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How To Build Authentic Relationships

Written By Blake Wisz, USA

In the world of instant messaging, “emojis” and “likes”, it’s easy to have a lot of “friends” but never have honest or encouraging conversations with them.

Often, while listening to others while I sip my cup of coffee, I can’t help but think, “What do they really need to talk about?” We tend to dance around the conversation we really want to have, perhaps to preserve our relationships and avoid points of tension or conflict.

As an extrovert, I’ve always wanted deep-rooted relationships with my friends. I believe there needs to be a sense of openness in relationships, so that we can open the door to an honest conversation.

There have been times, however, when I’ve probably put too much pressure on others to share things they might not be ready or willing to share because of my candor. It can be hard to admit the shortcomings, anxieties, frustrations, and struggles in our lives to another person. But what I’ve learned is that overcoming these initial hurdles can build up endurance and authenticity in our relationships.

 

Be willing to open up

During this season of life, I’ve come to realize that I tend to share with others about God’s grace and love but do not allow those same truths to soak deep down in my own life. The feeling of needing to perform, to do things perfectly, and to never make a mistake are some pressures I can put on myself which I don’t often talk about.

It has also exposed the need to deal with my inner struggle against perfectionism and to be open with others about the good, the bad, and the ugly in my own journey. I’ve found that if I am truly honest with people about my struggles, authentic relationships can be built.

 

Be humble

One of the best ways to grow our relationships is to put others’ troubles, wants, and needs before our own. A letter by the Apostle Paul has challenged me to pursue authentic relationships from a place of encouragement and understanding of our unity in Christ.

While jailed in Rome for proclaiming the gospel, Paul wrote to his friends in Philippi (modern-day Greece), saying: “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:1-4)

For me, I’m learning to focus on actively listening, being present in the moment, and letting others have my total attention.

Be encouraging

Early this year, I wrote a mission statement on my bathroom mirror that read, “Encourage others”, because I knew I needed to change my approach. My sensitivity radar was out of whack and I realized that I had not done enough to help others “do their thing”, even though the latter has always been something that brings me the most joy.

I can also use what I’ve experienced in my life to encourage those in my sphere of influence—the guy sitting next to me at the coffee shop, a co-worker, family member, or that person in a social media bubble. And I have been learning that when I encourage others from a place of compassion and humility—by putting their needs before my own by actively listening or sharing a kind word—I am stepping into a love designed by God and by which the world will know Him. In that space, authentic relationships are rooted and can blossom in that space.

As I look at my own life, I see the value of authentic relationships. My friend Jamie is a passionate photographer, husband, and soon-to-be father. Our friendship started in a local coffee shop, where we talked shop about photography.

Since then, we have traveled to different parts of the world together with our wives. Our personalities are vastly different, but we share plenty in common. We graduated from Cornerstone University, married our college sweethearts, and lost our fathers suddenly. Jamie and I were fortunate that our common interests made it easy to start a conversation. We both knew we were working through some trials—the biggest of which was the loss of a loved one. We’ve been honest to one another, always transparent about what is going on in our lives.

In the Bible, one of the words used for friend in the original Greek translation is the word Adelphos, which has been interpreted as, “a fellow believer, united to another by the bond of affection”. Jamie and I share in Adelphos which drives us to bring out the best in one another and encourage one another. If we had never been honest or willing to wear our raw emotions on our sleeves, we would have missed out on the true support of a friend.

Love isn’t all about Happy Endings

Written by Samantha Chin, Singapore 

I absolutely adore animated movies—I grew up watching Disney movie after Disney movie, singing to catchy tunes and laughing along with the cute characters. Almost every plot involved a beautiful princess who found a brave prince willing to slay dragons and evil witches all in the name of love, and they lived happily ever after at the end of the movie. Even dogs and lions found their one true love!

Little did I know, these movies were leading me to believe in a picture of love and marriage that was unrealistic, but God corrected my thinking along the way.  

 

My Timing vs God’s Timing

 When I was 16, I dreamed of meeting someone special by 22, getting married to him at 25, and having children by 28. This year I turn 29, but wedding bells haven’t rung for me yet. Where was the fairytale ending I had been hoping for?

Unlike the movies where one can easily predict that the “happily ever after” will come at the end, it is never so predictable in real life. It takes some people much longer to find their marriage partner—if they do get married at all. Does it mean that all of us who are still single should give up hope? No, I believe not. Instead, I believe God is calling us to wait on His timing.

I have since come to understand that He knows best, and I need to trust Him. Knowing I need this constant reminder, I have Proverbs 16:9 pasted on my bedroom wall, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Tough as it is, I believe He is using this time of singleness to prune me so that I will be more prepared to enter into a covenant relationship with someone He has in store for me when (and if) the time comes. And I can certainly trust that the love story God, my divine matchmaker writes will be so much more glorious than I can ever plan or imagine.

 

My ideal partner vs God’s ideal partner

Other than the perfect timing, I also had a grand idea of how the man I would eventually marry would be like. He would be God-fearing, humorous, caring, loves dogs, able to lead, able to listen attentively yet also give good insight, as well as serve in full-time ministry, or at least consider it. Without realizing it, I was actually looking for someone who had it all together—just like the brave and handsome male lead in the countless movies I had watched.

When my best friend commented that I would simply reject any guy God might bring along who didn’t fulfill these ideals of mine, my first response was to defend my position and argue that these were good desires to have. After all, I wanted to serve God alongside my spouse. Wasn’t that godly thinking?

But the reality is that marriage brings together two sinners who are still works in progress. This means that the man I marry will have weaknesses I may not like and quirks that irritate me. It means that I too would have to confront and work on my own shortcomings. Love is not just about receiving—it is also about giving. It is giving even when I do not feel like it, when I’d rather be doing something else, and when I just can’t stand the sight of him. Love is a verb, not merely a feeling. I will experience romance and laughter, but I will also experience sacrifice, humility, and refinement.

Marriage is about two imperfect people helping each other become more like Christ. And maybe that is also what makes marriage so wonderful—having someone who knows you inside out, warts and all, and still loves you the same.

 

Finding fulfilment in a partner vs in Christ

Cinderella was always dreaming about meeting her prince, so was Rapunzel, and Snow White and, well, you get the idea. It was almost as if their life was incomplete till they found “the one”. When they did, it was bliss—a whole new world unlocked. Initially, I thought the same way. I was constantly searching for someone who would finally make me feel special and complete.

But another friend posed me this question: If one day you find the person you have been dreaming of all your life, and yet you don’t feel as fulfilled as you expected to be, what happens then?

That was a necessary reminder that I must first and foremost find my ultimate fulfillment in Christ, for only He can truly satisfy. These days, I am slowly becoming able to echo what the Psalmist says in Psalms 73:25, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”

 

I still love animated movies, my friends can attest to that; but I now watch them knowing that love isn’t all about happy endings. That doesn’t make me desire marriage any less, and though I have much more to learn, having a realistic understanding of it reduces the likelihood I run in the other direction when facing difficulties with my future spouse.

 

©2017 Whole Life. All rights reserved.
This article was first published on Wholelife.sg and republished with permission.

What 5 Bible Couples Teach Us About Romance

Written By M. Tiong, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

I once thought that it was fine to start a romantic relationship as long as it felt right; I did not realize that I ought to take time to pray to God about it first. I once thought that it was time to break up when feelings faded; I did not realize that relationships needed to be nurtured. I once thought that I would be rational in romance; I did not realize that I would end up hating the other person badly and nursing my bitterness when the person left.

From puppy love in school to dating in college to being single after graduation, I have been through the whole roller coaster of emotions. It reached a point when I felt as though God no longer loved me. How come other people could start a relationship and watch it blossom and bear fruit, whereas I kept floundering? And why did I end up not only hurting myself, but hurting others as well even though I also dated with marriage in mind?

It was only later on, that I realized that I had been looking at relationships through my own lens. When things felt right, I would immediately launch into a relationship, assuming such feelings came from the “Holy Spirit”. Likewise, when problematic situations wore me out both physically and emotionally, I would assume that these were signs to break up, and as a result, let go of my relationships.

Movies, TV shows, online dating games, etc., all tell us to rely on our own feelings. We are told to chase after the romantic, the happy, and the epic. When these feelings are gone, dating and marriage should come to an end as well. But is that true? What view of romantic relationships does the Bible prescribe?

A thought came to my mind one day: Why not learn from godly marriages in the Bible to find out God’s thinking?

Let me share what I have learned from five couples in the Bible.

 

1. Isaac and Rebekah: Pray about marriage. Love is not only a feeling, but an important commitment.

Rebekah was from the same tribe as Abraham. She was selected by Abraham’s servant as a bride for Isaac (Abraham’s son) after the servant sought the Lord in prayer. Here I see a very important principle for relationships: choose a spouse from among God’s people. This choice is not random, nor should it be based on feelings—it should be the result of faithful prayer. If we get involved with unbelievers, we will have to deal with the differences in beliefs and values, or worse, we might follow the other person’s religious traditions and abandon God and His teaching.

The second thing I learned from their relationship is this: love is a decision. Although Isaac and Rebekah had not met each other before getting married, they were able to love each other their entire lives. In that time, it was not uncommon for men to have multiple wives, yet Isaac chose to spend his entire life with Rebekah alone. Their relationship shows us that when you decide to love a person and a holy covenant has been made, we can rely on God to keep us going and loving each other to the end even when difficulties arise in the marriage.

 

2. Boaz and Ruth: Listen to the advice of elders. No matter what your past is, trust that God accepts you.

Ruth was a foreigner as well as a widow. But she loved Naomi, her mother-in-law. She later followed Naomi’s advice and hinted her intentions to Boaz, and, as we all know, it was a happy ending for Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi. From this story, I learned that God does not look down on anyone whatever their background may be. What He cares about is our hearts. Ruth chose to believe in God―the same God her mother-in-law believed. She was also obedient to this beloved elder, and so she was blessed in the end, and even named in Jesus’ genealogy.

I used to think that only those who married their first boyfriend/girlfriend had relationships blessed by God. But it is not so. God accepts us no matter what our pasts are. Interestingly, I also saw from Ruth and Boaz’s marriage that women do not have to wait for men to make the first move in a relationship. Sometimes, a woman can give timely and appropriate hints to “less observant” men. Of course, this is on the condition that any action taken is in accordance with God’s will. As for men, they should think things through and ask older Christians for advice before making a move.

 

3. Joseph and Mary: Love requires action. We can accomplish God’s work together by fearing and obeying Him.

When Mary became pregnant with Jesus through the Holy Spirit, Joseph wanted to avoid divorcing her publicly so as to protect her name and her life. In that patriarchal era, the engaged man had the right to publicly divorce his fiancée, and the woman would be stoned to death for committing adultery. But Joseph did not do so because he loved Mary and feared God. Mary was also a God-fearing woman, and so willingly accepted the risks that came with her pregnancy.

Loving someone is proven by action. Joseph proved his love for Mary by respecting, protecting and marrying her. When evil men came after them to kill baby Jesus, they supported each other the entire way. This is one God-fearing couple who shared in both the good and bad times for the sake of God. To share the same faith as our spouse, and to be willing to commit to Christ and to each other, is a beautiful thing.

 

4. Aquila and Priscilla: Be a couple committed to Christ. Build up a home with Christ at its head, and give all for God’s kingdom.

Although this couple is not as well-known as the others we’ve looked at so far, I really admire their commitment to God in the New Testament. Though they were busy with work, they always warmly welcomed God’s servants Paul and Apollos (Acts 18). They opened up their home as a meeting place (1 Corinthians 16) and actively pursued any opportunity to add to God’s kingdom.

God not only wants families to be saved, but also to serve. Opening up one’s home not only incurs extra financial costs, but also a lot of time and energy. Here, we see an example of active ministry by lay people: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37), and “but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Also, two are better than one. In addition to sharing the ups and downs of life, a couple can pray for each other, serve God, and minister to people together. This is a beautiful picture. When I consider the families I know where one spouse is passionate about ministry but the other is not, I am all the more convinced of the importance of praying for a like-minded future spouse. Only when two people are of a similar maturity and mind, can they build a family with Christ at the head.

 

5. Zechariah and Elizabeth: Pray faithfully and wait patiently for God. Submit humbly to God’s will.

According to Luke 1, Zechariah and Elizabeth served the Lord faithfully despite their old age. I especially remember the part where Zechariah was serving as a priest when God’s messenger appeared to him, telling him that his prayer had been answered and that God would give him a son. This reminded me that God is always listening to our prayers, but whether or not those prayers are answered depends on God’s will.

Although we also see the weaknesses of Zechariah and Elizabeth―Zechariah was temporarily mute because of his lack of faith, and Elizabeth was initially afraid to tell people about her pregnancy―yet this did not hinder God from using them to accomplish His plans. When the child was born, they obeyed God and named him John. And after praying for so many years for their own child, Zechariah and Elizabeth were willing to give him up to God’s work, and to obey God in naming their child. Such surrender is something I need to learn. 

These five couples all have their own weaknesses, yet they share one thing in common: both partners feared and obeyed God. The example of Aquila and Priscilla especially reminded me that I must serve the Lord at any time in any place.

The Bible has many other examples that can teach us about relationships. The five couples above are only a handful, but these are the ones that have touched me deeply. Through studying them, I am better able to face the insecurities caused by my past relationships. These couples also inspire me to build a proper, God-pleasing view of relationship, and help me re-focus on God Himself. I hope that all I have learned about relationships can also help bring light to you in your own relationships.

I Kissed Dating a Non-Christian Goodbye

Written By Audrey A, Malaysia

“I don’t understand why we can break up over something that I cannot understand . . . I cannot believe you chose your God over me!” Those were his final words to me. God had finally given me the courage to end my relationship with *Duncan, a non-believer.

I was born to a Christian father and a Taoist mother. When I was little, my mother would bring me to the temple without my father’s knowledge. I did not know what I was doing at the time—I simply followed my mother and held joss sticks to pray.

Thankfully, my grandmother showed me the way. Every night without fail, she would teach me how to pray to Jesus. I knew that she had been praying for my mother’s salvation too.

My mother eventually converted to Christianity when I was nine and I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior when I was 16. I have always been amazed at my dad’s boldness in marrying a non-believer, and his patience and trust in God to make the flower bloom as he planted the seed of God’s love in my mother’s heart.

Naively, I thought I could do the same.

Duncan and I were colleagues and we worked on many projects together. Day by day, we became closer and we started hanging out exclusively. I shared my troubles at work with him and I enjoyed his company as he listened to me. I knew that Duncan was not a believer but I couldn’t care less.

I knew 2 Corinthians 6:14 well: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” However, my affection for him continued to grow.

Despite knowing what God had said through Paul in the Bible, my stubborn heart chose its own way. I was determined to make my relationship with Duncan work. I was convinced that after I shared the Gospel with Duncan, he would believe in Christ and our yokes would then be equal. How overconfident and optimistic I was.

 

Red Flags

One year into our relationship, I began to hear God speaking to me. I started to have unusual dreams. I had dreams of Duncan and I constantly fighting, of Duncan with another girl, and of me being in church with a guy who was not Duncan. While I struggled to make sense of these dreams, I sensed the Holy Spirit prompting me that the relationship was wrong.

Even as I spent more time with Duncan, the Holy Spirit would tell me time and again that I deserved someone who knows God personally and intimately. Deep down, I knew what I needed was a man who could pray and worship God together with me.

The Holy Spirit’s tugging at my heart never went away and the cracks in our relationship started to show when Duncan and I frequently argued over the smallest things. We had different perspectives on the world and had opposing views on many issues.

We disagreed on issues such as homosexuality—Duncan believed that some people are born to be gay and should be given the free will to love. Duncan also did not want kids—he saw them as a burden, while I saw them as a gift from God. It also troubled me that Duncan was finding it especially difficult to forgive people who had wronged him.

These arguments left me frustrated. I would get so exhausted that I gave up trying to change his mind. I would give in, not wanting to continue our fights. It became clear to me that our yokes were vastly different. God was not the center of our relationship. Being with him was akin to having one person pulling in one direction and the other one pushing in another.

Despite the red flags from concerned family members and friends, I pressed on because I did not want to start over. He was my first serious boyfriend and I was afraid that no one would love me again. After being with Duncan for two years, I did not want to leave the familiarity of our relationship.

Following my father’s example, I brought Duncan to church and shared God’s love with him in the hopes that he would change to become more caring and loving. I also continued to pray for God to soften his heart so that he could know Jesus.

He was physically present in church, but was not present emotionally and spiritually. He struggled to understand the faith and his disbelief led him to constantly challenge the existence and sovereignty of God. His heart was hardened against God.

The breaking point came for me when Duncan declared that I should learn to accept him for who he is: a non-believer. Adding that it was pointless for me to share God’s word with him anymore, he stressed that there was nothing I could say that would change his mind.

I was heartbroken. I cried, pleading with him to reconsider his choice.

Ultimately, he refused to change his mind. That was when I knew what I had to do: I had to let this relationship go. Jesus said: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. . . Anyone does not love me will not obey my teaching” (John 14:24). I broke up with him that evening.

Even though my heart is still aching from the breakup, I know that I must run to God and let Him heal me. I also asked God for forgiveness, knowing too well that I had been disobedient. I had ignored His promptings and His Word throughout my relationship with Duncan, which lasted two years.

I cannot be certain that I will eventually be married in the future. However, there is one thing I know for sure—Christ is indeed enough for me. I have since learned to place my heart completely in God’s hands. I trust that—if it is in His grand plan—He will place a godly man in my life.

If you are going through a similar journey, I hope this will encourage you to place your hope and trust in God’s promise in your life. “Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you” (Psalm 9:10).

 

*Not his real name