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Let’s start here: “It is so hard to make friends at our church.” Struggles with building relationally with others are one of the more common complaints that I hear from church people. It is also a typical response in the counseling office when I make my appeals to find a friend to help with the counselee’s ongoing challenges.
This tension is not strange to me because it is our Adamic tendency. We’re born isolationists. Being open and honest does not come easy for anyone. We’re all like Adam—men and women hiding behind leaves (Genesis 3:7). The sense of shame we carry is a natural inhibitor that keeps us from getting close to others.
It takes work to build relationally with another human being. Creator God made Adam from the dust, and we are his offspring (Genesis 2:7). If you take two dirt clods and rub them together, there will be more dirt.
I understand why it’s easier to talk about nothing than to talk about something. Before there was the compelling interest of the Spirit of God inside of me motivating me to build with others, I was content with the shallow waters of relationships because I didn’t care for the mess.
Getting deep with others means you’re going to get into the muck and mire of their lives. You will get dirty. But it’s the call from God and the point of the gospel. Christ, the gospel, was all about going to others, getting into their business.
It was His job, and we are His children (Ephesians 5:1). One of the characteristics and “pieces of evidence” for being a Christian is our affection for each other. A person who shows little interest or love in others could very well be an unbeliever (1 John 3:14; Hebrews 13:1).
If you are interested in taking some of your relationships to a deeper level, you need to have a way of thinking about them before you begin building with them. And while acquaintances can come quickly and sometimes naturally, they won’t stay for the long haul if you don’t have a biblical understanding of how to build and maintain them.
Relationships are not static. They are always moving in one direction or another. For the believer, our spiritual connections must come under the guidance and influence of the Spirit of God if they are going to help us mature in Christ. This process will take work, which our shallower relationships do not require.
There is little difficulty when it comes to having a sport’s relationship, but if you want to have a God-centered one, you need a biblical game plan. I am going to give you a simple game plan for building relationally with others. If you follow this plan, you are sure to find a few people willing to go along with you in this spiritual adventure.
These steps are laid out in order from one to seventeen. Think through each step reflectively. Then answer the question at the end of each one to assess yourself more carefully. You can also use this guide with your friends, discipleship group, or small group.
1 – Being Prayerful – Prayer is the presumed starting place not because it is obvious, but because it is essential. Everything should be a matter of prayer, especially how you think about your involvement with others. Your heart must be ready and actively prepared to love others more than yourself (Philippians 2:4-5).
2 – Being Repentant – If you are actively praying about others, you will be motivated to make personal changes for the sake of others. If you’re not open to change, you’re not going to have quality relationships. Though Jesus did not have to repent, He had to change for the sake of others (Philippians 2:6-7).
3 – Being Inconvenienced – The first thing you will have to deal with as far as changing yourself is this idea of being inconvenienced for the sake of others. Other people will not meet all your expectations. When Christ decided to build relationally with us, He had to leave His place to come to ours (Philippians 2:7).
4 – Being Sacrificial – Being inconvenienced could mean changing your plans, altering your preferences, or not getting your way in a momentary matter. Being sacrificial is pouring out your life with an unsure return on investment. Christ left His home and took on flesh and lived among us, which was “inconvenient.” Then He gave up His life for us (Philippians 2:8).
The previous four elements assess your heart regarding your desire and readiness to build relationally with others. With a heart ready to receive friends, you now need qualities that will help you to connect with them.
5 – Being Relational – Christ could relate to people because He understood them. He knew His audience. He spent time thinking about others and discerning how to relate to them. If He wanted to connect relationally with an individual or a group, He did. (John 2:24-25).
6 – Being Available – When He did choose to connect with others, He made Himself available. You need more than good intentions to be friends with dirt clods. You must be available. With a ready heart and focused mind, Christ put Himself in places where others could find Him to receive His help (John 3:1-2).
7 – Being Hospitable – I had lunch with a man who told me one of the main reasons he bought his house was because of how it was laid out. He spent time thinking about how to build his life with others. Part of this meant creating functional space in his life so others could come into his world (John 3:1-2).
Our first section of tips talked about how to adjust your heart to build with others. The second section dealt with attitudes and contexts for loving others. This third section covers your leadership role in the lives of those you want to help transform into Christlikeness.
8 – Being Intentional – Building relationally with others is a character trait of leaders. Leaders seek out others, which is the intentional activity of Christians who have been humbled and motivated by the gospel. These leaders have a vision for the task. Followers don’t have the foresight or the gumption to exercise this kind of relational leadership.
9 – Being Honest – “I will if you will” is the unspoken mantra among the tentative. Rarely will a person be the first to show honesty about his life. If you want a person to be honest with you, you’re going to have to lead with your honesty. Being honest is being truthful. Not being honest is being fearful. There is a tentative (fear) element that hinders truth-telling.
10 – Being Vulnerable – Weakness is strength in God’s economy (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). Christ was willing to become nothing so He could help us. Your potential friend struggles with sin. If you want him to open up about his struggles, your vulnerability will be critical to that end.
11 – Being Transparent – Adamic tendencies tempt us to cover up whenever possible. Wise and transparent people are rare in our world. It is refreshing to be around a person who does not mind sharing his true self with you. One of the remarkable traits of the Savior was His willingness to be real (John 11:36).
This last section interacts with how to talk to others. If the preceding traits, attitudes, and ideas have changed your heart and mind, what’s coming next will be self-evident. Your humility will have opened the door for your friend to get real with you. What you need to do now is motivate him to go to the next level in your relationship.
12 – Being Encouraging – God motivates us primarily by His grace. To hangout with God is to be encouraged by Him (John 7:46). The most encouraging thing God ever did for us was to send His Son to rescue us from ourselves. He could have punished us, but He chose another course of action. It was through His kindness we were changed (Romans 2:4).
13 – Being Gracious – Interacting with fallen people is challenging at times. Disappointment is certain. Remember, dirt rubbing against dirt will produce more dirt. If you plan to go beyond being superficial and you’re in a relationship for the long haul, you’re going to be disappointed (Proverbs 19:11).
14 – Being Discerning – All things will not be as they appear with your new friends. Prepare to be surprised. The doctrine of sin informs us how people are not perfect. Don’t over-inflate your expectations, or you will be disappointed when you get the whole scoop on your new friends.
15 – Being Intrusive – If you have their best interests at heart and you’re in the relationship for them rather than for you, you’re ready to go deeper. If you practice what I’ve said thus far, they will more than likely let you explore their hearts.
16 – Being Trustworthy – A biblical friendship is something you must steward. It’s a treasure that takes time to cultivate and grow. No one enjoys suffering, and most people would like a true friend to share their struggles. If you have poured yourself into a relationship, and they have reciprocated, there is a responsibility to take care of their trust.
17 – Being Grateful – You’ll know if you’ve built your relationship on a biblical foundation by how you respond when you think about your friends. Gratitude is the emotive measurement of the Christ-centered heart. If people wear you down to the point of continual frustration, something is not right with you.
You must make changes. There will be times when people will frustrate you, but you should not stay that way for long. Grace trumps sin and gratitude characterizes the grace-man or grace-woman.
The opposite of the grateful heart is the grumbling heart. Criticalness, complaints, grumbling, lack of faith, and cynicism are the big culprits of the person who has a wrong view of relationships.
Typically these sinful characteristics mean a person’s motives are askew. Something is amiss in their theology of friendships. There is something desired, but not received, which you discern by a lack of gratitude.
Here are a few jump-start thoughts and questions to get the ball rolling with your friends. Be gracious. Be bold. Trust God. I suspect you will be surprised by God if you dare to go this far with your friends.