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Why Questions Matter

After serving a mission in 2008, I was not actively looking to get married. But, when I met Tialei in the fall of 2009, it changed my feelings about marriage. As I got to know her and learned more about her relationship with Heavenly Father, I knew I wanted to marry her. We got sealed in the Laie Hawaii Temple on June 17, 2011, and we have been a good team making a wonderful life together!

Throughout our ten years of marriage, she has shown me her love for Heavenly Father through her consistent efforts to pray, study the scriptures, serve in her callings and teaching our children the gospel. I am grateful for her love for Heavenly Father and me. The light that she brings to our family, in many ways, inspires me to live worthy of the blessing that she is to me.

Before I begin my message, I would like to make a brief acknowledgment in Tongan and in Samoan to friends and family who are both here in the audience and who may be participating virtually.












Last year, my daughter, who was six-year-old, asked me a question, "Dad, why do I have to wait 365 days until my next birthday?"

Feeling confident about what I knew, I gave her a crash course on the solar system and explained the relationship between the earth's rotation around the sun and birth year. In awe of my explanation, my daughter whispered, "Wow!" I felt accomplished.

Last month, my daughter asked me a different question, "Dad, how does the brain work?"

Well, I was stumped with the question. I paused for a minute, trying to figure out a simple explanation for the sensory nerves, neurons, and perceptions that a first grader can understand. I struggled.

Ok, maybe that approach wouldn't work. I quickly switched gear to the brain's cognitive processes and thought about working memory and long-term memory. Again, I struggled to figure out the most straightforward language I could use the describe how the brain works for my now seven-year-old.

As a faculty in the Psychology program, I was a little embarrassed that I couldn't give her a simple explanation. To my daughter's credit, her question motivated me to find ways to help my students understand the technical jargon of my discipline. Had my daughter not asked me that simple question, I would have been oblivious to the struggle many students experienced in my classroom, especially when learning new vocabularies specific to my courses.

My daughter is a thinker, so I am a little nervous about what questions she has in store for me next year.

Asking and answering questions are integral instructional practices in the teaching profession. Whether in class discussions or on exams, asking lots of questions is one way that I get a sense of students' academic proficiency.

Additionally, the nature and quality of students' questions is another opportunity for me to readjust my teaching if I sense that some pre-requisite knowledge is needed before moving to the next topic.

There is a considerable volume of literature on questions. For example, consider these book titles on questions:

  • "Good Leaders Ask Great Questions" by John C. Maxwell
  • "The Art of Asking Questions – Ask better questions, get better answers" by Terry J Fadem
  • "Asking the Right Questions – A guide to critical thinking" by M Neil Browne & Stuart M. Keeley
  • "Leading with Questions – How leaders find the right solutions by knowing what to ask" by Michael J Marquardt

In addition, many organizations across the United States have devoted their resources to helping the public ask questions that matter. It is not a secret that questions can unlock our capacity for greater intellectual development.

Today, my message centers on how questions can help strengthen our relationship with others and, more importantly, with Heavenly Father.

As my wife mentioned earlier, I lived in Tonga and Vava'u during the early part of my life. Although most of my family on my Tongan side were not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am indebted to them for their faith in God because it instilled in me a sense of wonder about my relationship with Him.

My earliest memory of worshipping God and Jesus Christ was attending the Wesleyan church in Tonga with my Aunt Va and Grandma Tulu. I often felt bored at church; however, there was always a palpable sense in my heart that I was doing good by going to church.

Before going to bed, Grandma and I would kneel in prayer, and she would petition Heavenly Father to bless and protect all eight of her children by name and the grandchildren by name. Her prayers were long, and I would usually fall asleep before she was done. Despite my inability to keep up with Grandma Tulu's prayers, I felt peace and comfort in our nightly rituals as I heard her pleadings with Heavenly Father.

For a young boy, hearing Grandma Tulu praying on behalf of her children and grandchildren felt good and wholesome. The more we prayed, the more I felt Grandma Tulu's love for me as she spoke tenderly of her children and grandchildren to Heavenly Father.

I am eternally grateful for Grandma Tulu because she showed me how to converse with Heavenly Father. Her examples of faith were critical in my desire to connect with heaven in my early years of life. Because of the profound impact she had on my life, my wife and I have named our daughter Tulu in her honor.

I moved to American Samoa shortly before my eighth birthday to join my parents and three brothers and to be baptized as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My parents taught early morning seminary when my older brother entered high school and continued teaching for several more years until my youngest brother graduated from high school. I am grateful to them for their testimony and sacrifice to help me learn about the gospel while in my youth.

Before leaving the house at 4:45 am for seminary, we hold our daily morning devotion with a song and prayer. We would usually rotate between three hymns, "Joseph Smith's First Prayer," "Sweet is the Work" in Samoan, and "Love at Home" followed by a prayer, and off we go to start our day.

Hearing my family's voices singing pleasantly through the early hours of the morning in worship felt warm and peaceful. I felt the same feeling as a young boy kneeling next to my grandma in prayer. In hindsight, I realized that I had many opportunities in my life to be in the presence of the Holy Ghost. These experiences built a strong foundation in my belief in God, which became a firm anchor during difficult times in my life.

Two weeks after graduating high school in American Samoa in 2002, I boarded an airplane for basic training in Fort Sill, Oklahoma – marking a new chapter in my life as an enlisted service member in the United States Army.

In January of 2003, I was assigned to the northern part of South Korea for my first tour of duty. Although only 18 years old, I felt like I was a grown man. I was making my own money and now had the liberty of doing whatever I wanted to do with my free time. I loved buying clothes and eating out, so the new experience of making and spending money was quite exhilarating.

After my first couple of months in my new duty station, soaking in all my freedom as an adult, I often felt a little distant from Heavenly Father. Buying clothes and hanging out with friends did not bring the enduring peace I yearned for.

Luckily, a chapel on a hill was about a twenty-minute walk from my barracks that held sacrament services at noon. I knew that my ticket to once again access the comforting power of the Holy Ghost was on that hill. I was determined that I would not miss a Sunday. One of the blessings that came from going to church was my desire to keep God's commandments and be a good person.

Unfortunately, my desire to be a good person seemed to lose momentum as the week progressed. Many of my buddies would entertain some outing ideas over the week, which were appealing but deep inside, I could sense that these activities would not lead to a place that I wanted to be spiritually.

In hindsight, I believe that attending church services throughout my military service has helped me maintain a relationship, although distant at times, with Heavenly Father. I felt Heavenly Father was pleased with my efforts to attend church. This sense of reassurance reinforced my desire to be good and do good.

However, I often felt confused and frustrated as to why I didn't feel the desire to do good all the time. It seems as if I only felt those feelings the strongest on Sundays and maybe Mondays, and as the week progressed, the appeals of worldly and unrighteous activities seemed to be winning the battle for my soul.

“Why can't I always have the desire to do good?” This question comes to mind often whenever I ponder my life and the person I hope to be.

During my military service, my conversations with God were often in the form of questions, partly due to my inexperience in figuring out how to be an adult. I felt many of those questions went unanswered. But as I look back on my life, I can see why. The answers to those questions would eventually come at a time when I was ready to receive them.

As I was nearing the end of my initial enlistment contract with the US Army, I decided that I wanted to go to college. So, in the fall of 2005, I was admitted to BYU–Hawaii.

Transitioning from active duty in the military to attending college at a church-owned school was a welcoming experience for me. I was impressed by the goodness I felt from other students the same age as me. Their goodness inspired me to be good.

My roommate was my cousin, who was also a returned missionary. I saw him often on his knees in prayer, and he was very consistent in his daily studies of the Book of Mormon.
We often talked about life, church, God, and girls. I could sense that he had a personal relationship with God, which I yearned for. I wanted to be like him. Even the friends he associated with were great people. They all aspired to be the best versions of themselves. I knew I was at a good place being here at BYU–Hawaii.

However, as much as I felt good about the direction my life was going, I was again reacquainted with a similar question that I had during my time in the military, "Will I always have this desire to do good and be good?"

My cousin attended the BYU–Hawaii devotional consistently. Although I found these devotional meetings boring at the time, I tagged along with my cousin because I had nothing better to do.

On January 26, 2006, I attended the devotional address by President Alan Jr. Walker. He was, at the time, the sales director for the Polynesian Cultural Center and the stake president for the Waipahu Hawaii Stake. President Walker spoke about the importance of developing a testimony in Jesus Christ to help us withstand the adversary's powers. He recounted the story of the people of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon. They were the people that experienced a mighty change of heart after receiving a spiritual witness that the words of Christ that King Benjamin taught them were true.

"And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou has spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually." 1

President Walker then continued, "The conclusion of that verse of scripture used to bother me. Why? Because I had experienced a change of heart, I still found myself susceptible to temptation and even occasionally succumbing to it. No major sin, but sin nonetheless.

I would think to myself, What is wrong with me? How come I do not have a disposition to do good continually?"

Those two questions grabbed my attention. What was wrong with me? Unlike the people of King Benjamin, how come I do not have a disposition to do good continually?

President Walker knows the feeling. I was ready to soak in everything he had to say. President Walker then cited Brother Robinson's reflections about the people of King Benjamin and their change of heart:

"At that moment, filled with the Spirit and clearly seeing the two paths before them, the people of Benjamin lost all desire to follow the path of evil. I feel the same way when I feel the Spirit, but I do not always feel the Spirit...Therefore, we must recharge our spiritual batteries regularly".

Everything stood still at that moment. The noise around me seemed to fade as I began an internal dialogue with myself.

"That's it, Spencer! Your Spirit is like a rechargeable battery. The reason why you don't have that desire to do good continually is because you need to recharge that desire."

I knew a thing or two about rechargeable batteries from my time in the military. This analogy made so much sense.

Our desire to do good and be good has a shelf-life. If we want to do continually like the people of King Benjamin, we need to recharge our spiritual batteries. During my time in the military, going to church was when I recharged spiritually for the week. In contrast, being a student at BYUH and feeling the goodness and wholesomeness of people around me felt like I was charging my spiritual batteries on the go every day.

I walked out of that devotional message with a firm determination to do things that would help me maintain a desire to do good and be good.

In the Book of Mormon, we learn about Enos and the "wrestle [he] had before God." 2

"Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it. And I will tell you of the wrestle I had before God before I received a remission of my sins." 2

Have you ever wondered what Enos experienced during his 'wrestle before God?' I imagine Enos asking many questions in search of answers to issues that kept him up at night.

Enos continued, "And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens." 3

I could imagine Enos having the same conversations we might have with God in our personal prayers when we are in a crisis. Sometimes in the depths of our despair and sorrow, we may deviate a little bit from the standard praying protocol and start asking a lot of questions to God.

"God, are you there?"

"Heavenly Father, I have been doing my best to keep the commandments. So why am I not happy with the way life is going?"

Or, in my case, "Heavenly Father, why can’t I always have the desire to do good?"

I am intrigued by the power of questions. In my experience, I have observed that my questions to God have elicited my most sincere and unfiltered responses to times of crisis.

Interestingly, when I ask sincere questions, it helps me reflect deeply on what I know. As I engage in reflective contemplation, the Holy Ghost brings to light specific ideas, phrases, and memories, helping me connect the dots of my experiences and learning. And in a moment of clarity, I found answers specifically tailored to me.

The Savior asked a lot of questions during his mortal ministry. But if the Savior was all-knowing, why did he ask questions to his disciples?

Consider this intimate setting in the Book of John in the New Testament, where Jesus asked several questions to his disciples. For context, Jesus Christ has performed several notable miracles and has inspired many people from Judea to Galilee. At this point in the Savior's mortal ministry, he has made many friends and undoubtedly many enemies.

When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?"

And they said, "Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets."

He saith unto them, "But whom say ye that I am?" 4

Of course, the Savior knew the answer to these questions. However, I doubt that the Savior posed these questions to get some assurance from his disciples that He is the Son of God. Perhaps the Savior was offering another opportunity for his disciples to exert themselves mentally and spiritually to ponder the significance of their association with Him, the Son of God.

Had I been in that company and after witnessing all His miracles, the Savior's question would have compelled me to reevaluate my knowledge of his divinity.

"Do I really believe in what I profess in public about the Savior?

"What do I need to learn about Him that I do not already know? John the Baptist, Elias, and Jeremias were also men of God. How is this Jesus of Nazareth different from them?"

Jesus' simple lines of questioning, "Whom do men say that I am?" and "Whom say he that I am?" has, on many occasions, stirred my desire to know my Savior more intimately.

Elder Bednar taught that God asks questions to enable us, His Children, "to act in the learning process and not merely be acted upon. There [is] no one-way lecture…as perhaps many of us might be inclined to deliver."

I believe that one of the purposes why God asks questions is to allow us to draw upon our experience and knowledge to find answers that are explicitly tailored to our circumstances.

One theory in memory research suggests that we store memories in our brain through a web of associations.

Imagine all of the memory in your brain being strung together in clusters like a web. When we retrieve a specific memory, it will activate a nearby memory, and that memory triggers another memory resulting in clusters of interconnected memories flowing like images in your mind.

So, if I ask a controversial question like, "What are your feelings about reinstating three-hour church service?" The question alone might trigger a memory of what it felt like to sit in a 3-hour church meeting. That feeling might trigger another memory of someone in church you haven't thought about in a while. As you think about that person, it might trigger a memorable experience you've had. At any rate, thinking about a specific memory can activate other associated memories.

As we learn to ask the right questions, the Holy Ghost can help retrieve a critical memory that has been dormant in our memory bank, which will be key in finding answers to our prayers.

Asking questions can also help improve our relationships with others. We often make inaccurate and even hurtful judgments of others based on their behavior. Part of the reason may stem from the lack of information to understand the situation that prompted the behavior.

In social psychology, this phenomenon is known as the Fundamental Attribution Error. The Fundamental Attribution Error explains why we might be inclined to attribute people's behavior to something innately about their personality and disposition and less about their situational or social context.

For example, we might jump to the conclusion that a co-worker who routinely shows up for work late is lazy (dispositional attribution) rather than to, perhaps, assume that the co-worker was late because the bus was behind schedule, and as a result, causing them to be late (situational attribution).

Committing the Fundamental Attribution Error can be detrimental in our efforts to build relationships with colleagues and unity in an organization. We can avoid the Fundamental Attribution Error by simply asking questions.

During the Savior’s Last Supper with his disciples, we learn an important lesson of how a simple question can help us avoid the tendency to make unwarranted judgments.

And as they did eat, he said, "Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. And they were exceeding sorrowful and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?" 5

The question, "Is it I?" is significant for many reasons.

President Uchtdorf taught us how asking such questions can lead to greater understanding. "I wonder what each of us would do if we were asked that question by the Savior.

Would we look at those around us and say in our hearts, "He's probably talking about Brother Johnson. I've always wondered about him," or "I’m glad Brother Brown is here. He really needs to hear this message," or would we, like those disciples of old, look inward and ask that penetrating question: “Is it I?”

In these simple words, “Lord, is it I?” lies the beginning of wisdom and the pathway to personal conversion and lasting change.”

In moments of disagreement or conflict, I find it helpful to ask questions. For example, “What am I not seeing that I need to learn from the other person’s perspective?” or “Why do I feel hurt or embarrassed by this person’s comment?” Sometimes looking inward and conducting an honest self-evaluation with open-ended questions can bring greater understanding and clarity to the issue. As a result, I have learned to manage my emotions about the situation and be more receptive to the Holy Ghost to help guide my thinking and response to the issue. Unfortunately, this is not always the case for me.

Nevertheless, looking inward and asking sincere questions have helped me respond more effectively to others. And I believe that it can be the same for you.

Questions are a powerful tool for self-discovery.

With the help of the Holy Ghost, we can learn important truths about ourselves when we ask questions. Questions can help bring clarity to difficult issues. We revisit our assumptions and adjust our understanding of complex issues through questioning. Questions can help us develop better relationships with others when we genuinely seek to know them.

Questions do matter. More importantly, asking the right questions matters. Questions can help accelerate our intellectual, social and spiritual development. As we learn to ask sincere questions and without guile, Heavenly Father will answer our questions through the power of the Holy Ghost.

The resurrected Savior asked questions to the two disciples as they were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. "And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?

And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?

And he said unto them, What things?" 6

Jesus Christ's questions prompted the disciples to offer their witness and testimony as they declared that He (the Savior): “was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people… [and we] trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel."

Jesus Christ then reminded the two disciples of the scriptures and taught them about prophesied Messiah and how he would live and die and be resurrected from the dead.

As soon as the disciples understood the Savior’s message, He vanished from their sight. “And they said one to another. Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” 7

These are the exact feelings and sentiments I felt as a young college student sitting up there in the J section when President Walker asked two poignant questions that changed the course of my life. I felt a burning desire in my heart to do good and be good.

God lives.

He is interested in our progress. But we must first exert ourselves mentally and physically to know God. As we do so, we will be filled with hope, optimism, and renewed courage to keep God’s commandments and to do good continually.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


  1. Mosiah 5:2
  2. Enos 1:1-2
  3. Enos 1:4
  4. Matthew 16:13-15
  5. Matthew 26: 21-22
  6. Luke 24: 17-19
  7. Luke 24:32