With Christmas just around the corner, we will likely be spending a lot of time with people, some we really like, and some who are a little more, shall we say, challenging to get along with.
How can we approach this busy season with intention in our relationships?
1. Can I Pray with You?
How often do we say “I’ll be praying for you” and then either forget altogether or say a little mumbled prayer and then continue on with whatever else we’re doing? What if we stopped and said our prayer right then and there with the person? Let's make praying people a common occurrence!
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
While growing up many of us said our bedtime prayers with our parents, but often that habit of praying out loud, whatever we’re thinking, tends to fade. As we get older, we get more self-conscious, and it might become weirder or more uncomfortable to pray out loud with people, other than a memorized Lord’s Prayer or table grace. Some churches are great at encouraging spontaneous prayer, but I think for a lot of us, it is a struggle.
If someone specifically asks you to keep them in your prayers, what if you fought through the awkward and asked, “Can I pray for you right now?” Depending on your relationship with the person, they may say no thanks or begrudgingly say OK, hoping it will be quick and painless, but I think the more we try, the more natural it becomes for everyone. Some people may be surprised at your bold offer, but really value it!
When we offer to pray for someone with our own words, or using the Word, we show them we honestly care and take this Christian responsibility to pray seriously. Our words don’t have to be eloquent, long, and easy flowing. Take the pressure off yourself, trusting that God will give you the words to say. Sometimes simple is all that’s needed. For the person struggling, hearing someone else’s words spoken over your situation is so powerful. She may have been praying for herself so fervently, but your words may be the extra fuel or the slightly different way of thinking and believing that she needs to hear in that moment.
If you are not face to face with the person needing prayer, go out on a limb and write your actual prayer in a public post if appropriate or a private message. Be careful not to approach it as showing off your prayer for your own ego. But if it is attached to your friend’s public Facebook call for prayer or a shared prayer chain, it can also be an encouragement to others who read your prayer. A text message with your prayer for that person is another great option if you’re too nervous to call and say a prayer out loud.
If someone has ever prayed directly for you and with you, you know how comforting and worthwhile this relationship building is. It grows Christian community and brings you both closer to God at the same time.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
2. Put It on the Calendar
This one is so simple in theory, but gets so neglected. If you want to get together with someone, you really need to pick a day and time right then and there, or it won’t happen. “We should get together sometime” so easily turns into the never-ending “one day…”
For most people December fills up quickly. Take some time with your calendar in front of you to prioritize who you need to see, who you want to see, and what you have time for. It’s OK if your girlfriend coffee date has to wait until January, but get it on the calendar now. Don’t let those good friendships fade just because you’re busy.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
3. Relationship Before Critique
This time of year, we may be seeing a variety of people who we are very close to and others not so much. Though we may have good intentions for how we want some conversations to go, we might need to take a step back and determine how our relationship with that person should influence what we say and how we say it.
If someone we’re talking with is not a Christian, we have no business expecting them to obey God’s laws. They see no need for following God’s rules if they don’t even believe he exists or is worthy of respect, and they think their conscience is good enough. Yes, we will all be judged equally whether we believe in God or not, but pointing out someone’s shortcomings or a lifestyle that is not God pleasing before that person sees a need for God can sometimes do more harm than good. We must want everyone to come to faith and love God more than we want them to change a sinful habit.
If someone does claim to be a Christian, Godly guidance may be appropriate, but consider your relationship first. Telling a relative you rarely see that they should change an un-Christian habit may not be the best way to represent Christ in that moment. We don’t want to come off as legalistic hypocrites who end up pushing them away from their Lord.
Jesus stood with the women who was about to be stoned for her adultery; then he told her to sin no more. How can you stand with and build a relationship with someone before guiding them back to the Way? How can we better see people as loved by God instead of an agenda to fix first? How can you walk alongside someone else who has a stronger relationship with that person?
Everyone needs to see their need for a Savior before they can repent and come to Jesus, so how can we best model love and forgiveness before judgement and critique?
4. Don’t Forget the Lonely
Our calendars fill up quickly with the things to do, places to go, and people to see, but don’t forget those who might not be first on your list. Because holidays are so relationship-based, it can be a hard time for those who feel lacking in that area. Singles, widows, people separated by distance for work or for serving our country, people who are new to town and missing friends, people in strained relationships, people who have lost someone dear to them no matter how long ago.
Think of what you can do to reach out to the lonely people in your life, and show them they are not forgotten or alone. A note, a special treat, or an actual meetup might just mean the world to someone who is not feeling the holiday cheer. Tell them you care and that their heavenly Father is always with them.
God created us for relationship With Him and with each other. Let’s intentionally work on showing it better.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.