Living out the Christian life is more about relationships than it is about spiritual performance. Yes, it is important to learn and apply the Scripture and to have a continual prayer life. But living out who you are in Christ to the world has to do with relationships. Quoting chapter and verse means very little if that knowledge is not reflected in your ability to relate to your culture.
I have had the privilege of walking with God most of my life. I have observed that the most effective ministry that I’ve had is not my public teaching or preaching ministry. It is my one-on-one relationship with others. In other words, my most effective ministry has been just being a friend and a good listener. If my vertical relationship with God is right, then my horizontal relationship with others allows Jesus to be reflected in my relationships. I don’t have to beat them over the head with a Bible, I just become a friend.
Over the years I have wondered why people seek me out just to talk. I have found that there are three areas that have helped me become a friend to others. These three areas might help you develop meaningful relationships and become a more effective leader.
1. Become a good listener – Don’t you hate it when you are attempting to ask someone a question and before you can complete your question they start answering your question. They assume they know where you are headed before they get all the facts.
One of the qualities of a good listener is being willing to hear the person out. Resist the temptation to jump in the conversation because you think you know where they are headed. In the end, you may be correct about where they were going with the question, but that is not the point.
This may come as a surprise to you, but listening is about listening. I can recall many instances where I said very little in the conversation, but by just listening they answered their own question and solved their own problem. Many would walk away saying, “You always have great counsel and advice for me.” I said very little, but mostly I just listened.
Point: Very few people have someone who will listen to them. Being a good friend is learning to be a good listener.
2. Learn to be Empathetic – Empathy is not the same as sympathy. Sympathy is agreeing with and siding with them in their problem. It is being swept into their sorrow and acknowledging that they have been cheated by life in some way or another.
Empathy is feeling their pain because you can connect with them because of what you have been through. But it is not necessarily agreeing and siding with them. Maybe they screwed up big time and they are experiencing the fallout of their bad decisions. You hurt with them but you have the courage, at the right time, to tell them the truth and help them see a pathway out. I like to call it, “having an iron fist with a velvet glove.”
Point: A true friend will be empathetic, but will care enough to tell them the truth.
3. Be a person of integrity – There are two things I have learned about integrity when it comes to being a true friend. It is a myth that people really don’t want to hear the truth. The reason most of us seek out someone we can talk to is we sense a need for someone to tell us the truth regardless of what we are feeling.
Secondly, in the end, truth is always the best way to go. Truth is pure, peaceful and liberating. Ever tried to hide the truth about a matter, and then later you were able to come clean? Wow what a great feeling to get that off your chest.
Being a person of integrity and being able to tell your friend the truth, even though they may get temporarily angry, is always the right thing to do. They will come around and thank you in the end.
Point: Integrity is a spiritual virtue and reflective of our new nature in Christ. Walking in integrity is a mark of your heavenly citizenship.
If you think about it, being a good friend is being like Jesus. Jesus is a good listener; He listens to our complaining, our whining and our crying out to Him. We come to Him because we know He loves us regardless of what we have done or regardless of how bad we have messed up. He is empathetic but He always tells us the truth.
I have heard for years that every person influences at least five people at any given moment. If that is true, wouldn’t you like for your five people to consider you a friend who is a good listener, who is empathetic and will always tell them the truth?
“Friends love through all kind of weather…” Proverbs 17:17 (The Message)