"Building Better Relationships"
We’re finishing up our “Building Better Relationships” series this morning. If you’ve been with us throughout the series, we’ve talked about a variety of things, beginning with the fact that love is the foundation for any healthy, growing relationship.
The best relationships are founded on love. That truth has been the basis for everything we’ve talked about during this series, from how we extend forgiveness to those who offend us to how we seek forgiveness from those we offend. From how we handle our anger and how we wisely monitor the words we say and how we say them. Last week, we talked about how we can improve our relationships within our own homes with our families, and how we can lovingly look out for the best interests of those we love. And today, with love once again being the underlying motivation, we’re going to discuss how we can build better relationships with those who are far from God... relationships that can perhaps make a difference right on into eternity.
Let me frame our conversation this way: If you truly love someone... if you really care about a person and want the absolute best for them... wouldn’t that include pointing that person toward a relationships with Christ, the promise of forgiveness, and the hope of eternal life? Seriously, is there anything more loving than helping someone discover the joy and hope found within a relationship with Jesus? I don’t believe there’s anything else that even comes close. The most loving thing you could ever do for anyone else would be to point them toward faith in Jesus.
And let me tell you this: when you have a love and compassion for those that are far from God, your heart begins to beat as God’s does. After all, it was because of His incredible love that He willing gave up everything in order to enter into Creation, to live as a common man, and to be put to a cruel death on a cross. There was no other reason for Him to do all of that apart from His incredible love for people who were and are far from God. He came and went through everything He went through in order to make it possible for the lost to be found. And when you start to care about the spiritual condition of those around you and when you become concerned with their eternal destination, then you can know that you are becoming like Jesus.
On the other hand, if you couldn’t care less about reaching people who are far from God and who are headed for a Godless eternity in Hell, then you’ve got some serious problems. The love of Christ has made no difference in your life and you’ve got to do some real honest heart searching.
Catch this: the single greatest gift that you and I have to offer people is an introduction to the God who created them and loves them. Nothing else beats it. Nothing even comes close. The relationships you have with people who are far from God, they offer you the opportunity to give that gift. And while as friends and family we should certainly care about other aspects of their lives, too, the most critical question in their life—whether they know it or not—is what they will do with Jesus.
What we want to avoid is acting like salespeople. We shouldn’t look at people who are far from God and see them as targets... as potential converts to help us reach a sales quota. No, we should be honestly and sincerely invested in their lives, having a genuine love and concern for them as individuals. And out of that love we have for them should flow an authentic desire for them to discover everything that Jesus has to offer them.
Make sense? Again, love is our motivation, not a sense of obligation or a desire to add another feather to our caps.
Okay, so let’s talk about how we go about building better relationships with people who are far from God, specifically in terms of how we can have an impact on their lives by pointing them toward God.
How to Build Relationships with Eternal Consequences:
1. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone
Be willing to step out of your comfort zone into the zone of the unknown. It’s not always easy to initiate conversations and establish relationships with new people. It can be downright uncomfortable to open up with someone and talk about how important your faith is to you. I don’t know why that is, but it is. It’s intimidating. So what we’re talking about here is being willing to suck it up and take the risk of stepping out of your comfort zone and get to know people who are far from God.
Now, maybe you don’t have to do that. Maybe you already have a number of relationships with people who would perhaps even describe themselves as far from God. Sadly, though, a lot of Christians don’t those kinds of relationships. Can I describe a nasty little thing that tends to happen to Christians who don’t take precautions? It goes like this:
When you first discover Jesus and you decide to follow Him, there’s and excitement and a joy that you experience. And it can be overwhelming, to the point that you just can’t shut up about it. You’ve got to tell people about what you’ve experiences every chance you get. So you go to all your friends, many of whom may have no concept of who Jesus is and what He’s done for them, and you tell your story. And this goes on for a while. Maybe some of your friends really listen, and they notice the change in your life, and they respond, too. They might ask questions about your faith, they might show up at church with you, and they might even decide to follow Jesus themselves. Maybe a few of your friends just think you’ve lost it, but over all things are pretty good.
Then a few months pass... things begin to cool off. After a few years, you discover that all your relationships are with people who are already Christ-followers.... other people already in the Church. There are a couple reasons this could have happened: First, maybe you’ve successfully pointing all your friends who had been far from God toward Him and they’ve all entered into their own relationships with Jesus. That’s great. Second, maybe you’ve simply lost touch with all the friends you used to hang around with and you’ve started to hang around with other Christians. That’s understandable, because you have something in common, the most important part of your life... your faith in Jesus.
Either way, you find yourself in a situation where you don’t really have friendships or relationships with people who are far from God. You’re comfortable in your churchy circles doing churchy activities and talking about churchy things.
Do you see how easily that can happen? Now, on the one hand, that’s not all bad. After all, as believers we are to care for each other and teach each other and encourage each other. Our community of faith is supposed to be important to us, and it’s vital to the spiritual health and growth of any Christ-follower. On the other hand, you’re dropping the ball on what God has called you to do.
Rick Warren talks about how there are two things we can do here on earth that we can’t do in Heaven. Why doesn’t God immediately take us to Heaven as soon as we become Christians? Rick concludes it must be because of one of these two reasons. The first thing we can do here that we can’t do in Heaven is sin. There won’t be any sinning in Heaven, but I doubt that’s the reason God leaves us here. The second thing we can do here that we can’t do in Heaven is evangelism... reaching people who are far from God and pointing them toward Him. It seems much more likely to me that this is the reason God leaves us here.
And so we can’t all move into monasteries and cut ourselves off from the world and completely separate ourselves from people who are far from God. Instead, we should intentionally build bridges and establish relationships with those who are far from God so that we can express the love of God to them. And for many of us, that means stepping out of our comfort zone... out of our familiar, safe surroundings... and into the zone of the unknown.
When you think about it, isn’t that exactly what Jesus did for us? Take a look...
Philippians 2:5-6 (NLT)
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
Luke 19:10 (NLT)
“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
So in following the example of Jesus, we must be willing to step out of our comfort zone, be willing to be inconvenienced, and step into the zone of the unknown if that’s what it takes to seek and save those who are lost.
2. Establish friendships with the “lost”
Jesus had no qualms about establishing friendships with people who were far from God... people that the Bible describes as “lost.” He regularly made a habit out of hanging around with them and talking with them and teaching them. And if we’re going to reflect His heart, as individuals and as a church, then we must be in continuous search mode, looking for “lost” people to whom we can extend a hand of friendship. You see this practice of Jesus’ referenced in Luke 15...
Luke 15:1-7 (NLT)
Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!”
So religious people had a problem with Jesus spending so much time with notorious sinners. They considered themselves to be too holy to tarnish themselves by giving any time at all to the lost, and it upset them that Jesus would do such a thing.
But as we saw in that verse earlier, Jesus came specifically to seek and to save the lost. Which, you understand, includes you and me. And it included those Pharisees and teachers of religious law who were so critical of Jesus’ actions. Jesus came to seek and save the lost... Not just the lost who were like Him, not just the lost who voted a certain way, not just the lost who were from a particular socio-economic group, not just the lost who were a certain skin color, not just the lost who were already pretty good people... He came to seek and save the lost, period. No qualifiers. The lost, whoever they may be.
So for you and for me as Christ-followers… establishing friendships like Jesus did means having the attitude that says, “I’m open to you. Whoever you are, whatever you have done, whatever you believe life is all about … I’m open to you. I accept you, I care about you, and I want to get to know you.”
3. Invest in those friendships
We’re talking about time here. It can take time for your friendship to grow and for you to get to know each other and for you to develop credibility and trust. So don’t rush it. Enjoy the journey. Invest the time that’s necessary.
You know, sometimes we get to thinking that if you’re going to take someone who’s far from God and you’re going to point them toward faith, you’ve got to do it all at once. You think that the first time you meet someone, you’ve got to lay it all out for them up in a comprehensive, convincing presentation. But that’s not true at all. Sometimes it works like that—especially for people who have the spiritual gift of evangelism. Sometimes God just drops an opportunity in your lap, gives you a nudge, and when that happens you’d better take advantage of it. More often, though, it takes time. And the great thing is, if your faith is genuine, it’s going to show through even in the absence of words. As Jesus said...
Matthew 5:16 (NLT)
“…Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about going incognito and hiding your faith. Nor am I saying you should never talk about it. You’ve got to eventually lay your cards on the table.
Colossians 1:28-29 (NLT)
So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.
So yeah, you’ve got to tell others about Christ... verbally. You can’t solely rely on your faith being evidenced through your lifestyle. The way you live is important in that it can lay the foundation and create opportunities for you to discuss your faith, but you can’t use what’s often called “lifestyle evangelism” as an excuse to never take the risk and put it into words.
However, don’t be in such a rush that you sabotage your friendship and end up pushing them away from God instead of pointing them toward Him. Notice in that verse that it says to tell others about Jesus with the “wisdom God has given us.” Sometimes it’s wise to invest time in your friendship so you develop a rapport, a trust, and a credibility. Then, when the time comes, your words will be much more effective.
So what’s it going to take for you to invest in your friendships? Maybe it’ll mean you play racquetball with your friend every weekend for a year. It could mean getting together to play games or share a hobby on a regular basis. Maybe you just meet every week for coffee.
You know, I often joke about how often you can find me at the coffee shop. But do you know why? I mean, I can make coffee at home. So why do I go to Tim Hortons? Because it’s where I get to know people who are far from God.
Some of the friends I’ve met there have shown up here from time to time. I’ve had people who work there come over during their break and ask me to pray for them. One of my friends who used to be an agnostic if not an atheist now attends another church in the area with his family. I don’t know that he’s crossed the line to faith yet, but he’s certainly a lot closer than he used to be. And you know what? I never pressed the issue. I let him initiate conversations and ask questions about my faith, and I simply responded. He invited the conversations, and I’ve been told by mutual friends how much he enjoyed them.
I’ve shared my faith with my Tim Hortons buddies, and because I’ve invested time in building an actual friendship I have never experienced rejection or resentment from them. That important for me, because otherwise most of my social connections would happen here at church. I’d be pretty limited in my opportunities to meet friends who are far from God. So I intentionally put myself in an environment where I can meet those friends.
You may not have that problem. In fact, you probably don’t have that problem. You likely already face opportunities every day to connect with people who are far from God, to establish friendships with them, to invest time in those relationships, and to represent Jesus to them.
And you know what? You might know someone for, say, six months and then one day they just open up and tell you about how they’re going through a painful divorce. Or how they’re really having problems with one of their kids. Or how they’re unhappy at their jobs and they’re wondering what the whole meaning of life is. Or they might confide in you that they’re an alcoholic and it’s getting the best of them. You only discover these stories by investing the time, taking a genuine interest in them, and listening to them.
4. Trust the Holy Spirit’s prodding
Don’t force the issue, but trust the Holy Spirit’s prodding when it’s time to take the next step and verbalize your faith. Trust the Holy Spirit’s prodding when it’s time to ask your friend to join you at church. Trust the Holy Spirit’s prodding when it’s time to invite the person to know Jesus personally.
Galatians 5:16, 25 (NLT)
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves… Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.
In your friendship, realize that you will eventually encounter a divine fork in the road. You will have to choose which direction you will go: will you take the risk of sharing your faith story and inviting your friend to come to know Jesus, too, or will you walk away?
2 Timothy 1:7-8 (NLT)
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord.
And understand, sharing your faith does not have to be a high-pressure, offensive attack. Really, what it is, is simply sharing your story. Talk about what’s happened in your life, what Jesus means to you, how your faith has given you hope for this life and the life to come. Tell your story and be sensitive to the response you might receive and the proddings the Holy Spirit might give you.
Personally, I’m a fan of the FAA approach. The “Fumbling Apologetic Approach.” You don’t have to have a spiel down pat; you can just start by saying, “Listen, we’ve known each other for a while now, and you know how important my faith is to me. Can I tell you why it’s so important?” Ask for their permission, and you’ll rarely if ever be turned down.
Or how about this: if your friend confides in you about a struggle they’re facing... maybe at home, maybe financially, maybe at work... tell them you’ll pray for them everyday for the next week. I’ve never encountered anyone who was resentful of an offer to pray for them. Usually, they appreciate it and welcome it.
If you want a simple tool that can help, you can pull out a napkin and a pen and illustrate what it means to place your faith in Jesus.
[PowerPoint - "Bridge to God" illustration]
To start, establish the reality that there are people and then there’s God. And between people and God is a great chasm—a division that exists because of our predisposition to rebel against God’s way and go their own way instead. The Bible calls this “sin.”
So the dilemma people face is that we want to get to God – we want to know our Creator – but know we can’t just leap over the chasm. So we try exerting human effort, hoping we can get the bridge built. We try being a good person… we try generosity… we ever try religion. But in the end, we realize that nothing we could ever do could ever get us to the other side.
But thankfully, God knows about our dilemma. And because he loves us so much, He has already intervened so that we would have a means of getting close to Him. His solution was to choose his Son, Jesus, to serve as the Bridge. Jesus made it possible for us to come to God through the cross.
That’s pretty simple, isn’t it? Not a whole lot to memorize, just a simple picture. Christ came to earth to be our bridge, and whoever makes the decision to cross the bridge will live with God forever. Jesus said…
John 5:24 (NIV)
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
Why am I giving you these tips? I mean, I already mentioned that you don’t want it come off as a sales pitch. So why even think about it in advance rather than just saying whatever comes to you in the moment? Well, remember that passage we looked at so much earlier this year?
1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT)
If someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.
We talked about that passage in reference to responding to objections that skeptics might raise to Christianity, but it also applies to just talking in everyday conversations about your faith in Jesus. Put some forethought into how you can explain why you have placed your faith in Jesus so that you’re ready to explain it. If a simple illustration can help, then go ahead and use it.
And think about this: wouldn’t it be great to get to Heaven someday and have someone come up to you—one of your friends—and have that person tell you that the only reason he or she is there is because of you? Because you were willing to invest yourself in your relationship and how your friendship made all the difference? That can become a reality, as you step out of your comfort zone into the zone of the unknown, as you establish friendships with people who are far from God, as you invest in those friendships, and as you trust the Holy Spirit’s proddings to share and express your faith.
What friendships are you investing in right now? How can you start praying for your friends, and how willing are you to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves?
Copyright © 2011 Greg Hanson