We’ve done some talking over the last month or so in our podcast and our blog about what a relationship with Jesus means and finding out who you are within that relationship. Your relationship with the Lord should come first and foremost in your life, but as we considered what this means, we ran into a lot more questions about other sorts of relationships: friendships, relationships with family members, and romantic relationships. And since February is generally known as the month where we focus a lot on relationships (Valentine’s Day anyone?), we thought this would be a good time to kick off a mini-series that focuses on relationships. In our podcast and blog content, we’ll be exploring a variety of relationships and what those look like as a follower of Christ.
When I was younger, I had a difficult time making friends. My family moved for the first time around age 7 or 8, taking me away from the kids I had grown up with and thrusting me into an environment of a new home, new school, and new community. We moved again when I was 11 or 12, starting the whole process over again. I was (and still am) an introverted person, so putting myself out there has always been a challenge. As an adult I have learned tools to cope with the anxiety of social situations, but in my childhood, I was often seen as quiet or even standoffish to my peers.
The friends I did make, however, were diverse in their beliefs: those who went to church and talked about their personal relationships with Jesus, those who went to church and didn’t talk about God or religion, and those who didn’t do either. My family was part of the latter group, so the former confused me quite a bit. I wasn’t sure how to respond to their talk about God and religion and often felt embarrassed when others would talk about Jesus like a friend of their who lived down the street. I tended to avoid those topics altogether and stick to other things we had in common. Those in the middle group were probably the easiest to get along with because they were good friends to me, but didn’t talk about the topics that made me uncomfortable.
As I’ve grown older, though, and deeper into my own faith, things have turned inside-out. I am now part of the former group—those who go to church and talk about their relationship with Jesus—which gives me what I think is a unique perspective when building new friendships with the other two groups of people I mentioned before. I like to keep my friendships diverse, surrounding myself with people who have different viewpoints and beliefs, but that challenge me and keep me strong in my own beliefs. Friendships like these are an opportunity for sharing knowledge and engaging in health discussions so understanding comes easily rather than judgment.
When considering friendships and growing these relationships, I like to start with this verse:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Although this verse is centered around the church, I feel that it can also be applicable to friendships outside of the church. As Christians, we believe that sharing Christ in the subtle way of loving and listening is one of the best things we can do for those who are of different beliefs. By focusing on inspiring my friends to love and live like Christ, even if our beliefs are different, I can share my faith with them. Rather than preaching my beliefs and proselytizing about Heaven and Hell and Jesus and sins, I encourage my friends to live as He wants us to live in subtler ways, which inspires them. And through conversation and listening, I have learned that even my friends who are Jewish or Muslim or simply spiritual all believe in living for love and good deeds. They just have different language that surrounds how they think about these concepts.
Rather than focusing on converting people to my beliefs, I focus instead on sharing and loving and encouraging. And this has led me to come up with some ideas on what makes a true friendship (Christian or otherwise):
1. True friends heighten our joy in our relationships, particularly our relationship with Jesus.
God didn’t design us to live life alone. He wants us to have relationships with others that bring about joy, but that also push us to live for Him joyfully. Sharing with friends gives us satisfaction, but when we share our relationship with Jesus with our friends, we find fulfillment. We can find God through our relationships with others (rather than finding others through Him, i.e. asking God to give us good people in our lives). He should be the end, not the means to an end.
2. True friends will encourage us to grow in ways that help us flourish and mature.
Even if that means exposing our weaknesses and pointing out our mistakes. Encouragement is giving courage and strength for facing difficulties, and we all know that life is full of challenges and rough patches. Here is how I find guidance in this point: “Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived” (Galatians 6:1, The Message). True friends will point out when we are not making good decisions and when we make mistakes, but they won’t judge us for them. They will encourage us to do better. This encouragement leads us to recognize our mistakes and deepen our relationship with Jesus by laying our burdens on Him.
3. True friends don’t want us to glorify them, they understand we want to glorify God.
True friends accept you for who you are, even if they don’t understand or share your beliefs. While friendships are important and necessary, they aren’t the most important relationship in our lives. True friends will realize that. Yes, we can still appreciate our friends (and we should appreciate them and tell them so, often), but they should understand they are not the center of your world. The end goal of our relationships as Christians should be to glorify God. We want to have a deep relationship with Jesus. We are all prone to wander and worship other things—relying on friends is no different (how often do you hear people say, “I couldn’t live without you!”)—but true friends will understand that they are part of your support network and not the one you should be glorifying, even if they don’t understand or share your Christian beliefs.
Our relationships are a way for us to practice our faith and find meaning in our lives as we filter them through our relationship with God. Whatever form friendships take, they should express the encouragement that motivates us to continue on the path that God has marked out for us. You can find this encouragement in all sorts of places and in all types of people, which is encouragement in itself that God does not intend us to live this life alone. And as we develop and grow these friendships, we can open the conversation between those who don’t go to church and don’t talk about God, those who go to church and don’t talk about God, and those who go to church and talk about God so we can all find a better understanding of what it means to live faithfully.
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. We hope you’ll also reach out to us with questions or if you want to talk more about this subject with one of our pastors or staff members. Just send us an email!