10 Ways to Get Closer to the People You Value

A few years ago, a relative of mine, Rev. Russ Gunsalus referred me to a book on connecting with people. It is called The Friendship Factor by Alan Loy McGinness. This book is filled with simple yet profound insights that have given me guidance on how to better connect with the people in my life.

I continue to meditate on its contents, and as I grow, I see the wisdom of its insights. Recently, for example, I heard about two funerals, one for someone’s father and the other for his mother. At the father’s funeral, there were a lot of children of his friends and relatives. At his mother’s funeral was a lot of her friends. What was the difference? His mother kept making friends.

This powerfully illustrated a key point in the book: Friendships are not static. They ebb and flow. It’s not as if we make friends once and for all and then are done with it. We have to keep working at it, or our friendships diminish. This was a powerful reminder to me to keep working at building friendships.

The insight from the book combined with the story that I heard to make the story all the more compelling and illuminating.

Here is a brief sample of the book, though I recommend that you read it all for yourself.

Five Ways to Deepen Your Relationships

  1. Assign top priority to your relationships. Building relationships is work, and we must recognize this.
  2. Be willing to share things about yourself. Cultivate transparency.
  3. If you like something in people, say so. You won’t go wrong in this.
  4. Figure out what people enjoy, and show them love in ways that are meaningful to them. It may not be the same thing that is meaningful to you.
  5. Create space in your relationships. All relationships need a balance of togetherness and separateness. Recognize that relationships have different seasons.

Five Ways to Cultivate Intimacy

  1. Please touch. Obviously, you need to have a sensitivity, but people do need appropriate touch. It’s not for nothing that Paul said to greet one another with a kiss.
  2. Be liberal with praise. Again, if we can see something good in someone, it is worth saying it.
  3. Schedule leisurely breaks for conversation. It’s easy to become too task-oriented. Stop and visit with folks.
  4. Learn how to listen and ask good questions.
  5. Talk freely about your feelings and encourage others to do the same.

What might you suggest for getting closer to the people you value?

Why We Don’t Get All We Could from Jesus

Where do we go when we are discouraged, confused, anxious, struggling with guilt, or lonely? The Christian answer to that is Jesus. In Jesus, God has made Himself available to us for our healing and restoration.

But how do we connect with Jesus?

When Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church (1 Cor. 12:3).

However, the Spirit does not give everyone the same gifts. He gives a variety of gifts to a variety of people (see 1 Cor. 12:4–6).

In Ephesians 4, we read that to “each one us grace has been give as Christ apportioned it” (4:7) He gives different gifts to different people. He gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers “to equip his people for works of service” (4:12). So the pastors and teachers equip, but the equipping is so that the people can serve one another.

Consequently, our connection with people is crucial to our healing and growth. As people speak the truth in love, “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body.” The body “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (4:16).

The point here is that there are a variety of gifts given to a variety of people to meet the needs of God’s people.

Now, why don’t we experience all that Christ has for us? The answer is that Jesus wants to give us His grace and His gifts, but He wants to do it through His people.

Oftentimes, when we are struggling with discouragement or anxiety, we think, “I need to go to Jesus for help.” That is true. I don’t want to downplay the importance of private communion with God.

However, we also can and should connect with Jesus through His people because He wants us to experience His grace through His people!

In other words, when we are feeling confused, discouraged, guilty, or hopeless, we need to seek out the people who have been gifted by Jesus to help us with such things. We can often isolate ourselves, but Jesus has the solution for us–waiting for us in connection with His people.

I have seen this over and over again in my life. I know that from time to time I can get in moments where I’m just stuck worrying or struggling with something. I can try to work through it on my own, but oftentimes I’m still stuck. Then, I can call a trusted friend to share it with. It’s amazing how often something that has gone round and round in my head can dissipate after connecting with a friend. I see it in a whole new light.

So, are you struggling with something today? Let me encourage you to connect with Jesus–through His church, His people. When you go to church this Sunday, look around at the congregation. These people represent the many gifts that Jesus has for you for your restoration and healing and growth in mutual service.

How to Be Completely Humble in a Radically Polarized World

“Be completely humble, gentle, and patient” (Eph. 4:2). That’s the heart of a life that’s worthy of our calling as Christians (Eph. 4:1). But is that even possible in a world like ours?

To begin with, let’s consider: what do we mean by humility, gentleness, and patience?

Humility is not necessarily a low view of ourselves. It is primarily a high view of others. We tend to overplay our own strengths and ideas and do the reverse for others. Humility turns this around: it considers others better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3).

When I think of gentleness, I think of the word “safety.” Being gentle makes it safe for others to speak to us and be themselves. It makes us easy to be reconciled to and ready to connect with others. When we are gentle, people do not fear that we will penalize them for what they say by our emotional reactions.

Patience recognizes that people are different. People think in different ways, grow at different rates, and come to conclusions at different times. Patience is OK with this and allows people to take that time to work through things in their own way.

The trouble is this. It’s all nice and good to say “be completely humble, gentle, and patient,” but what do we do in times of polarization and high anxiety?

Let me give an illustration. What is more polarizing in our time than the presidency of Donald Trump? People have strong emotions and opinions on both sides of the issue. What does it look like to be completely humble, gentle, and patient about our views of President Trump? It certainly does not mean that we should have no opinion about him, so what does it mean?

First, to be humble means that we value other people’s views, opinions, and ideas. So, we can be open to hearing why people oppose or support Donald Trump.

Second, to be gentle means that we make it safe for others to share their opinions. We don’t turn the discussion into an interrogation or cut people off. We allow them to share their ideas in the way they want to share them. We don’t look for one little mistake and then try to smash them. We make it safe for people to share their real feelings and thoughts.

Third, to be patient means that we let people process it. We may want to convince them to hold a different opinion, but we give people space to work through it. We recognize that people don’t have all the facts and ideas they’ve had about the issue at their disposal at just the moment we want to talk about it. We are swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath.

I think if everyone did this, then we could have a society that would be much more capable of thinking through issues. We would also be better at building community rather than tearing it down.

However, there are some times where things are what we might call “radically polarized.” This occurs when there is a hot or cold war over some issue or position.

Now, it’s important to note that we often feel like we are in such a do or die situation when we actually are not. In fact, most people feel like they have less options than they have. In spite of that, there are times, sadly, when all that is left is war.

An example of this on a smaller scale is some child custody battles. In some of these battles, everything is weaponized. You can’t be vulnerable because everything will be used against you to try and get custody of the children.

Some might suggest that this means the Christian just gives up and lets it. Sometimes this is necessary, but there are some things worth fighting for in spite of the high cost. There are some things we have no right to surrender.

So, how can a person be completely humble, gentle, and patient in such situations?

Humility in these situations involves what Reinhold Niebuhr calls “being in the battle and above it.” There is a need to fight, but we always need to be stepping outside of the situation to recognize our own sins in the matter, our own need for grace, and the general tragedy of such radically polarized situations.

Gentleness means that we do what is necessary and go no further. It is a soldier who carries out his duty but does all he can to avoid any additional harm and keeps himself from the passionate desires to destroy, humiliate, abuse, and take revenge. This is not easy, but it is our calling. Gentleness also means that we are ready to reconcile when the opportunity arises to de-escalate the conflict.

Patience here involves the willingness to recognize that reconciliation is a process. You don’t generally enter into a radically polarized situation overnight. You won’t get out of one overnight either. We have to be willing to work through the many small steps toward normalization of relationships.

Being completely humble, gentle, and patient doesn’t mean we’ll make everybody happy (which is impossible and not our responsibility). It means a disposition to think well of others, make things safe for them, and be willing to work through the process relationships require.

In this world, we have to take stands and hold to things where people will disagree with us, sometimes stridently so. Sometimes injustices require war. It’s not easy to be completely humble, gentle, and patient in such situations, but we can and should make moves toward these even in the most radically polarized situation that will clear the way for future reconciliation. In the midst of it all, we recognize that we will fall short and still have to pray, “forgive us our debts . . .”

God Is Our Ultimate Source of Value, Love, and Provision

I have accomplished many things that give me satisfaction. When I put together a small group program and see people connecting, I feel good. When I am able to help someone get involved in an area of service where they flourish, I am thankful to God. When I finish a paper and hand it in, it gives me a sense of accomplishment, especially if I get a good grade!

God has also blessed me with many friends, an amazing wife, children who value me, parents who care about me, and various mentors, counselors, and advisers. When I think of all the people in my life, I am truly grateful for the love that comes my way.

I am also financially stable. I have money in the bank. I’m putting money toward retirement. My church takes good care of me.

The problem is that sometimes I try to do things and fail. Sometimes people hurt me or are not there for me. Sometimes I get a huge bill, and I’m not sure how I’m going to pay for it. If I lean too hard on any of these things for value, love, or provision, they fail me.

And that reminds me that all of these gifts cannot be the ultimate source of my value, love, or provision.

The ultimate source of my value, love, and provision is God Himself and the promises in His Word that He loves me, values me, and will take care of me.

Most of our great sins and pathologies arise from trying to take God’s good gifts and make them the ultimate source of our love, value, and provision.

It is only when we trust in God’s promises that we have an unshakable foundation of value, love, and provision. It is only when we trust in God that we can value His gifts for what they are and not turn them into an idol.

For example, if God is my ultimate source of love, then I can take my children’s love for what it is, a small but wonderful reflection of God’s infinite love. But what if I try to make my children the ultimate source of love? They will always disappoint. It will also probably crush them by placing on them a burden too great for them to bear.

If we can trust God as our ultimate source of love and let humans just be humans, then everyone will function better and have the opportunity to flourish.

Trust in God, then, is necessary for human functioning and flourishing (for a fuller discussion of this issue, see my article here).

Responsive Call to Worship from Psalm 103

Psalm 103 is one of the most beautiful expressions of God’s love in the Bible. This Sunday, I’m preaching on Ephesians 3:14–21. I thought this would be an appropriate call to worship. This is simply an arrangement of the verses from the NIV. Please feel free to copy and use it in your service.

Reader: Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—
Congregation: who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Reader: Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Congregation: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.

Reader: Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.
Congregation: For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Reader: Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion.
Congregation: The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.

All: Praise the Lord, my soul.