Jesus called us into friendship, not just with Him
but also with His followers.
I don’t like goodbyes, especially
on the mission field, because sometimes I get emotional. Last week it was
I had spent six days with a
church in Tarapoto, Peru, and I invested a lot of time and energy encouraging
the people—especially some young adults who are emerging leaders. When it was
almost time for me to go through the security checkpoint at the airport, about
18 of these men and women burst through the lobby doors and gathered around me
and my translator, Diego.
“Christianity, at its
core, is about relationships. Unlike Eastern religions—in which individuals
seek a solitary, Zen-like state to discover truth—Christianity calls us to
follow God as a loving community.”
I lost it. I tried to walk around
the circle to say goodbye to each person: Giancarlos, Jhor, Dalia, Juanita,
Roberto, David, Cristian, Clavela, Rays. Each time somebody hugged me I sobbed.
I was a slobbering mess by the time I hugged the last brother, Enrique.
People in the airport were
staring at us, but that wasn’t the painful part. My heart was being ripped out
of my chest.
When I got to my seat on the
airplane and gained composure, I realized this is a normal part of
Christianity. Our gospel flows from the heart. Our faith is based on the
astounding truth that a loving God came to earth to repair our broken
relationship with Him. And since then God has sent people across oceans and
mountain ranges to tell others about His love. They have often had to endure
Christianity, at its core, is
about relationships. While the Bible certainly contains theology, it is not a
book of dry doctrines. It is a dramatic account of men and women who learned to
love each other as they followed God. Unlike Eastern religions—in which
individuals seek a solitary, Zen-like state to find truth—Christianity calls us
to follow God as a loving community.
Jesus modeled this message by
investing time in His disciples. He didn’t float around on a pillow like Yoda
while dispensing otherworldly wisdom. He hiked through Israel with His friends.
They got their feet dirty together. He fished with them, ate with them and just
hung out with them.
Mark 3:14 says Jesus appointed
the twelve “so that they would be with Him and that He could send them
out to preach.” Notice that His relationship with them was not just about the
task of ministry. He wanted their fellowship!
We sometimes get this backwards.
We tend to value religious performance, yet we are often bankrupt when it comes
to friendships. We sit together in countless meetings but never open our hearts
to each other. Even ministers have admitted to me that they have no friends.
We’ve created a robotic, programized Christianity that counts heads but lacks
the heart of New Testament love.
I’ve had enough of this sterile
religion. I’ve learned that ministry is not about getting big crowds, filling
seats, tabulating response cards or eliciting raucous applause. It’s not about
running on the church-growth treadmill. Religion that focuses on externals is
How would you assess your
friendship with God? Intimate? Professional? Distant? Cold? And what about your
relationships with others? Do you have close friends? Or do you live out your
faith in solitary confinement?
I tell Christians all over the
world that they need three kinds of relationships in their lives:
1. “Pauls” are spiritual
fathers and mothers you trust. All of us need older, wiser Christians who can
guide us, pray for us and offer counsel. My mentors have encouraged me when I
wanted to quit and propeled me forward when I had lost sight of God’s promise.
In the journey of faith, you do not have to feel your way in the dark. God gave
Ruth a Naomi and Joshua a Moses. Ask the Lord for a mentor.
spiritual peers who are bosom friends. They know everything about you, yet they
love you anyway. They are also willing to kick your tail if necessary! They
provide accountability in areas of personal temptation. And they will stay up
all night praying for you when you face a crisis.
3. “Timothys” are the younger
Christians you are helping to grow. Jesus never told us to assemble crowds, but
He did command us to make disciples. Relational discipleship takes a lot of
time and energy, but investing your life in others is one of the most
fulfilling experiences in life. Once you have poured your life into another
brother or sister, and watched them mature in Christ, you will never settle for
superficial religion again.
Jesus said it best when He told
His followers: “No longer do I call you slaves … but I have called you friends,
for all things I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John
15:15). The Christian life is a vibrant, love relationship with God—but it
doesn’t end there. I pray you will open
your heart and invest in the people around you.
J. Lee Grady is contributing
editor of Charisma. You can follow him on Twitter at leegrady. His
most recent book is 10 Lies Men Believe (Charisma House). Below is a
photo of the young leaders who said goodbye to Lee on Sept. 7 at the airport in
A painful goodbye in Peru: Members of