Saturday, July 11, 2009

Intentional Friendship

My life is becoming more and more focused as I learn to walk in God's purposes for me. I believe with increasing confidence that the major purpose for my life is to be a disciple of Christ and help others learn to be disciples, also... learning to love God, hear his voice and obey him. In our postmodern, post-Christian, highly relational culture, I am certain that we will fail to reproduce as disciples unless we learn to have authentic, intentional friendships. That's what true Christian community is about - friends learning to together to live like Jesus.

On that note, here are some principles that are developing in me as I learn to lead my friends to follow Christ more closely:

1) Maximize this season. We all know that friendships wax and wane with the seasons of life. Several friendships remain precious throughout the years, few are maintained and many are lost altogether. Be friends with people for the sake of being friends, not for the sake of spiritual conquest. However, develop the discipline of submitting your friendships to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Ask God, "What friend have you given me for this season with whom I'm supposed to take a disciple's journey?" There should be urgency in this prayer because God opens doors for influence that will eventually close. Make the most of the season you have because it will not last forever... and you do not want to find yourself on the other side of it holding regrets.

2) Be an authentic friend. This goes back to my previous statement, "Be friends with people for the sake of being friends, not for the sake of spiritual conquest." No one wants to feel like a spiritual project. There is a certain level of boldness, accountability and power that come from authentic friendship... you earn the right to be heard and you work hard to develop a safe space within which you can deal with tough issues. Ask yourself this question: "If this person refused to let me lead him in discipleship, would I still want a friendship with him?" If the answer is negative, don't pursue discipleship.

3) Establish an end date. We've all had friendships that explode for weeks or months but somehow fade. Upon discovery of this new kinship, you do lunch several times a week, go on double dates with your spouses, call one another just to catch up, etc. This kind of intimacy is not perpetual and we shouldn't expect it to be so. It is a sad fact of friendships, however, that when this season of close comradeship passes, we sometimes feel as if we've suffered a romantic break-up! The same will be true of the discipling season in your friendship. If you're going to meet together once a week for Bible study, set an end date... three months out, six months, maybe a year. Acknowledge that it's not realistic in life for a weekly meeting to last perpetually. Say it up front so that when the end comes, it doesn't feel like rejection. Also, because seasons and relationships change, there is an urgent need to meet consistently and make the most of each meeting. Say so up front. For me, it usually sounds something like, "I really want to give myself to our disciple's journey but I only have so much time. Can we make it a priority to meet together once a week at such & such day and time for six months and miss very, very little? We don't have much time so we need to make the most of it..."

4) Choose a few and invest well. Having a short end date allows you to prioritize the way you invest in your friends. For instance, you may hear God tell you to walk closely with Jon for a season. Because you know it will only be for six months and you have invited him to take the disciple's journey for that season, you can feel good about making him a priority in that time frame. In fact, you may only want to walk with him and one or two other guys during that season because you know you cannot invest well in more than two or three men. Set your goals - mine are to help my friends become spiritually active, personally responsible and intentionally multiplying disciples who hear God's voice and obey. Because these are the goals that I believe God has given me, I choose to work with only a few at a time so I can see this happen. I want to pray for them consistently, meet often and really share life for a little while. I would rather give myself away to a few for a season and see them develop well than meet with many, barely get them on the right track and drag the process out longer than it should take.

I am definitely still in process as a disciple and may look back years from now and disagree with some of these principles. However, at this point I feel strongly about them. I hope they help you as you seek to follow Christ and live in such a way that others can follow you.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

We Need More Children!

Before you report me to the government and reserve a room for me at the mental hospital, let me clarify... Vanessa and I most DEFINITELY do not need more biological children! I'm talking about children in a spiritual sense. I read a passage from Matthew this morning, and 11:25-27 caught my attention. These verses tend to be overshadowed by the following two, which begin, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden..." You can probably finish that passage by memory (or at least get close).

In v25-27, Jesus says, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by the Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

In the preceding paragraphs, Jesus chides the religious establishment for being so pompous and full of themselves that they totally missed their own Messiah. I imagine he then steps back, looks in the faces of his friends (disciples) and, with all their hard-knock stories in mind, praises his Father for the divine genius, full of irony and grace, that chose to reveal the Kingdom of Heaven to the world's rejected. This reminds me of another passage I read this morning from Isaiah 55, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (v8f)

Here's the punchline... we are surrounded by people who think they know God but are not experiencing any sort of real, life-changing relationship with him. If we took a poll on a typical Sunday morning and asked the question, "When was the last time you heard God speak to you?", what do you think the response would be? God reveals himself on a daily basis to those who are willing to look and listen for him. Another word from Isaiah 55 - "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near."

I want to be a child to which God reveals himself. I pray that God would raise up more men and women who are humble, teachable and childlike so he can show himself to the world through them. Who are the unlikely, rejected or timid people around us that God has chosen to give divine boldness as he reveals himself to them... all because they "naively" believe that he will do so?

May God also raise up spiritual parents who will take personal responsibility for nurturing the faith of these children, helping them become spiritually active, personally responsible and intentionally multiplying disciples of Christ.