Springtime is in full swing here in Vancouver, Washington, where I live with my family! The flowers are taking over, and the sun is shining more and more…I try not to be a total sap about it, but there are few things more beautiful to me than the Pacific Northwest in springtime.
Changing seasons always remind me of King Solomon, who not only spent a great deal of time building beautiful gardens, but also observing everything people do “under the sun.” He decided that a lot of those things under the sun were meaningless, such as slaving away making piles of money, only to die and have somebody else blow it all.
But one thing he spoke of often as having great value was friendship. In fact, relationships carry the greatest value of anything in this life!
Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, saw great value in having wise friends. In a biblical book he wrote, Ecclesiastes, we see in chapter 4 the terrible consequences of isolating ourselves from others—having nobody to love and work hard for, nobody to help us when we’re attacked, in trouble, or out in the cold. At the end of the chapter we meet “an old and foolish king who refuses advice.” The king’s own foolishness is also isolation—listening only to his own opinions!
Instead, we’re called to do two things: seek great friends, and be great friends. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). When we have great friends, we enjoy that warmth, strength, good counsel and victory spoken of in Ecclesiastes 4.
At Crossroads, the amazing church where I have the privilege of being a pastor, we often say that growth happens best in circles, not in rows. In other words, sitting in the pews absorbing a sermon is a wonderful thing, but the best growth happens when we share our real lives with one another in groups, allowing other people to speak into our lives. I mean, don’t get me wrong—I appreciate that people show up and listen to my sermons. But the Word of God really takes root when we put it to work in our lives, together!
Each of us needs to find that healthy and honest community where people have the opportunity to share with us, and we with them…We need to be open and authentic, ready to hear it when people who love us say hard things to help us grow (Proverbs 27:6). This is how we thwart the folly of being isolated. It’s how we seek great friends.
At the same time, we want to be great friends—the kind of friends who bring about growth in others and give them a safe place to be real. How? Through love and understanding.
Proverbs 20:5 tells us, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” We should never assume that we know a person’s heart or mind. Instead, before sharing what we believe we see, we should take a moment to say, “Help me understand what you are going through.” We must take the time to draw a person out, to hear their heart.
I like to say that we should seek to understand…before we seek to be understood.
Not only should we seek to fully understand that other person, we should seek that person’s highest good through our genuine love for them. It’s important to be careful how we go about providing support to our friends. Wise counsel can be a great thing, but we don’t want to go around splatting people with wise sayings, verses and great advice if we haven’t taken the time to find out if that’s what they actually need. We may be factually correct, but if we steamroll people, it makes them feel unsafe. It shows a lack of love and humility (1 Corinthians 13:1).
People are not projects to be fixed. They’re living, breathing souls who carry God’s image in the world.We should seek to understand...before we seek to be understood. Click To Tweet
Praying for and with people is always a great idea and a great place to start. Do they need advice? Are they even asking for it? Before seeking to advise others, we should seek to love. Think of it this way: When you share a problem with a trusted friend, are you hoping they’ll fix it with their advice, or that they’ll just offer a listening ear? Often it’s the latter. Sometimes you need advice, but probably not as often as you want someone to listen. Be as sensitive to that as you’d want others to be (Luke 6:31).
And not that I always want to share advice either…but here’s my best advice for today: don’t go it alone. Seek great friends, and be great friends. Go out of your way to be understanding and loving. Dig in, and live authentically with people who will help you on your journey toward being more like Christ.