God desires a relationship with us. We were made for relationship, both with God and with other people. This chapter examines how to connect with God and with one another in a meaningful way that will turn our tears into dancing…our loneliness into laughter.
- The fulfillment and joy we experience is directly dependent upon the quality of our relationships. Many of us like to control our relationships, perhaps to feel safe when we’ve been hurt before. We create an illusion of safety by controlling others instead of loving them.
- Ruth 1: There are entire bible studies on Ruth. Books and movies, even. Quick recap: Ruth’s husband died. It was tragic. Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi had to endure the deaths of her husband and two sons in a very short span of time. Ruth decided to follow Naomi back to her land, with her people, and worship her God. God honored Ruth as she honored Naomi. Ruth didn’t make her decision in order to be honored by God, though. That wasn’t her motive. “Where you will go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” Y’all…I want my light for Jesus to shine so brightly that people will want to follow me to worship my God. My husband has said that his relationship with God has changed for the better because of how he sees my relationship with God: good and desirable.
- Ruth’s story reminds me of a song:
- The weeks, months, and maybe even years in the furnace of testing in a relationship may be the most difficult in our lives–and for a variety of reasons (mostly our own stubborn selfishness), it doesn’t always work out. But those who come out on the other side have a purified, strengthened love for each other. Again, I know this to be true with my husband and me. I, for one, credit Buck’s commitment and love, but I know it took teamwork and commitment to each other to not only endure the tough times, but to actually come out stronger and more in love having gone through it!
- In the book’s “Heart to Heart” segment, I thought this paragraph was meaningful: I wish I could say that all difficulties in relationships are easily resolved, but that’s far from true. Sooner or later, we all find ourselves in the heat of strained or broken connections. When that happens, don’t bail out to quickly. Stay in the heat for a while and let God forge something new, something strong, and something you can enjoy the rest of your life.
- “A true friend will tell you the truth to your face, not behind your back.” ~Sasha Azavedo
- John 11: Jesus wept with his friends Mary and Martha who were heartbroken that their brother, Lazarus, had died. It’s important to recognize here that Jesus had significant feelings, just like you and me. I tend to get stuck on “Jesus as God” versus “Jesus the Man” mentality, so for him to grieve so moves me.
- I am on the side of the authors: I love reading about the sisters Mary and Martha. That could probably be a bible study! When Jesus finally arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had been dead four days. When the sisters saw him coming, they ran to see him. They were deeply hurt by Jesus’ apparent apathy and neglect. The sisters didn’t mince words. They blamed him and didn’t sugarcoat their pain. Both of them said almost the exact same thing to him–“Lord if you had been here, Lazarus wouldn’t have died.” Can you imagine talking to Jesus in the flesh like that?! I think the lesson here is that God already knows what is in our hearts, yes, but we still need to be completely honest with God. We need to say it out loud. Whenever I have something on my mind, I might pray about it internally (and I know God hears that, but I’m still keeping it ‘quiet’), but each and every time…as soon as I say it out loud (to someone else or audibly to God), I immediately feel better. I usually either gain perspective and get the answer I was looking for or I get confirmation of what exactly was my worry and then I know how to proceed. For me, it usually helps to confess it to someone else. Then I know I have confronted it and will now have to deal with it!
- In dealing with people in our lives, the author made a few suggestions about the importance and limits of honesty: Be completely honest with God. Be diplomatic with people. Begin with your feelings and your desires. Be realistic in your expectations of change.
- “People need loving the most when they deserve it the least.” ~John Harrigan
- Real love is a choice, it’s open and freeing, demanding nothing in return.
- Romans 12:9-21: Paul’s description of true, unselfish love (agape). Agape is one of my favorite words. When I chose ‘love’ as my theme word of 2013, what I really chose was ‘agape’. There are three Greek words that signify different kinds of love. ‘Eros’ is sensual, sexual love; ‘phileo’ is when we love someone because of their notable qualities or they do something to make us feel good; and ‘agape’ is unconditional love, the kind of love God has for us. The first two include conditions; but agape loves in spite of the negative traits of the other person. I remember a pastor once giving an entire sermon on Agape love and it was one of my favorite homilies!
- Christ calls us to actively care for the unlovely. This sentence reminds me of the song Forgiveness by Matthew West…especially the lyric, “Show me how to love the unloveable…”
- “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just has in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
- When we finally reach Agape love, the love of God overflows to those around us. As a result, our paths change so that we come into contact with those who desperately need to experience a taste of God’s amazing love. I’ve called this phenomenon ‘pastor’, ‘bartender’, or ‘psychologist’ syndrome…but maybe it’s something more…maybe it’s Holy Spirit and Agape syndrome!
- When the day gets long, we need friends who will give us a hug, share an encouraging word, and pointed back to Jesus and when we’ve lost sight of him in the midst of our chaos.
- Colossians 2: Encouragement is light and salt to each of us.
- Characteristics of an Encourager: They are intentional. They are specific. They are creative. They are persistent. When you encounter resistance, don’t give up. These are the people who need it most ASk God for wisdom to know when and how to touch their lives. Just like our children, everybody needs at least one person in their life who is crazy about them.
- “Truth in Love” or maybe I would word it ‘Truth with Love’.
- Sometimes we come across situations where our loved ones are going down a wrong path… When confronting and/or restoring others, the author wanted to make a point very clear: It’s not up to use to restore people simply because they have a ‘preference’ that’s different from ours. That’s not a sin! But God calls us to “get under the rock” with people who are wrecking their lives. He doesn’t leave it just to pastors or ministry leaders. If we care about the people around us, we sometimes have to say hard things to them. We say it in love, but with clarity and a strong hope for change. Unfortunately, the church doesn’t always do this work well. Our goal is to restore, heal, and encourage.
- Authentic love sometimes means we step in to speak the truth in correcting those who have gone astray. Jesus certainly did it, and if we call ourselves his followers, we’ll earn to do it too. Jesus’ goal wasn’t to avoid hard conversations–he initiated plenty of them–but to point them to God for him to transform them and make them holy.
- What are some “furnaces” you’ve experienced in relationships? How did you respond to each case? Did any of them produce something new and beautiful?
- When you get frustrated or angry, do you lean toward the fight or flight response? What are the usual results?
- Look at the elements of people who are gifted in encouraging others. Which of these are strengths for you? Which do you need to work on? How can you take a step today to encourage someone intentionally, specifically, creatively, or persistently?
- Who is one person who has encouraged you? What did they do? How has it affected your life?
- At what point is it appropriate to step in to correct someone? Give some examples of when it’s appropriate and when it’s not. What might be your temptation when you confront someone in your life.
Jesus, give me your eyes today to see the people around me who are hurting, lonely, or broken. Give me words of encouragement through your Holy Spirit to strengthen my heart and bring hope into the lives of others.
Source: Becoming a Woman of Extraordinary Faith by Julie Clinton. Published by Harvest House Publishers (2011).