Chances are, you already know that Real Relationships are difficult. So how can we go about loving God and others well?
First, recognize the barriers that are getting in the way of you being able to connect with God and others. While there may be many, here are three that were addressed in a recent message at South Ridge Church.
Question: What’s getting in the way of you being able to connect with God and others?
Barrier #1: Searching for your identity outside of Christ.
According to Henri Nouwen, the 3 biggest lies we can believe about where to find our identity are:
- I am what I do.
- I am what others say or think about me.
- I am what I have.
I am what I do – My job or my career defines me. I’m good at it. I spend 45-50 hours (or more) a week focusing on that, so I’m really, really good at it. I don’t make time to think about connecting with God and others, because I’m not good at that. But I am good at what I do, so I’ll not only focus my energy there, but I’ll let my work define who I am. Or…
I am what others say or think about me – My family tells me who I am and what I’m supposed to say, think, or believe. As long as my spouse, kids, boss, friends, and/or family think well of me, then that’s where I’ll find my identity.
I am what I have – Whether it’s a house, car, family, spouse, kids, personal appearance, the nicest golf clubs, a swim membership, another pair of shoes, a new computer, or anything else. We can go to what we have for our identity.
Question to consider: Where do you most go to find your identity?
Practical Application: Find at least five Scripture passages that clearly say who God says you are, write them down, and read them several times a day until you begin to actually believe them.
Barrier #2: Our opinions of others and/or their behavior.
In Everybody Always, Bob Goff writes, “God makes people, and people make issues, but people aren’t issues. They’re not projects either. People are people.”
Ephesians 6:12 (NIV) For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Matthew 5:43-44 (NIV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
What if you don’t have people you would refer to as enemies? Perhaps the best step is to think of those you often disagree with, or as Bob Goff says, those “who are flat out wrong about more than a couple of things.” Surely we all have others in our lives that fall into these categories. And one way to love them is to truly believe that they’re doing the best they can.
Question to consider: In what ways would your life be different if you believed that people, in general, are doing the best they can?
Practical Application: Write down the names of 1-3 people you don’t understand or often disagree with, and then think of at least one way to love each of them over the next week. Then think of at least one way to love each of them the following week. And then the next. And then the next. And the next. And keep doing that until you get to a point of seeing them as a person, and not an issue.
If that seems like an unrealistic step for you, then write down the names of 1-3 people you don’t understand or often disagree with, and beside their name write the words, “is doing the best they can.” Try it. See what happens. It may take days, weeks, months, or even years. But follow through with this exercise every day and over time, you’ll find that maybe you don’t misunderstand them or disagree with them as much as you thought you did. You’ll begin to see them a bit differently. You’ll begin to see them a bit more like God sees them.
Barrier #3: Lack of delighting in others as Christ does.
Author Larry Crabb writes in his book, Connecting, that we connect with others by:
- Letting people know we delight in them as Christ does
- Eagerly looking for the goodness in someone’s heart
- Remembering that it’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance and healing
Colossians 1:28-29 (NIV) He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
Research indicates that for relationships to work well, Appreciations need to outweigh Criticisms by a ratio of at least 7:1.
Question to consider: Do you find yourself sharing more appreciations, or more criticisms?
Practical Application: Keep count this week of the number of appreciations you share. Pick 1-3 people, and see if you can share something you delight in them at least 7 times more than you can share a criticism with them.
Take time over the coming weeks to really think about the above questions and follow through on the Practical Application suggestions. Chances are, you’ll begin to experience tremendous fruit in your relationships with God and others.