would keep your heart soft and pliable today. Pray for the people you will meet today that your heart will be full of love to them. Children sometimes talk of ‘giving their heart to Jesus’. Don’t be cynical about such a prayer. Instead, offer your heart to Christ today. It could be the most profound prayer you pray this Advent.