Tag Archive: friends

Spiritual Symbiosis

Recently, God has been working in my life to show me how deeply my friends have impacted my faith (if you want to read more about how your friends impact your life, you should read Bethany’s post). He has shown me this lesson the hard way, I think. The last year has been very spiritually difficult for me. Quite simply, I just haven’t felt close to God and I feel as though I’ve been stuck inside my comfort zone.

So I began considering what sort of tools have helped my faith grow in the past. One of the largest factors, I feel, in personal spiritual growth is social spiritual influence. We, as Christians, must be surrounded by others who share our faith, and, even further, are moving in the same direction as we are. One log on a fire will quickly burn out if not surrounded by the right materials, of which other logs are the most important.

I think that one of the largest reasons that this past year has been difficult is the change in my environment. I went from a private christian school to a public university. Before, almost everyone that I knew was a Christian. Now, almost everyone that I know is not a Christian. I do have some great Christian friends, but the volume of influence just isn’t there. That being said, the Lord has truly used this past year to help me ensure that my faith is truly my own, not just the result of my friends or surroundings.

Christianity is a social religion. It is also a private religion. How are the two linked? I think A.W. Tozer spoke incredible truth when he said:

” …one hundred worshippers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified.”

A.W. Tozer (emphasis mine)
We have to have a faith in the first place, or we can’t share and contribute in a Christian community. We must be in a Christian community or our faith won’t last long.

Stories of Encouragement

Last semester Bethany and I joined a small group through our church on campus.  Through that small group we met an older couple named Barb and Dave.  They learned we lived in Peoria and asked us if we would be willing to take a package to one of their old friends, a retired missionary woman.  This past weekend I was able to complete the delivery.

Gertrude is almost 90  years old, but by the way she talks and walks you wouldn’t think she is over 40!  She spent 37 years in South Africa as a missionary and has even written a book titled Africa Treks: Stories of Victory from the African Bush.  The book contains encouraging stories of victories for the kingdom.  I went to deliver the package prepared to spend some time getting to know her, and I’m glad I did!  She first invited me to see the nursing home she lives in.  The first thing she showed me was a quote on the wall which read “Blessed is this place because it is called home.”  She read it to me with strong conviction and to her it meant that even though she was in a nursing home, she had God and other people; she was home.  What an encouragement that Gertrude could be home in a place where others are lost and that all she needs is to be with God.  She can be home anywhere on Earth.

Next, she showed me her room and we talked for a while.  She had so many stories to share!  She talked of her experiences in Africa.  She related her experiences as a  younger girl in Intervarsity at the University of Illinois.  She shared about her current prison ministries.  She told stories about various people around Illinois that she knew.  All of these stories shared a common theme – Christians succeeding in kingdom work.  In the middle of these stories she paused and taught me this lesson: it is so wonderful to hear stories about God’s work in this world, you need to share joy with other Christians and to rejoice together in what God has done.  Gertrude was leading by example in the joy department.  She is one of the happiest people I have ever met, especially for things concerning the Lord and His work.  I pray that I would have her joy in my walk.  I wonder what the church would be like if we could rejoice together in the work that God is doing more often.  If we could share in joy over those being saved and their progress around us.  Are people being saved around us?

I have been learning that everyone and every place has a story.  These stories are worth knowing!  I took the time to learn part of an old missionary woman’s story, and I was so encouraged and blessed by it!  When you meet someone new, ask them their story and be able to share your own.  What is the story of the town you live in or of your family?  Could you write it down?  If you are a leader, can you write your organization’s story. Where you have been will shape where you are going.  Take some time to “look down the mountain” alongside your followers.  Share your stories of encouragement more often.  We all love to get encouraging news from our friends about their current projects, dreams, and work.  So be sources of encouragement for one another.

How God Can Use Our Friends

I’ve heard it said that a person is the average of the five people they spend the most time with.  While that may not be entirely true – if that were the case I’d be the average of my officemates (scary!) – I do wonder sometimes if God puts people in our lives in order to draw out or develop a latent personality trait.

I’ve always been enthusiastic about some things, but they have mostly been weather related.  The quickest way to buy my friendship is with pictures of clouds; I just can’t get enough.  However, in other important aspects of my life, such as my relationship with God, enthusiasm has been lacking.  Sure, I experience the spiritual high after a conference or retreat, but it never lasts once I get back to the real world.  Over the last year or so, I think that God has been putting people in my life who are incredibly enthusiastic about their faith and life in general.  As a result, I’ve become much more excited about my relationship with God and truly living it out in my mission field (i.e. grad school).

As an example, Tyler and I recently joined a small group at the church we attend.  When we introduced ourselves, I mentioned that I will be graduating sometime in the next year.  Afterward, one of the members of the group – whom I had just met that night – almost immediately approached me to tell me about a class for graduating students that he was teaching at the church.  Before I knew what was happening, he had my e-mail address and phone number and was planning to get me a copy of the book they were reading.  I went the next Sunday, and it turned out to be a great class in which I learned a lot.  This same small group member is now spearheading an effort to get the group (and group members’ children, where applicable) together to read the entire New Testament in eight weeks.  He is also just about to start building a new house.  Talk about enthusiasm!

The same could be said of many of the members of my Graduate Christian Fellowship (GCF) small group.  I could go on and on about the ways they have positively impacted my life over the last 16 months, but one thing all of them share (or at least seem to) is a genuine excitement about their faith.  Out of this comes a true compassion for the other members, such that it is not uncommon for one of them to ask me about something I mentioned as a prayer request weeks earlier.  Not that they are only concerned with those close to them; one of them came to our summer reading group last week absolutely livid about an article she had read about human trafficking in the U.S.  That was quite convicting to me, as I tend to read articles like that and just assume they have been overblown by the media rather than feeling the anger that God must feel at these situations.

Faced with such examples of excitement and enthusiasm, I realized that my own life was quite lacking in these qualities.  The last few months have been quite the journey as I have attempted to cultivate a passion for others, for justice, and for God.  The results shocked me – my relationships seem deeper, I hear God’s voice more clearly, and my attention is more God-centered and less me-centered.  In this case, God used people he had put in my life who all shared a common personality trait to develop that trait in me.   We all have friends who share common qualities; could it be that God is using those friends to develop us and make us more like Him?