In Marvel’s latest blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, we are reunited with a comic book team of superheroes whose individual powers are not enough to face the challenges in front of them. They need the collective strength of the entire team to defeat evil and save the world -once again- from destruction.
I think this is a good lesson for us. We will be defeated alone no matter how much talent we have. We need the collective strength that comes from our relationships if we are going to achieve the great things God wants us to do. But we also know that building lasting friendships isn’t easy; in order to build real close relationships, we will need God’s help.
Relying On God
May Your unfailing love find me, O Eternal One. Keep Your promise, and save me; When that happens, I will have a good response for anyone who taunts me because I have faith in Your word. Do not take Your message of truth from my mouth because I wait and rely on Your just decisions.
Psalms 119:41-43 (Voice)
Our own decisions will determine the quality of our relationships. We may not have a choice in what other people do to us, but we always have power over how we respond.
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
1 Peter 1:22-23 (NIV)
Deep, loving relationships rely on God’s word. “Obeying the truth” like the scripture above mentions means obeying God’s word over your own emotions. It means choosing forgiveness, humility, honesty and purity instead of bitterness, deceit, pride and lust.
People aren’t perfect; no one will earn your trust or love 100% of the time. God is the only one who does. We will love others – even when they haven’t earned it – when we first choose to love and obey God’s word.
Relationships Reveal Our Hearts
Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.
1 John 2:10-11 (NIV)
Relationships reveal our real relationship with God. What happens when we aren’t relying on God? We will revert to what is comfortable and usually most natural – keeping our feelings, desires, fears, sins and hurts in the darkness. Without God it is much harder to have the courage to be honest about these things.
Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.
– Sigmund Freud
Explain your anger, don’t express it and you will immediately open the door to solutions instead of arguments.
What happens when we don’t deal with what’s in our hearts? We become:
1. Emotionally Deceitful
Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies, for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you.
Proverbs 23:6 (ESV)
Emotionally deceitful people won’t talk about emotions that might lead to conflict or exposure, which leads them to withhold their heart.
2. Emotionally Defensive
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
This scripture says that we get angry when we don’t want to humbly accept God’s truth. Emotionally defensive people get easily angry because they are fighting any truth that makes them feel bad. Emotionally defensive people tend to flip arguments back on other people instead of taking responsibility for their mistakes.
3. Emotionally Detached
But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
When we are emotionally detached we will deny the truth about the sinful motives that keep us distant from others. From the scripture above, some of those motives are envy and selfish ambition. When we have those things in our hearts and don’t admit or repent of them, they will affect our relationships. For example, we may want to distance ourselves whenever someone does better than us in any area – like job performance, buying a house, having a kid, losing weight or any other perceived success.
So how do we overcome these obstacles to building close friendships? Three big steps are beating deceit, beating conceit, and beating isolation.
O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.
Psalms 62:5 (NLT)
The first step to beating deceit in relationships is getting our emotions, sins, and stressors out to God.
Ask yourself, what are the top 3 emotions you experience on a daily basis? We need to be aware of our emotions because emotions can lead us to sin and can also help us see our need for God. For example, being aware of our fear can lead us to see a greater need to pray and memorize scriptures – or we can ignore our fear by turning to pleasure-seeking sins to forget our negative feelings. Being aware of our emotions before we turn to sin is a really important part of building a close relationship with God and others.
Do not act out of selfish ambition or conceit, but with humility think of others as being better than yourselves.
Philippians 2:3 (NIV)
Conceit is all about us. It’s thinking about how we look and how we want to be seen. Humility, on the other hand, means letting go of our advantage – not trying to be better or look better than other people. Admiration is about considering why others are better than us and learning from them.
In order to beat conceit, start thinking more about others and what you can admire about them.
While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. 16 And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.17 “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.”
1 Samuel 23:15-16 (NIV)
For David, finding strength in God meant being reminded of God’s words about him and the impact his life would have. We need friends to remind us of our purpose because when the going gets tough it’s easy to throw our vision out the window and just try to survive. Real spiritual friendships help us focus on our bigger purpose in life.
Make a decision today to put one of these scriptures in to practice and begin to see your relationships change.