How to Find and Maintain Authentic Friendships

 

The Modern Pilgrim- Part Three- In Which Pilgrim Finds True Companions

“God has a bigger vision for our friendships than we can even begin to understand.” Angela Sackett

Friendships are tricksy. When you decide to be an all-out, on fire, Holy Spirit- filled, crazy in love with Jesus kind of Christian, well……they can be even harder.

When you’d rather:

  • Spend Sunday morning in worship with other believers instead of sleeping in, doing yard work, video gaming or shopping
  • Talk about the latest book by John Bevere, Frances Chan or Ann Voskamp instead of whatever Shade of Grey just hit the NYT bestseller list
  • Spend your first moments in the morning in prayer and Bible Study instead of checking your social media likes

Well, my friend, you are what my former pastor called, “a hothouse plant living in an open meadow world.” Your thirst for the higher things of God will affect your ability to form and maintain soul-level friendships. Frankly, the fragrance of Christ on you will repel some people.

Still, we need faithful companions to journey towards our God-ordained destinies. We aren’t wired to attempt this solo. Jesus did daily life with twelve guys he hand-picked. Who are we to think we can live out Simon and Garfunkel’s “I am a Rock; I am an Island?” We need people who will:

  • Celebrate our wins with no secret jealousy
  • Celebrate who we are without masks
  • Encourage us to dive deeper with Christ
  • Encourage us to confront our shortcomings and sins authentically
  • Pray for us and stand by us when we are failing at all the above
  • Pray for us and stand by us when life goes upside down or sideways

I’ve squirreled up many friendships and lost folks along the way who God meant for me to hang onto. Held on to some I needed to let go. The following points are from notes I took during my classes at Hard Knock University. My instructors? Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Apostle Paul. The four disciples record many details about Jesus’ complicated, scandalous, wonder-filled relationships with humans.  The Apostle Paul and his circle are also worth checking out.

This is not a definitive list guaranteed to get you faithful friends in a week. It’s a start. I’ll also recommend some books I’ve found helpful at the end of the post. Originally, I intended for this to be one piece but as I wrote and prayed, I felt a slow down from the Holy Spirit. So, only two points for today. More in the next post.

  • Be authentic

What good does it do you, long term, to build friendships around a public persona that isn’t the real you? You’ll either exhaust yourself trying to maintain the persona or mess up the friendship when the real you pops out unexpectedly. Usually during stressful times when you need your friends the most. This is a huge struggle for Enneagram Three’s, but I think everyone fights fear about dropping our masks.

 

I know I’m an acquired taste. I used to try and cover that up and be what I thought people wanted. Folks, that’s so opposite of God’s ways. He wants me to daily acknowledge the weaknesses and sins that he brings to my mind so that he can teach and change me. Listen, I tried to be a better, kinder, sweeter, more patient person on my own. I’m here to tell ya, it doesn’t work.

 

And worse yet, being a phony makes people feel unsafe around you.  They don’t know who’s going to show up at any given moment.  And they feel they can’t be real around you either.

 

We are all people in process. God chooses companions for me that are okay with the messes of my process, literally and figuratively. Their love for my strengths far outweighs the grace they need for my failings.

 

When God presents you with your next opportunity for a new friendship, and He will, ask yourself, “Am I acting like myself or the person I want them to think I am?” Lots of folks won’t enjoy your authentic brand. That’s okay! God will lead you to brothers and sisters who do which brings us to our next point.

 

  • Be prayerful

I know this seems obvious, but I’m not convinced we are praying about friendships near as much as God desires. Like the opening quote implies, there are key people God wants us to build relationships with at various times of our lives because he has huge plans for us. Some will be friends for a lifetime, and some will be friends for a season. They all matter. They all bring something to your table. They all need something from your table.

 

Many years ago, I learned to cry out to God for friends. Loneliness is a haunting thing that can tempt you to grab onto people and things you ought not to be. Allow God to open doorways between you and another. Don’t forge your own road. A world of troubles and sorrows can be entered simply through wrong relationships.

God longs for us all to be challenged by some Peters and loved by a Timothy or a Barnabas. The faithfulness of a John or a Silas can be the difference between us quitting or going on.

 

Ask God for open eyes and an open heart. The people you might be naturally attracted to are not always the ones God chooses for you. Some of my most significant relationships are with people my flesh might overlook. In fact, for years, I ignored the girl who turned out to be a faithful friend all through high school and college because she was unassuming. The angst of middle school would have been a lot better hanging with her rather than the boy-crazy friends I chose.

 

Again, friendships are so important to God, Jesus chose twelve people to live and work with every day. He could have done his ministry a different way, but I think God wanted us to observe and learn some things from the dynamics between all of them and Christ.  Next post, more ideas on finding and building friendships. For now, I challenge you to pray about your friends, or lack thereof. Is there a toxic relationship you need to end? Is there someone you are overlooking? Pray, pray, pray. Then extend your real self to the folks on the other side of the doors God opens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus, Friend of the Lonely

The Modern Pilgrim’s Journey- Pilgrim Finds Himself Alone

Going deeper with God can be costly and lonely. In my younger ministry years, I didn’t want to pay a price or be alone. Every time God revealed a new understanding of his Word and purposes, I eagerly shared it with everyone under my leadership. I expected them to be as excited about it as me and change accordingly.

I became frustrated with people who golf clapped me. When my tribe didn’t chime in with a passion to follow my new path, I considered them spiritual midgets. Yes, well, that’s who I used to be. I share this so you know how God can change a knucklehead. Maybe gain patience for the knuckleheads in your life? My grace quotient and ability to understand God’s unique methods of teaching his children back then, were grossly underdeveloped at that time. Further, I didn’t comprehend how lonely taking my cross and following Jesus could be.

And that loneliness of the pilgrimage is what I’m speaking into today. Jesus discussed sacrifices and Matthew, Mark and Luke all recounted it.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23, Mark 8:34 ESV.

How many disciples helped Jesus carry his cross? How many of the guys who lived and breathed with him for three years showed up when he struggled to carry that heavy beam after a night of torture and abuse? Jesus spoke volumes his followers couldn’t understand, when he talked about cross carrying.

There is an implied loneliness that is easy for us to see, this side of Calvary. We know that following Jesus means we will go it alone with him at times, just as he did on the Via Dolorosa. And sometimes, it means leaving others behind while we choose to continue to follow. That’s why Jesus said,

There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother of father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold in this time…….and in the age to come..” Mark 10:28-31

Choosing to pilgrimage with God this year may cost you. Are you willing to follow him, no matter what? As I studied for this post, the old chorus, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” came to mind. When I read its composer’s story, my sacrifices seemed miniscule.

About 150 years ago, a great revival swept through Wales, England and then launched gospel missionaries into the North-East part of India. At that time, the area was populated by tribes of ferocious head-hunters. These tribes equated manliness with the number of human heads hanging on your wall. The brave Welsh missionaries encountered great hostility to the gospel. Finally, one missionary led one man, his wife and their two sons to Jesus Christ.

Their faith became like a virus that others caught. Enraged, the village chief hauled the new believers before the entire town. He insisted that the first family who came to Christ renounce their faith or face immediate execution. The accused man and his family stood before the chief and his warriors. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the man composed a song on the spot, using the tune of an Indian folk song. He sang, “I have decided to follow Jesus (3x), no turning back, no turning back.”

The chief ordered the archers to murder the man’s two young sons. As the boys laid on the ground, bleeding out, the chief shouted, “Will you now renounce this faith, or will I kill your wife, too?”  The man sang a second verse, “Though no one joins me, still I will follow (3x), no turning back, no turning back.” Furious, the chief ordered his archers again. The man’s wife laid dying beside her sons.

“I’ll give you one more opportunity to deny your faith and live,” screamed the chief. The man sang his final verse. “The cross before me, the world behind me (3x), no turning back, no turning back.” Arrows found their mark again and the man joined his family in the presence of Christ. At that moment, God performed a miracle in the chief. He thought, “Why would this man and his family die for a man who lived 2,000 years ago on another continent? There must be a supernatural power behind this. I want it.” To the amazement of everyone, the chief abruptly shouted, “I too belong to Jesus Christ.” The entire village accepted Christ that day and gospel fire spread in Northern India.

Your tribe may not understand or follow you on your journey to go deeper and higher with God in 2020. They may even mock, threaten and try to make you feel bad about new choices like:

  • Attending church faithfully instead of watching online service in your jammies
  • Prioritizing morning Bible study and prayer times before other commitments.
  • Talking authentically with unsaved folks, about Jesus. (Sometimes this makes some Christians more uncomfortable than the lost)
  • Not watching certain TV shows and movies together anymore
  • Not overindulging in food and drink anymore
  • Refusing to gossip- my daughter lost an entire circle of friends at one point, because she refused to trash talk anymore.
  • Serving consistently in volunteer ministry
  • Giving tithes and offerings

Will you choose to follow Jesus, with no turning back? Will you obey him when he speaks to you? Where is he calling you up higher today? What or whom might he be asking you to leave behind? Whatever losses you incur, they cannot compare to the intimacy of fellowship with Christ when you take up your cross and follow him.

Encouraging Verses for Loneliness:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you,” Deuteronomy 31:6.

“Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me,” Psalm 27:10.

“Turn to me and be gracious to me for I am lonely and afflicted,” Psalm 25:16.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” Isaiah 41:10.

 

 

 

 

 

New Year, New Journey, New Hope-The Pilgrim Sets Out

There is instinctive programming in me that hopes for better things and brighter days in a new year.  Whatever messes and challenges dogged me in the past year, I like to believe those things will improve.  I dream of lush meadows instead of shadowed valleys, lofty mountain tops instead of sheer cliffs. The wonderful news for every believer in Jesus Christ is that he already exists in our year to come, whatever it may hold for us.

He knows every step of our 2020 journey and already made plans for us to be successful travelers. Hope, grace, mercy, strength, healing, provision and every other heavenly blessing is already placed along our roads, strategically. Every step of our pilgrimage on earth is monitored by our Father. Inspired by one of my favorite childhood books, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” I invite you to become a modern pilgrim with me this year.

There are timeless struggles and dangers that the classic Pilgrim faced in Bunyon’s book. I also believe we are living in a unique time in church history that will require believers to step up in ways previous generations could not imagine.  Each week, on this blog, let’s explore together the challenges, trials, dangers and victories of the journey every pilgrim believer might face this year. There are things God will be doing in 2020 that will be unique and fresh, just for this time in history. Will I be prepared and ready? Will you?

Although the specifics of our individual paths will vary, God is amazingly able to customize his Word and promises for the needs of each of our hearts. He is the answer to every question and the hope of every longing. This year, like every year, he invites us to join him at the front of the battle lines between light and dark. He is an ever-moving God and those who refuse to move with him are unintentionally helping the cause of darkness through their disobedience or apathy.  Dear God, I don’t want to be counted in that number and if you’re reading this, you probably don’t either.

So, let’s begin by deciding to take our God-ordained journeys. Some of us started 2020 already facing sorrow and trials. Others are beginning new jobs, moving to new homes and such. Wherever you are today, on the mountain of joy or in the valley of the shadows, your journey has started. The choice remains, how will you make the journey this year? Are you committed to go where God guides, no matter what? Will you choose to be faithful in prayer and Bible study, gaining direction daily, from our perfect Guide?  Will you come alongside others and help them when they are faltering or lost?

My goal is to be a resource of encouragement, hope, teaching and exhortation for those who want to climb to the high places with the Good Shepherd. For many of us, the journey will become more difficult than we could have dreamed, and we will need each other to make it victoriously to the end. Oh yes, there are the giant situations like death, disease, addiction, financial setbacks and such that will catch us unaware and attempt to sideline us.  More often though, we lose our way due to choosing wrong sideroads, clinging to old roads that used to work, or finding ourselves under pile ups of smaller challenges that come all at once.

God provides everything we need for a victorious 2020. All. The. Time. And my victories won’t look anything like yours, but we can celebrate them together and encourage each other to even higher places of devotion and faithfulness.

Here’s a starting verse and another key verse for the year which turned up in my devotional this morning, “Sparkling Gems 2,” by Rick Renner.

“Show me the right path, O Lord;
point out the road for me to follow” Psalm 25:4 (NLT).

David implies there’s choices when it comes to roads and paths. We need God to point out the ones we are supposed to use. Sometimes that means leaving familiar places and plunging into the unknown and uncertain.

 

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” 2 Timothy 3:16 (NLT).

The Bible is our definitive guidebook. God will use it heavily to communicate directions and specifics. If we are not committed to a daily dive into scripture, we can plan on becoming sidetracked or lost. We will wind up in the wrong places at the wrong times and miss parts of our destiny. I want to share with you Rick Renner’s literal translation of this verse, from the Greek, so you will understand the importance of being faithful in your Bible reading.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is a mandatory, essential and absolute requirement for those things we affirm and believe to be true. It brings reproof, conviction, and censure into our lives. It can take anyone—including those who have been knocked flat on their backs in life—–and it can set them back up on their feet again, regardless of how long they have been down and out. The Word of God will make them once again stand erect and upright. It will put them back on level ground, fully equipping then to successfully live life by a higher standard that leads to upright, godly clean living.”

Wow. Isn’t that powerful? Making your 2020 journey without consistent Bible reading is like trying to get to a new location with no directions, map or navigation technology.

Are you ready? If you haven’t already, take this week and find your new devotionals or Bible study plan so you can make sure you are where you need to be and doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

Feel free to dialogue back with me on my Facebook page “Pastors Feisty Wife,” or in the comments section of this blog. Suggestions for good devotional and Bible reading plans would probably be greatly appreciated by other readers.