Asking Good Questions and Living a Compelling Life

By Rev. Tim Yee

June 10, 2018

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

Mark 8:36


Max De Pree says, “We do not grow by knowing all of the answers, but rather by living with the questions” (Leadership is an Art, 58).

A sign for a public restroom.Yesterday, we reflected on Jesus as a revolutionary communicator who asked questions more than he gave pat answers. In today’s passage, we see Jesus asking a question to help his disciples see the most important issue at hand: the radical cost and infinite value of following him with their whole lives.

Jesus had a way of using questions to help people see better. To the blind beggar in Mark 10, Jesus helped him to literally, physically see again, but he also helped him to see that he was no longer a hopeless outcast. To the Samaritan woman in John 4, Jesus asks, “Where is your husband?” to help her see that her longing for acceptance could only be found in someone who offered unconditional love. Again, in Acts 9:4, a blind man—this time Saul from Tarsus who would later become the Apostle Paul—encounters a risen Jesus, who asks, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Jesus uses questions to help people see an important barrier that must be faced and overcome.

The movie Hidden Figures is based on a true story of three African American women in the 1950’s who helped NASA land a man on the moon by using their mathematical skills amidst incredible discrimination. In one memorable scene, Katherine Johnson is publicly reprimanded by her boss, Al Harrison, for taking long breaks. In front of the whole room of white NASA staff she gives this speech:

“There are no colored bathrooms in this building. Or any building outside the West Campus, which is half a mile away. Did you know that? … And I work like a dog, day and night, living off of coffee from a pot none of you wanna touch. So, excuse me if I have to go to the restroom a few times a day.”

Director Harrison, in dramatic fashion, walks out of the room and takes down the “colored” bathroom sign with a crowbar. Ms. Johnson’s poignant speech revolves around this simple question, “Did you know that?” and forces NASA to consider something even more important than putting a man on the moon. Questions have a power that compels us to see barriers that blind us, to long for more important things, and to choose to live a better life.

Fact check: Though it is true that Katherine Johnson was a NASA mathematician who helped put a man on the moon, she never made this speech that was so memorable in the film. In fact, when asked about this scene Johnson confirmed the director used creative license: “I just went on in the white [bathroom].”

But my point is still valid and actually leads to a more important insight: Sometimes the best questions are raised not by speaking them but by living them. Our lives can help people recognize their blindness, question the barriers that exist, and propel people to seek a better life for all.

Instead of Johnson having to ask, like she did in the film, “Did you know that?” her insistence in real life on always using the white bathrooms must have raised these kinds of important questions: “Why are there colored bathrooms in the first place? Why do we legislate that the color of your skin determines the outcome of your life?”

Leaders become good at asking questions that help others see barriers in their lives and in their world. But leaders more importantly need to live a compelling life that forces people to ask the right kinds of questions, challenging assumptions and leading people to make choices for a better life revolving around Christ.

Something to Think About:

“In a media age, we assume that… when questions are asked, we must deliver the right answers. In every age, the truth is… when you want to deliver the right answers, ask good questions” (The Revolutionary Communicator, 48).

Something to Do:

Watch this video of Katherine Johnson. She says, “I didn’t do anything alone, but I tried to go to the root of the question… and succeeded there.” Consider how her life not only helped answer a space flight problem at NASA but also an ethical problem in our country.


Lord, we may never know how the things we say impact people, but help us to be better at asking questions instead of just giving answers. Help me to lead a life that compels others to see better, to long for you, and to live a better life. Amen.


Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Taking Up Our Cross

Rev. Tim Yee

Contributor Emeritus & Pastor

Rev. Tim Yee is Pastor of Union Church of Los Angeles, a 100-year-old church in downtown L.A.’s Little Tokyo District where he serves a diverse church of professionals, internment camp survivors, artists and homeless. He serves on the Board of Union Rescue Mission where he leads the P...

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