As a full-time prison chaplain for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, I have searched the Scriptures to learn as much as possible about every person who spent time in prison, like Joseph, Daniel, John the Baptist, and Paul.
I have explored various prison ministries to discover the creative approaches others have taken to sustain faithful and fruitful ministries by God’s grace, like Prison Fellowship, The Institute for Prison Ministries, and The Heart of Texas Foundation.
But one thing I had not considered doing until somewhat recently—nor seen others do elsewhere—is engage inmates with inspired questions.
What Are Inspired Questions?
Inspired questions are the ones already asked in God’s inspired Word—the Bible. Do you remember all the questions God asked Job? Do you recall Queen Sheba traveling far to ask Solomon questions? Have you ever noticed how often Jesus asked and was asked questions?
Indeed, questions are numerically significant in Scripture, even if often overlooked. The New Testament alone contains approximately 980 questions.
For example, here are a few questions Paul asked or was asked in the Book of Acts while in custody:
- “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30)
- “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges?” (Acts 25:9)
- “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets?” (Acts 26:27)
- “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28)
Using These Questions for Prison Ministry
As we intentionally draw attention to the Scriptures, which reveal Jesus’s power, presence, ministry, words, deeds, miracles, and wisdom, we should also give concerted attention to the very questions the Holy Spirit inspired for us to read and consider.
They provide us a great starting point to help our inmate congregations engage the deep issues that God has preserved in His Word. Pointing them to the questions in Scripture is more relevant and sanctifying than it may appear at first glance.
The great variety of questions alone testifies to this. For instance, there are questions that pertain to marriage, parenting, leadership, finances, employment, community, and self-image.
All of these are key reentry topics that are typically covered in release preparation programs. Here are just a few examples:
- “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matt. 22:17)
- “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28)
- “What do you want?” (Matt. 20:21)
- “If you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:12)
- “Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:26)
Granted, we should not strip these inspired questions from their inspired context. We must also show and teach those in prison how to “rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). But using inspired questions can spark breakthrough ideas related to their life. They can ignite spiritual change. They can draw them into a deeper study of the Scriptures. They call for decision-making.
Here are some immediate ways you could start using inspired questions in your prison ministry—depending on your specific role as a chaplain, mentor, or volunteer:
- Let the inspired questions become the conversation starters (e.g., print some inspired questions on slips of paper and have an inmate pick one each time you get together)
- Do a sermon series based on inspired questions (e.g., “When God Asks the Questions”; “Questions from Jesus”)
- Start a small group discussion with inspired questions (e.g., chose a handful that relate to a topic you all are addresses)
- Use inspired questions as part of your bible study curriculum (e.g., select a character or book in the Bible and chronologically engage each question that surfaces)
Change Your Questions, Change Your Prison Ministry
Inspired questions can inspire a turnaround in an inmate’s situation and even completely change his or her life. By allowing God to lead in the question asking, you are also setting that person up for future success when you are not around—for that person can always have God’s Word to answer and counter the many questions.
Just a few months ago, a local pastor who was supposed to come in and preach at my prison notified me a few minutes after the service began that he would not be able to come. Although it was not an ideal situation, I quickly decided to preach the cluster of questions in Galatians chapter 3 (vv. 1–6).
Afterwards, a few inmates came up to me and confessed that they had never stopped to meditate on those six questions as they related to their lives. The impact they had on them was evident by the thoughts and details they shared with me.
When they were done, I praised God and let them know that those were just a few among more than 900 in the New Testament still to explore.
What a blessing it truly is when God asks the questions!
Brian J. Wright is a chaplain for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and teaches for several universities and seminaries as an adjunct professor. This article draws from Brian’s new 365-day devotional book, Inspired Questions: A Year’s Journey Through the New Testament (Christian Focus, 2019).