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Beyond the Surface

Deepening Levels of Friendship and Caring

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I have been challenged recently by Jesus’ words, “Love you neighbor as yourself.” The kind of love He is talking about requires time and effort, and can be uncomfortable. It requires commitment and putting the other person’s needs first. To do that with our friends, colleagues, and those whom we socialize with, we all can get into a rut, or comfort zone. In other words, we stay at a certain level of association instead of going deeper. We can talk at a level that is easy to do and does not require much effort or emotional expenditure. It isn’t comfortable most of the time for us to probe or to ask difficult questions about our friends lives. The answers we get may cause us to not know what to say or do. To speak with this kind of engagement requires serious love and concern. I believe that is part of what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves. It means caring enough to ask about the deep issues of life, and to listen to their answers. Sometimes, just listening is loving and caring. Even when the answers make us uncomfortable. Jesus modeled that in John 4 with the woman at the well. He moved from asking her for water, to asking her about her deeper soul needs for the water of life. Then when she evaded Him, He asked her a more probing question about her life. Because He was willing to move beyond the surface, she eventually opened up to Him and His offer of living water. There were probably some awkward pauses and silences before she became receptive. Most of us don’t like awkwardness and uncomfortable silences, but this is often what it takes to open up a different level of friendship and caring.

Recently, I was visiting someone who has a serious life-threatening illness. This person was not a professing Christian, and it was awkward, but I probed about some of the deeper questions of life. The person didn’t respond directly, but thanked me later when I left for bringing it up. The interaction was out of my comfort zone, but by the grace and power of God I ventured forth, not knowing the outcome.

Someone once likened people to onions. They have layers which require careful peeling to get to the deep things of life. This will take a love which requires us to genuinely care, commit and give of ourselves. But the result will be more of God’s love flowing through us. As with every other thing we attempt to do in ministry, we cannot do it on our own. Only as we ask and depend on God’s power are we able to do so. I’m reminded of a couple of Bible promises: It is God who works in you to will and do of His good pleasure; and, I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Ask God to give you His desire and His love, and step forward by faith.

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