What are the signs of good relationships that we have with others? What is it that makes them successful from a spiritual point of view? What makes relationships fail? Why is it so important, in God’s eyes, for us to develop good relationships with others? The following comments summarize a series of articles I read in a recent “Discipleship Journal” magazine. I learned a great deal from reading these, and they really blessed me, so I would like to share them with you in condensed form.
Humility. Forget self and pride and start serving others. There’s great joy in it! Jesus washed the feet of the disciples (John 13:1-17). We need to change our focus from self to God and develop the posture of receiving from Him. Jesus was looking always to God as the source of all His teaching. (John 5:19; 7:16; 8:28). It is liberating to look to God for guidance when we feel overwhelmed by the demands of a given situation. That’s when we turn it over to Him and humbly ask His help in prayer, recognizing Him as Sovereign over us. Another element that builds humility is experience. Age sometimes has a way of making us mellower; the more we see and experience, the less room for pride. But unfortunately, it is not always the case. Preconceived notions about situations or people can distort our views and cause us to make decisions based on partial knowledge. But we can be surprised by what we learn if we are open. Time and experience doesn’t guarantee maturity, but adopting a self-emptying spirit will grow us to be like Christ. Learning to pray out of our spiritual poverty gives us a teachable spirit. Understand the depths of our weaknesses. (Is. 64:6), “all of us are unclean and our righteous acts are like filthy rags”. We can never display true humility unless God takes pity on us and transforms us from within by His Spirit. Practicing humility in our daily lives: we live the life of a servant when we put others first in the routine, small acts of life. Developing a healthy self-doubt makes us realize the need to be open to the fact that there is almost always another way to look at things. We don’t have all the answers or know everything about a person or a situation. In spite of disagreements, we should value others and try to walk in their shoes and understand their perspective. It is important to try to look at situations and people from the perspective of what they can teach us about ourselves, about God, and our Walk with Christ. Humility is a characteristic of Christ which gives life to relationships in love and unity. The Bible says we must esteem each other better than ourselves. (Phil. 2:3) Without it we become ogres who are disagreeable and demanding, always thinking that we are right and others are wrong.
On the other hand, it is important to keep a balance between harmony and truth. Truth must never be sacrificed or compromised in order to keep in harmony, even though harmony with others should be sought. (Mat. 5:9) We should obey God rather than please men (Acts 5:29); but be gentle and patient (2 Tim. 2:24)
Attentiveness. That means paying attention when we are interacting with others. It is to be mentally, spiritually, and emotionally present with whomever we are physically present. Scripture says to “serve one another in love” (Gal. 5:13). Because we are human, it is easier to say than to do. But speaking from experience, it is so frustrating when you get the feeling that you’re “not getting through” to some people because they are half-listening, cut you off; their eyes are wandering; they interrupt and talk over you, or hurry you because they have to deal with something/someone else, etc. It takes a great deal of practice to really be able to focus on interacting with another person. But it pays huge dividends! One dividend of good interaction is that it validates the other person while allowing bonds to form. Jesus in His earthly ministry interacted this way with each person who came to Him among the crowds. He gave His full attention each time. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that? Another reason it pays huge dividends is that it confers value to others by looking out for their interests (Phil. 2:4) On the other hand; inattentiveness implies that we see little worth in another person, and that is not good nor is it enriching. It is certainly not loving or Christ-like. We need to develop the habit of seeing worth in everybody we meet because 1) they are made in the image of God; 2) it helps in witnessing to them if we can respond to their needs; thereby gaining their friendship and trust; and 3) we can learn so much from them. Good communication skills open the door to winning people over to what you have to not only say about Jesus, but how you live like Him. Remember, how we treat others is exactly how we are treating our Lord Jesus Christ. (Matt. 25:40)
Generosity. What is our general attitude toward others? Do we tend to believe the best or assume the worst until proven otherwise? The Scriptures admonish us to stop passing judgment on one another (Ro. 14:13), and that love is always eager to believe the best (1Cor. 13:6). Also, we are to accept each other. (Ro. 15:7) Generosity means not having a stingy, judgmental spirit toward others. We identify apparent imperfection, incompetence, or moral failure, and we have a built-in mechanism that assumes everyone out there is an “idiot” by default. We need to work on overriding that ingrained mindset, because it only puts everyone involved on the defensive, it’s a faulty thinking and it sets a wrong tone. Jesus, if you notice, never had any such default. He often challenged people, confronting sin and asking hard questions, but He didn’t begin by assuming anyone was an “idiot”. In the story of Mark 2:1-12 about the four friends who carved a hole in the roof and let down their paralyzed friend (who was covered in dirt from the roof) to where Jesus was preaching, He saw nothing except their faith. We need to recognize that in truth, we are all “idiots” in need of the same ongoing grace as others. That softens us from the Pharisaical attitude. Of course, we are also instructed to make discerning judgments about people or situations, (Matt. 7:6, 15); but not to where our lives are characterized by hyperactive judgmentalism and suspicion about those around us. (Gal. 5:15) This cannot be a happy state of mind and heart! Jesus instructed us to love one another as He has loved us. (John 13:34) A generous spirit is Christ-centered and it imitates God when we live a life of love and empathy. (Eph. 5:1-2)
Inspiration. The dictionary definition of “inspire” means “to breathe into”. Inspiration really has nothing to do with things like sentimentality. When God created Adam, He gave life-giving breath into his body and soul. (Gen. 2:7) Therefore, as living beings, we have the God-given capability of giving inspiration to one another. That is; inspiration can even go beyond encouragement. Have you ever been really inspired by somebody? Did they move you or touch your heart? Certain characteristics stand out as key elements of inspiration.
1) A Kingdom Mindset. Seek first the kingdom (Mt. 6:33). Seeking to be a redemptive presence; asking questions and listening; taking an interest in others. It is a gift from God that we receive, something we enter into.
2) Standing on His Promises. (2Pet. 1:4) God has promised us many things: in what ways do we exude those precious promises in our daily life?
3) At rest in His sufficiency. It is truly inspirational to me to see people who are at great peace in the midst of personal turmoil, tribulations, or problems; knowing that God is Sovereign and in charge of their lives and by faith, resting in Him while He works out the answers. I only wish I had that amount of faith and patience! I have found, however, that God does work through us in our imperfections. Why, you wonder, would God choose to work through a sinner like me? Well, so we can see that God is so AWESOME, faithful and tremendously kind. And to increase our faith while we bring Him glory.
What qualities characterize inspiration in action? What makes a relationship more than superficial or ordinary?
1) Initiative. Making time for others to convey that they are important to you and to really hear what they have to say or think.
2) Purposeful. How a person walks with God; what they say about Him; what He’s doing in their life; what they are learning; their tenacity in clinging to Him in dark times; what they report about His faithfulness. (Rom. 15:14; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). They don’t just talk about their own stuff; they ask about mine or yours. They seriously listen to the answers and ask direct questions. Those kinds of interactions can get a real dialog going! Not only that, it is also fruitful in God’s eyes because it cements relationships to become meaningful rather than staying superficial.
3) Authenticity. Being willing to be honest and transparent with someone else is a hallmark of a trusting relationship. When one party to the relationship is transparent, the other is then free to let their own guard down. In that way, people learn many things about how to have a richer, better quality life, how to solve problems, give and receive peace, etc., then if they keep everything hidden under wraps. Authenticity paves the way for us to breathe life into areas where it’s genuinely needed.
Courage. Due to the fact that we currently live in a fallen world, sometimes our relationships do go awry and they break down. They can break down for any number of reasons. Some of these broken relationships occur within families, and they occur over a long period of time. It doesn’t really matter why or what circumstances cause the problem. But what is God’s view of it and how can we learn to bridge this gap? First of all, God is grieved when He knows we have a relationship disconnection, especially within our own family. He knows how much that really hurts, even if we don’t or we seek to cover it up. So how do we nurture fellowship, correct problems that threaten relationships, or bring about reconciliation when a bond is broken? It is not knowledge of God’s counsel; it takes courage to do these things. There are three areas where courage is needed:
1) the courage to be honest. It takes a risk to be transparent and admit things that are wrong or to apologize. We need to also pray for the ability to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), because although honest words can be difficult to hear, in the long run it is better to be honest than to smooth things over with lies or pretense.
2) the courage to confront. Sometimes we need to take responsibility to confront another person about problems in order to bring about reconciliation or clear the air.
3) courage to seek reconciliation. We are instructed in Scripture to initiate a conversation with someone who has hurt us (Mt. 18:15). We also are expected to approach others when we know we have offended them (Mark 5:23-24). That means we need to overcome our fear of rejection in order to take a first step toward reconciliation. But beyond that, it may require us to continue to seek reconciliation and offer forgiveness in the midst of obstacles, like our own emotions or “what if’s”. So it means stepping out, feeling the fear, but doing it anyway, leaving the consequences in God’s capable hands.
So, then, how do we fill this tall order from God and learn to cultivate courage?
1) Trust God. What we believe intellectually doesn’t always translate into authentic faith and trust. He promises to go before us when we have to confront a situation or a person. He is BIGGER than our circumstances and will protect and sustain us in times of conflict or rejection. These times of testing provide opportunities to see God at work when we put our trust in Him over ourselves and to grow in faith. So we need to focus on God’s greatness and sovereignty instead of allowing our own fears and limitations to paralyze us. (Ps. 105:4; Ps. 56:3-4).
2) Focus on God’s eternal plan. What can mortal man do to us? (Ps. 56:4) Our life is really in God’s strong hands and no one can possibly undermine God’s purposes for us. We can therefore grasp a greater goal for our lives than merely staying “safe” in our cocoons or behind walls, and we realize that we have a bigger job to do that matters for all eternity. The effort we make to work at reconciliations of broken relationships now will directly reflect the treasure we have in Heaven, and also whether we receive crowns or not. Nothing happens by accident; when God directs us to do something, He is in direct control of the outcome (Mt. 10:29-31). Also, remember that God never gives us more than we can bear (1Cor. 10:13). So we are to leave everything to Him and take ourselves out of the picture.
3) Keep moving forward in obedience. Once we determine that God is sovereign in all things and that He takes complete responsibility for outcomes, He gives us the courage to do what He calls us to do, even when we are afraid. (Ps. 27:1) Our body still may feel weak, and we don’t know what will happen, but there is something stronger than our own fear when we rely on God: it is courage and faith.
Perspective. What makes relationships so fragile? One day, we can have an intimate closeness with someone, the next day, an estrangement; from thanksgiving to resentment; praise to reviling; openness to hiddenness. It doesn’t take much to break it down: a subtle insult, a slight curtness, a hint of slander. Or simply relocation will cause a close relationship to drift apart. The “season of life” can cause a season of change, and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. On the other hand, on a more serious plane, fights never get resolved, accusations never cleared up, jealousies never dealt with, or rivalries are not confessed. The good news is that God recognizes the fragile, rickety nature of our imperfect relationships and gives us many Scriptures to address this problem. We are called as Christians to bear with each other, to forgive one another, to make the effort to keep unity that Jesus died to create. We need to remember that Satan is the author of bearing grudges and nursing wounds, so it doesn’t become who we are as Christians to have this attitude. God wants us to see one another as new creations in Him, or from the perspective of heaven instead of earth. The Apostle Paul says “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20-21); therefore, if we view all our relationships through the window of eternity, it will help keep our relationships from breaking down. Everything and everyone we see while on this earth is provisional at best, and the world is passing away. (Matt. 24:35; Mk. 13:31; Lu 21:33) Things don’t quite work in this world. But we’re on our way to a perfect heaven. So if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and that Blessed Hope of His soon return, we can learn to keep it all in perspective; and while we’re still here, we can strive to live like we’re already there. It takes practice, although it can be difficult: many Christians look more fallen than redeemed; shopworn instead of renewed; and the same old same old. But we have a decision to make: either keep falling into the trap of blaming, hiding and withdrawing and join forces with Satan in accusing the brethren (Re. 12:10); or decide to change our attitude and live with a Kingdom mindset and start viewing those around us as heavenly creations instead of sinful human beings. In fact, Phil. 2:3 says we are to “consider others better than yourselves”. Why? Because one day, when we get to Glory, all our virtues and Christ-like characteristics will be evident when they may not necessarily be so now.
As you can see, good, healthy relationships are well worth the work involved to perfect them and it helps us to stay connected as a cohesive unit. We are naturally social beings who are happy and healthy when we are spiritually, emotionally and mentally connected with others. God wants it this way for His children, so they can honor and glorify Him with their lives. It therefore behooves every one of us to banish the spirit of criticism, scolding, whining, gossip, aloofness, pettiness, prejudice or fear we may be harboring against other people; and to bathe all our relationships in prayer. After all, if we don’t have good quality relationships with others whom we can see, how can we possibly have a good relationship with God whom we cannot see?