We've all been there haven't we?
That awkward silence after we've exhausted conversation about the weather and the latest TV show. Or when a friend has told us something bad that has happened and we just don't know what to do or say. Or those times when we've received some well intentioned but slightly thoughtless advice or comfort. Maybe we have given some ourselves...
Life is hard. We need each other.
But how do we move beyond niceties and shallow commiserations to deep, scriptural, gospel centred relationships?
How do we walk with each other in wisdom and in love?
How does the gospel inform the way we do friendship and everyday counsel in the church?
Recently Fievel and I went to a workshop based on a book titledSide by Side: Walking with others in Wisdom and Loveby Ed Welch. It is practical advice for all Christians on how we can live lives of love for others.
When it comes to helping others we can easily fall into one of two categories. Some of us feel inadequate to help others and are often afraid we will make things worse. We have self doubts that say, "Who are we to help someone else? We don't even have our own lives together." Thoughts of our own weaknesses and failures disqualify us to help others. And so we leave the helping to others who seem more "capable" or to the experts. Others of us love to help others, but we can come across as self-sufficient, self-righteous or even too intrusive, lacking compassion and sensitivity.
You are needy
The workshop and the book kicked off with the idea that "those who help best are the ones who both need help and give help". This was not what I expected. I went to the workshop expecting to dive straight into learning how to help "others". Not once did it cross my mind that I needed to realise and address the reality of my own neediness. Welch stated, "Your neediness qualifies you to help others." It is when we become more and more aware of how needy we are of God and of others that we begin to become useful. But I suspect that, if you are anything like me, it's not easy to ask for help. We spend a lot of time hiding our neediness because we are afraid of what people will think. I am so much more happy to give help than to ask for it, to appear strong or at least competent. But necessary humility is what enables effective counsel. When we let go of our pride, we invite others into our struggles. When we let go of our idolatry of self-sufficiency, we are allowed into other people's struggles. Jesus himself introduced an era where weakness is the new strength.
But it's more than just admitting our neediness before others, it is also realising the reality of our ongoing neediness before God. We are needy because life is full of difficulties. Our hearts are easily drawn away from God and the pressures in our lives will expose what is really going on in our hearts. Admitting and practicing our own neediness begins by confessing to God and asking for his help on a regular basis.
How often have I tried to solve things myself before turning to God? How often do I actually think about my sins and confess them to God?
You are needed
Having been made aware of my own neediness, the workshop moved on to talk about how we are all needed in the work of personal ministry to others. God wants us to be ordinary people who minister his extraordinary Word to others. Welch writes that he has written the book for "people like me, who are willing to move towards other struggling people but are not confident that they can say or do anything very helpful. If you feel quite weak and ordinary- if you feel like a mess but have the Spirit- you have the right credentials. You are one of the ordinary people God uses to help others." In this section Welch offered uber-practical advice on how to help each other better from how we can have thoughtful conversations to how to talk about sin with one another and to pray scripturally for and with one another especially in times of trouble and suffering.
Pray during trouble
One of the most helpful insights (there were many) I took away from the workshop and the book was thinking more about how to pray during trouble. When we pray we not only come alongside the sufferer but we bring God and the suffering together. We can certainly pray for whatever is on our friend's heart but we also want to pray for the deeper spiritual realities beyond the seeable circumstances such as a job, a dating relationship, an exam or a physical illness. We want Scripture to reshape those prayers and to take them further.
An example from the book:
Our friend asks us to pray for healing of an illness. We know that beyond the physical illness, there can be deeper spiritual battles that raises questions about God's care and goodness. And so we can ask our friend how we can focus our prayers:
"I know that sometimes sickness reveals some faith struggles for me, I can start to doubt God. How is your faith in the midst of all this?"
I was also challenged me to think about how I share my prayer point with others in line with this. I can always share life's circumstances, but I can also share the deeper spiritual realities behind my circumstances to help another's focus on how they can pray for me.
A personal example:
"Please pray for the preparation of the birth of our baby." I could leave it there but I can also help others see the deeper realities. "Please pray that as I get more tired, I wouldn't use that as an excuse for my irritability and impatience towards my husband. Please ask that God will help me to remain loving when I just want to be selfish."
Side by Side: Walking with others in wisdom and love
It is impossible to do the book justice by my words here. I encourage you to read it if you have any desire to see Christian communities move beyond cliches and niceties to deep, scriptural Christlike relationships in this age of separation and individualism.
Life is hard. We are both needy and needed. So Let us walk side by side with each other.