Getting Out of the Business of Prayer – Using Questions for Jesus to Start the Conversation He Wants to Have with You

Tony Stoltzfus

A few years back, I made one simple change in the way I pray—and my percentage of answered prayer went up about 1000%.

After thirty-five years as a Christian, twenty-five as a ministry leader, and fifteen coaching pastors about how to meet God in difficult circumstances (irony alert!), I was still asking Him all the wrong questions. When I finally figured out how to change the subject to what He wanted to talk about, it was like our communication went from snail mail to instant messaging—and got way more intimate and revelatory in the process.The Questions for Jesus approach is about making that change of subject. It moves us from praying about the business of the Christian life to talking with Jesus about us—about our relationship.

Here are some common, everyday prayers Christians often pray:

  • “What do You want me to do…?”
  • “Forgive me for what I did…”
  • “Help me to do…”
  • “Bless what we are doing…”
  • “What should I do about…?”

When we make requests like that, devotions are going to feel like work—which is no surprise, because that’s what those prayers are about: work. They all center on the word “do.” And if your prayers are mostly about doing, you have a business relationship with Jesus, not a romantic one.

That was my problem, too. Jesus and I were supposed to be in love—heck, we were engaged to be married!—but I had no time for getting to know what my Fiancé thought and felt about us, for gazing longingly in His eyes or even for a kiss. No, there were things to do! This can happen in marriage: you can get in a mode where all you talk about is paying the bills, how to discipline the kids, and whose turn it is to do the dishes. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the business of living that you forget the romance of being married to the love of your life.

When I started asking Jesus questions about our relationships, it was as if He had been eagerly waiting for me ask Him about what He cared about most. It unleashed a flood of conversation. It wasn’t that He didn’t want to answer my prayers before—He just longed for us to talk about the relationship and the romance instead of just the business.

Here are some examples of Questions for Jesus that focus on the relationship instead of the business:

  • “Jesus, what do you like best about me today?”
  • “Jesus, why’d you make leaves green? I mean, you could have made everything gray, or the color of mud, or no color at all. Why green?”
  • “When you called James and John, and they left their business and their dad behind to run down the beach after you—what was going on in your heart in that moment?”
  • “Jesus, what did I do today that made you laugh?”

Since I’ve learned to approach Jesus with questions like these, my next assignment and my past mistakes don’t come up in our conversations so much anymore. Instead, we mostly talk about what we like about each other. We share what we’re thinking and feeling. He fills me in on the amazing, hilarious reasons why He made nature look the way it does. We dream about our future in heaven.

The key to talking about the relationship instead of the business is asking Jesus to fill your deepest desires. God created us with built-in yearnings for things like love, acceptance, freedom, security, and significance. In our original design, those desires were meant to be filled by relating personally to God as we walked and talked with Him in the garden in the cool of the day. Our desires were designed to be filled within our romance with Him.

However, this desire-filling connection with Father was broken in the fall. Instead of full acceptance, Adam and Eve suddenly experienced the emptiness of guilt and shame. So they began to try to fill their desires with things and outcomes in this world—with business instead of relationship. For instance, Adam’s desire to be significant was redirected toward his work, though God made it clear that work would never satisfy that longing. Every accomplishment Adam thought would fill his own desire would instead turn to dust.

Accomplishment is a cheap substitute for what our hearts truly yearn for: to hear our Father in heaven tell us how incredibly significant we are to Him. And this desire-filling conversation is the one He most longs to have, too—which is why my percentage of answered prayer shot up so much when I finally quit asking about the business all the time and started talking with Jesus about our relationship. When you do the same, you may experience what a friend of mine did: “It’s like Jesus just won’t shut up!”

Once you get the hang of it, this style of prayer is richly rewarding—and a lot of fun! Jesus says the craziest things. The other day I was in Arizona, stranded in a church parking lot waiting for a ride. I looked up at the row skinny palm trees flanking the lot and said, “Jesus, those things look like a weed on top of a pole! Why’d you make them that way?” To which He replied, “Well, it wouldn’t have worked too well if people had tried to lay gnarly oak branches at my feet for me to walk on when I was entering Jerusalem.” Okay! Now palm trees make sense to me!

Or a while back, I was feeling a little guilty about missing my devotions. Instead of reflexively doing something to make it up to Him (business), I just told Him what I felt (relationship). “Jesus, I’m feeling kind of bad because I haven’t spent much time with You in the last couple days. What do You want to say to me about that?”

He showed me a picture of the British ambassador landing in Washington, D.C. When he stepped out of the plane, a military band on the runway played the British national anthem while important officials rolled out the red carpet, greeted him warmly and escorted him to a waiting limo. Jesus said, “You are like a trusted ambassador from a friendly country. Every time you come we roll out the red carpet for you.” That image really touched my deep desire to do well and be approved.

So why don’t you give it a try! Instead of asking Jesus what to do, try asking, “Jesus, what do You like best about me today?” What He says in reply could start a whole new chapter in your life!



P.S. Tony Stoltzfus has spent nearly two decades coaching ‘senior leaders in painful transitions’ to engage Jesus from the heart. He’s the author of 11 books (including Questions for Jesus and The Invitation) and Executive Director of Leadership MetaFormation, a leadership training institute.

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