6 Ways to Take Your Relationship Deeper

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA

When my family and I moved across continents, our lives were stripped down, and being in a new place made everything about three steps harder. I realized in those situations how desperately I needed friends. Real friends, who would plop down on my back porch while our kids got muddy, and who would swap their hearts’ stories with me. I needed friends who would show up when my husband had malaria or put an arm around my shoulder when I wasn’t there for my grandpa’s funeral.

God knew that we needed friendships that loved intrusively. It’s how Jesus loved us—setting aside His status (as God!) to get dirty in our mess. He swapped a throne for a reeking stable, put on diapers, went through puberty and single adulthood. Then, He took what I was carrying, and made it His own (Philippians 2:5-8). After all, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). Is that what should characterize our friendships? As laying down our own lives?

This is vital. Wherever you are.

But to reach that stage, I needed to build my friendships from scratch. And here are a few things I found useful to deepen my friendships:

1. Ask good questions and be willing to share

One of my favorite questions—though admittedly it can occasionally sound cheesy—is, “How’s your heart?” It’s my way of saying, How are you, really—on the inside? What are you wrestling with in there?

Of course, sometimes we simply want to be the one to whom people tell stuff; to be the confidante, the counselor. But love doesn’t let us get away with always being the giver in relationships. In the Bible, Peter had to allow Jesus to wash his feet (John 13:8-10) and Jesus allowed a woman to bathe his own feet in expensive perfume, and wipe them with her own hair (Matthew 26:7-11).

When I find myself slipping into that role of “always the giver”, it can help to be straightforward with friends: Hey, I tend to let my friendships be a little one-sided, because I get uncomfortable when people ask me questions. So I’m telling you this so you can call me out on it, and keep pursuing me.


2. Ask how you can pray for them

Praying is one of the most intimate forms of love. We’re fighting for someone, about their most intimate desires, fears, and concerns. I want to get into the spiritual boxing ring of prayer (like Jacob, who wrestled with God) alongside my friends, for them and the ones they love. I want us to at least get to the level of, “What would you ask God for right now? What matters the most to you that you’re wrestling with? What’s sitting on your heart like a big elephant?”

Sometimes, friends are too weary to pray for themselves. They might feel too afraid or alienated from God. They might feel grief or concern that overwhelms any words. They might not know what to say. It is such a privilege that I can pray for them.

Who do you know who might not have a lot of people praying on their behalf? Practically speaking, consider calling to check up on how they’re doing, or sending a text message or note in the mail to let them know some of the verses and thoughts you’re praying for them.

3. Tell the truth

I’m challenged by the simple words of Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” Reality is, I have not always treated my friends as if they are members of my own body, communicating like my own body does with itself.

I am not false—not in the intentionally lying sense—but I am not always intentionally truthful, for the sake of “kindness” or my own security. I am not always faithful to speak the truth or say what someone might not want to hear. I may not love enough to be courageous.

If a friend is, say, caught in sexual sin—then I should care enough to quietly say, “I think I need to tell you what you probably already know. This is destroying you. I think you could dream a lot bigger—for a faithful, forever relationship that really valued you, and where you value them back.”

Honestly, when I’m not truthful with a friend, when I’m holding back, I can feel that between us. My friendships will only grow as deep as we both allow them to go.


4. Be vulnerable

Vulnerability takes so much security—first, in our vertical relationship with God. I find a direct correlation between my own humility and my ability to be transparent with other people. Humility says, I’m weak, a flawed sinner. That’s who I am. But God loves me. And that’s who I am. God’s love gives me the courage to be vulnerable and risk rejection.

Sometimes a lack of vulnerability may be because someone isn’t trustworthy. But more often it’s from self-protection; from a fear that if people know who I am, I’ll be rejected. Honestly, I used to wait for others to pursue me as a display of their concern for me—and sometimes still do. But knowing I always have God’s love gives me the courage to be vulnerable with others. And recognizing my own weakness before Him helps me acknowledge my own need for others to shoulder what I’m carrying (Galatians 6:2); that it’s not good for me to be alone (Genesis 2:18); that I can’t say, “I don’t need you!” to those God has given me in community (1 Corinthians 12:21).

Jesus is our ultimate example of vulnerability. He put Himself in a killable, dirty-able human body; He died naked, shamed and broken. Talk about vulnerability! I’m not saying we trust anyone with our most intimate, painful areas. After all, Jesus had his own concentric circles of friendship—His intimate three, then 12 disciples, then 72, then the crowds. But friendship is rewarding proportional to the courage and intimacy we’re willing to extend; and the bar that Jesus set—love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34)—is one that will take the rest of my life to pursue.

5. Be relentless

Not in a “I’m your friendly neighborhood stalker” sort of way, but in a kind of way that doesn’t look to our own interests, but to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).

Our current society does not seem to encourage true community well—for relationships that go the distance when it’s inconvenient, unhappy, sweaty, and generally uncomfortable. Thanks to social media we may still be in touch with people from high school—but we may also have 580 “friends” who assume they know us because of our status updates.

For relationships to go deeper, we need to be willing to tirelessly pursue them. Social media, of course, can also be a way to simply care for others more than ourselves; to love well, now that we know what’s going on. I’ve got to be willing to initiate, to crowd my calendar with people rather than just events. . . to be secure enough that friendships aren’t all about me.

6. Be aggressive about forgiveness

Forgiveness is easy to elude, right? It’s easy to choose blame, a hard heart, an alienated relationship. Forgiveness goes against all that’s natural in us. I’m amazed at how petty I can get about small “insults” from a friend—ways he or she seemed thoughtless and didn’t read my mind, things that seemed “obvious” because of my unique composition (which is why I need a friend in the first place), ways that someone didn’t return a kindness.

Friendships squeeze me into the discipline of returning a blessing for a perceived insult; of loving extravagantly. I’ve had to return in my own friendships with “I’m sorry”—with my own need for their mercy and graciousness. I am fascinated by this thought from American pastor and scholar Ligon Duncan that tells me a lot about relationships in general: “People don’t fall out of love. They fall out of repentance and forgiveness.”

After all, our affections follow our ability to extend and receive grace in imperfect relationships.


You can see that a lot of these ideas begin with a common, perhaps unexpected trait: humility, fastened tightly to love as the motivator in our relationships.

This year, may your relationships press into the next level of loving as Jesus loves us.

Tired Of Talking About The Weather?

Written By Josiah Kennealy, USA

A while back, I got together with a friend over coffee. We were working on a project, and I noticed we weren’t on the same page. We were going to meet for one hour. We spent the first 45 minutes talking about sports and other trivial things. Just as I was about to bring up the issue I had asked us to get together about, my friend announced that he had to leave early. We had coffee and accomplished nothing. Even though I had an agenda, we wasted time talking about nothing significant, and I missed an opportunity.

This is what normal conversation looks like for a lot of people. We all do this at different times. Think about the number of times you’ve gotten together with a friend and spent several minutes or even a whole conversation talking about the weather.

A lot changed for me when I began dating the girl whom I am now married to. Right off the bat, she asked deep, intentional questions. With my wife, there is no such thing as a shallow or surface level conversation. At first, this felt very awkward and outside of my comfort zone. But having tasted the benefits of having meaningful conversations, and I don’t want to settle for anything less!

The Bible give us a few things to consider as we engage in everyday conversations, which I’ve found helpful.


1. Be wise

In Colossians 4:5, Paul says, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” Paul sees everyday conversations as opportunities to represent Jesus. He reminds us that we can stand out and represent God well in every text, email, post on social media, and face to face meeting. In a world that fills our time with conversations about the weather, let’s try to go deeper and talk about matters of the heart.

Paul starts his advice with the words “be wise”. Wisdom is the ability to apply our knowledge and understanding of God’s ways and will to our thoughts and actions. It is one of the main themes in the Bible, and it’s something we can pray for (James 1:5). When given the opportunity to ask God for anything, Solomon asked for wisdom. God loved that Solomon asked for wisdom so much that He also gave Solomon everything else that he could have wanted (1 Kings 2:7-15).

When we bring wisdom to our conversations, we bring purpose and meaning. We can glorify God. This will help us avoid missing opportunities.


2. Be bold

Making the most of every opportunity to minister with our words takes wisdom—and boldness.

Peter in the Bible is both an example of someone with boldness, as well as someone who lacks boldness. When Peter denied Jesus three times, he was probably the poorest example of boldness (Luke 22).

But months later, we see the same person on the opening day of the church in Acts 2, and something is different about him. Here, Peter preaches boldly to 3,000 people and they are all added to the early church. Boldness was given to Peter when the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, and it created such a stark difference! Where Peter once lacked boldness, he was now filled with it.

Like Peter, we can either approach conversations on our own (with fear) or with God (in faith). We can speak either out of our own insecurities, or our God-given confidence. In our own lives, boldness can take the shape of being willing to initiate, asking great questions, and leading deep conversations.

We don’t need to wait for someone else to start meaningful conversation. We are called to lead the way by initiating. Pick up the phone. Schedule the coffee appointment or meeting. Have someone over in your office or living room. We can ask open-ended questions instead of closed-ended questions, such as, “What was the highlight of your weekend?” instead of “Did you have a good weekend?”

Being bold can lead us to deep conversations that truly matter.  How many more times do we want to pause and say, “Well, it’s a nice day outside.” Why not ask the person we’re speaking with, “How’s it going inside your soul?” Let’s push beyond talking about the weather and get to the crux of the matter.


3. Be attentive and encouraging

All throughout the Bible, we are encouraged to “listen” more than we speak, whether it’s listening to God’s word (James 1:19), listening to good counsel (Proverbs 12:15, Proverbs 5:1-23), or just listening to others in general.

Perhaps the most underrated component of our conversations is the ability to listen. Yet, studies show that much of communication is non-verbal. When we listen, nod, lean forward, smile and put away our cell phones, these small actions demonstrate that the person we are listening to is important!

After listening, we can reply with words that build up. One of my favorite things to do is to encourage other people. I don’t mind being encouraged, either! Who doesn’t? We hold incredible power in our mouths—the power of life and death (See Proverbs 18:21).

Ephesians 4:29 is one of my favorite verses: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” We aren’t merely called to make people feel good, but to meet their needs. We can do this by really listening, and using our words wisely.


4. Be willing to have crucial conversations

It’s natural for humans everywhere to put off hard conversations. We might find it awkward or unnatural to talk about purity and accountability, or we might find it difficult to ask for help, when in reality, we’re struggling at work. But the benefits of having a tough talk outweigh the consequences of avoiding them.

I remember when I first started dating my wife. I was too nervous to talk about my feelings for fear of being misunderstood, being hurt, or being rejected. It was not easy sharing my hopes, dreams and feelings with her. But I’m so glad I took that step! Having difficult conversations are so worth it when someone accepts you and how you feel.  I now have a meaningful relationship with her and we talk about anything and everything.

The decision is ours. Are you willing to step out of the land of familiar into a life with rewarding, riveting, and stimulating conversation?


When we are willing to be wise, bold, attentive, encouraging and have crucial conversations, we will discover the joy on the other side of the comfort zone!

4 Tips For Struggling Through Homesickness

Written By Q. Jackson, USA

At the beginning of my third year of University, I took two bags and all the courage I could muster, and got on a plane to spend the next four months across the world.

Since I learned that studying abroad would be compatible with the academic requirements for my major in Political Science, I welcomed the opportunity to have my assumptions about communication, people, education and more, challenged in a new cultural context.

My University in West Michigan (USA) had a long established relationship with a school in Cape Coast, Ghana, and it was the only financially feasible option for me at the time—with it being the most affordable program. After careful consideration, I decided to take the plunge, having great anticipation for the unknown that lay before me.

Prior to leaving, however, I didn’t put much thought into how it would feel to leave behind the community I had built at university during my first two years. As it turned out, even though I had a host of new exciting experiences that semester, I also endured significant bouts of homesickness during my time across the world.

To anyone experiencing a time of loneliness or separation, whether because of school or work, I can offer four suggestions that were instrumental in shifting my perspective from a negative to a positive one.


1. Set Boundaries for Communication With Those Back Home

In order to make time for the people and community where I was, I learned that it was really important for me to set boundaries for my communication with people from home. Those boundaries often meant that I would limit the frequency or length of my calls with friends and family.

Limited time on Facebook and social media also kept me from growing envious of the community that my friends back home still shared (without me). This was necessary because in setting these boundaries, it exposed a need and allowed time for developing community right where God had me, in Cape Coast.

With more time to be present, I grew more willing to participate in potentially uncomfortable meetings with new friends in Ghana and less likely to hole up in my room, making excessively long phone calls with familiar friends back home.


2. Plug in to a Christian Community

I had been in Ghana for over a month, when it dawned on me that every relationship I had there was brand new and shallow. No one knew me. I didn’t have a shared history with anyone. I believed that time was the only thing that could change that. 

As I grew weary of the surface-level relationships that surrounded me, God sent me encouragement. One day, I was standing in the hallway of my hostel, talking with several other foreign students. One of the local students from downstairs joined us, welcoming us to the university. As the others fell away, it ended up being the local student, myself, and one other. As we prepared to part ways, the local student paused to look at me and said, “You’re different than the others. Your Spirit is different. You’re a Christian, aren’t you?”

Finding this fellow Christian was an answer to my desperate need for a Christian connection in a foreign place. I was convinced that time and a shared history were the only things that could deepen relationships, when in reality, Christians have an instant deep connection with anyone who also testifies that Jesus is Lord.

Soon after this, I found a Church home (after weeks and weeks of searching), and I also agreed to attend a 5 a.m. Bible study that I had been avoiding. I didn’t always understand all of what was being said in the study, or at church, and I rarely knew the words to sing the songs. But I listened. I listened to fellow Christians praise God, and speak about His mighty power. And I knew that the very Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, was alive in those around me (Romans 8:11).

I found comfort in the very presence of my international Christian community, because God was with them, just as He was with my Christian community back home. When we fellowship with other Christians, we have an automatic deep connection, since we are all children of the same God, living with the same Holy Spirit inside of us.


3. Spend Time Getting to Know New People

In addition to seeking out a Christian community, I also started digging deeper in my relationships with unbelievers. I started asking more questions, listening, and taking a lot of time to communicate thoroughly with people who didn’t understand me.

In doing this, I unearthed that one of my new friends had very settled (and offensive) assumptions about Americans. This included an assumption that all American women are apt to sleep around with various men, drink a lot, and party irresponsibly. His assumptions doubled as accusations, and responding to them with patience was difficult. We took the time to talk through these assumptions, and I found it was a platform for me to testify to God’s call for all Christians (including American women), to set their minds on what is pure and good and right, and to act in accordance with that mindset (Philippians 4:8).

This conversation, along with several other significant culturally complicated ones, taught me that wading through cultural assumptions and bad reputations is not easy. However, if I commit time and effort to really get to know someone, even when there are difficult barriers to overcome, everyone involved can come out of it with a better and more accurate understanding of each other, as was the case with me and the friend with settled assumptions of American women.


4. Remember Who Helps You

During my time in Ghana, God revealed that my dependency on my Christian community back home had grown to be unhealthy. I was counting solely on my community for growth, direction and comfort, instead of relying on God for my every need. When I faced spiritual obstacles in this new place, like feeling distant from God, God was the only consistent person to bring those thoughts and fears to.

It exposed a sinful preference of mine to take my concerns to fellow broken Christians before laying them at the feet of our holy and perfect God. Now, I always try to remember that counsel from God-fearing Christians is good, but it is not a substitute for going directly to the Father with all of my needs.


My time in Ghana was challenging, and I often was exhausted by the effort it took to do something as simple as have conversation, or find a church. Even so, that semester was one of the best times of my life.

After four short months, I returned home to finish my degree and graduate. I think that being physically present was vital to sustaining my new friendships, so it was difficult to keep them up across the world. Five years later, most of the relationships that I gained that semester have faded. What never faded and continues to shape my perspective today is what God taught me through all of it.

Now, even years after my brief semester abroad, I am constantly challenged to be present, and to be active and engaged where I am, instead of getting wrapped up in wishing for something or someplace else. I still prioritize finding a Christian community wherever I go, and I hold tight to a commitment to good communication.

God also continues to remind me that He alone sustains me. Without God’s Spirit working directly in me, no community, no person, and no Bible study will sustain my faith.

When A Friend Leaves the Faith

When a close friend of mine shared with me through a text that she was no longer a Christian, I foolishly replied with three insensitive words: “Are you legit?”

She was someone I had grown up with in church, and we had served together in various ministries. Although younger than me, she spoke with much wisdom; I always saw her as someone who was more spiritually mature than me.

Naturally, her declaration that she was no longer a Christian came as a shock to me. I re-read the same text again and again, hoping that I had misunderstood her message. There was no ambiguity in her text. What was I to say now? Surely she wouldn’t want me to share with her the gospel that she no longer believed in?

As an introvert, I tend to stay within my tight-knit circle of friends in church, and not step out to minister to others. Because of my fear of rejection, I always assumed that the responsibility to reach out to those who leave the faith lies with those who were more extroverted and spiritually mature.

But when my friend made that declaration to me, I knew I could not sit back and do nothing. As her friend, I had to act. But while it was clear as day to me that I had to do my part to reach out to her, I wasn’t clear about how or where to begin.

As I struggled to connect with my friend, these are five things that I wish someone had told me.


1. He/she is still your friend

After my friend’s sudden declaration, I struggled to view her as my same old friend that I could spend hours talking to. I couldn’t engage in the same conversations about the books and the silliest happenings in our lives without the nagging thought that our relationship was no longer the same. That said, she was probably having the same difficulty as well, wondering if her Christian friends would treat her any different now that she no longer believed in God, and would leave her because of her decision.

When our friends leave the faith, it can be a crushing blow to us. To me, it even felt a little like betrayal. But I do believe that God wants us to continue to be the same friend to them, treating them as we did before. God wants us to view them as His children and fellow sinners who need God’s love and care—like we all do (Romans 5:8).

Friends who leave the faith are not “new projects” for us to take on, they are still our friends with the same needs, desires, and hobbies.


2. Take the time to listen to them

What my friend needed at that moment was not someone persuading her to come back to Christianity. She didn’t need another comprehensive or engaging presentation of the gospel. What she needed was a friend to hear her out.

Spending time to understand why our friends leave the faith as well as the process leading up to that decision is important. We need to remember that many of them have thought through the painful process and would appreciate someone patient enough to listen, instead of someone eager to re-share the gospel with them as if they’ve not heard it before. This also shows respect for our friend, recognizing that they did not make the decision lightly, and that they are probably going through quite a bit emotionally.

When we seek first to understand them, we demonstrate God’s love, care, and concern for them. The act of listening also reassures them that the friendship is a safe space for them to share, and opens up more opportunities for them to be honest with their struggles.


3. Know the faith you proclaim

I’m ashamed to admit that this was my biggest struggle. I don’t think it’s about knowing how to answer every difficult apologetics question thrown at us, but at the very least, we must be clear about why we are Christians.

When my friend asked me over dinner one day why I’m a Christian, my mind went blank. I realized I hadn’t thought it through carefully or prepared an answer. In the end, I stammered through a lengthy and lame reply that even I myself wasn’t convinced of.

The reason for our conviction is a common question from non-Christians, and the Bible exhorts us to “always be ready to explain” the reason for the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15, NLT). When we are ill-equipped to share with confidence, we are losing a precious opportunity from God to share our personal testimony with others and what our faith means to us on a personal level. By not thinking through our own reasons, we also lose the opportunity to engage meaningfully with the person on a topic close to both our hearts.


4. Reflect on how we might have influenced the decision

Though the decision to leave the faith ultimately rests with the individual and each one of us is accountable for our own actions before God, there could have been a string of contributing factors that finally tipped the balance.

In my friend’s case, I—along with other friends—had wrongly assumed that just because she was actively serving, her relationship with God was in a good state, so we neglected ministering to her. We spent a much larger proportion of our time with others who reluctantly came to church or didn’t feel connected to the church, forgetting that the one next to us needed the same kind of attention.

Perhaps, it might have been the little things that caused them to feel far away from God. We may not have ignored or excluded them in church, refusing to be the community we are called to be; but could we have been slow to listen to their struggles, or had focused on loving and spending time with others?

What did we do (or not do) that caused them to feel distant and doubt God? Are there things that we could have done better to point them to God? What practical steps could we have taken to improve the way we behave? In other words, how could we have been better friends? How could we have been more sensitive to their needs?

Recognizing hard truths help us to be better friends and better testimonies of Christ to those around us.


5. Recognize that God’s heart breaks more than ours.

If our friends are precious to us, what more to their Creator? If we, as sinners, can love our friends, how much more the perfect God?

If we want our friends to be reconciled with God, what more God, who sent His only Son to do that (John 3:16)? We can be assured that God’s personal heart is for all sinners to come back to Him in repentance (Ezekiel 18:23). Just as God is patient and will never give up on His children (2 Peter 3:9), may we learn to never give up praying and interceding for our friends.

Let us learn to trust in God, not doubting His faithfulness and His goodness, and cling onto His promises in the Bible that God will finish the good work that He has begun in every single one of us (Philippians 1:6).


I hope that my friend will come back to Christ one day. And till then, I will keep praying that God will turn her heart back to Him, trusting and submitting to His sovereign will.