A couple years ago, I experienced a growing concern for a friend of mine. Something in his ministry approach seemed discordant with its purpose. I waited a few months before talking with him. (Who knows? Maybe my observations were wrong.) When a perfect example finally arose, I shared my unease.
But to say I “shared it” exaggerates my graciousness.
Instead, I bluntly confronted him. When he resisted, I pressed harder. Something inside me shouted “Stop!” while something else inside me desperately wanted to express my convictions, no matter the consequences.
I bulldozed aside objections, I plowed under every denial, and I railroaded home my points. And of course, the message was lost in its offensive delivery.
Two years later, I’m still working on repairing that relationship.
A few months later, I needed to talk with another friend, in another ministry, about another concern. But I was loath to approach him. My inner-resistance arose partly because I was still reeling from that recent relational fiasco, but I was hesitant mostly because this second message was thornier and more personal, and I empathized with my friend.
I reluctantly phoned him, but as I shared, my voice choked. While I didn’t weep, my eyes moistened, because I sensed his difficulty in hearing. But when he asked me questions, I listened instead of attacking, and I expressed my observations gently. No bludgeoning.
And that friendship deepened.
The difference between the two discussions seems obvious: I was an ogre in one and an angel in the other. (We’re talking relatively here. No one on earth has ever called me an angel.)
But the ogre/angel answer doesn’t address why I challenged them differently. It wasn’t due to problems in their natures: both are good friends, both serve good ministries, and both are open to feedback. Instead, something happened in me.
True friendship requires frankness, yes, but it also requires connection. Candor is telling a truth that needs to be expressed or they will suffer, but connectedness requires such close, personal association that the painful truth I speak means I will suffer with my friend.
Connection over Principle
Let’s be honest. I am not the only one who has stubbornly stuck to a path I knew—I knew!—was stupid. Some of us talk when we shouldn’t, and when resistance arises, we steamroll it flat. Others of us see friends driving themselves off a cliff, and we cowardly sympathize with insipid platitudes when we know we should sound the alarm instead.
We all want the “three keys” for successfully challenging a friend. God simply wants us to listen to his Spirit living in us. Worldly wisdom always looks for behavioral rules; but human lives are complicated, and we need spiritual wisdom to detangle the threads of brokenness.
We want principles for action; God wants connection to him. I related differently with my two friends because I acted out of a different spirit: with one I talked out of “Sam’s wisdom” (thus proving its absence) and with the other I sensed the Spirit of God bonding me with my friend.
If God really gave me any scrap of spiritual insight, I think he gave that morsel mostly to reveal an insight into myself: I am never called to demonstrate how wonderful my own wisdom is, but to reveal God’s Son in me.
It’s time to bulldoze my supposed-sagacity.
Sam – Thank you for this post. This is a struggle I’m experiencing right now, but with one of my children. While I’m called to be an example of God’s grace and mercy (imperfect though I am), He also calls me to speak the truth. My prayer now in this particular situation is what, if anything, I am to say, or if God Himself desires to speak to my child directly. What I’ve taken away from your post is that we need God’s wisdom in every one of our relationships, and speak when and how He directs.
Samuel C. Williamson
You’ve got it: the world is complicated and we need God’s presence and wisdom. That’s why God promised to send us his Spirit to live in us. But he did promise. God will speak and God will direct.
Which is what I need. Because it’s relatively easy for me to speak truth without love, or to love without truth. But to do both? I need God!
I’m meditating on “surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life” … trying to figure out what that really looks like (I know that’s basic… but “REALLY looks like”?!)… and reading your article helped see that surely the wisdom of the Spirit getting through my thick head with conviction and insight into how to handle relationships, is one more way that His “goodness and mercy” follows me? Anything that makes me act more like Him is his “goodness and mercy” following me.. cool. Thank you Sam!
Samuel C. Williamson
Now you’ve got me thinking about his goodness and mercy following. I love it!
Power full good stuff. Thank You.
I have learned that lesson myself over the years. Lost some good friends with my “advice.” There is a time and place to be tough, but not very often. Usually it is soft, grace, love and mercy that wins the right to be heard. We need to be led by God’s Spirit, not our own ways. Thanks for sharing.
Samuel C. Williamson
As you can tell, I’ve damaged friendships as well. Alas. And (just as Steve says below), we need the Spirit of God, not our own ways or feelings or wisdom.
Good, Spirit-led insight as usual. May I add a little? You said, “God simply wants us to listen to the Spirit within us.” Yup. As a Lutheran Christian (emphasis on Christian) I must comment, “God wants us to dig into His Word which teaches us how to live…..” Many misinterpret “listen to the Spirit within” to mean “I gotta trust my feelings.” St. Martin fought hard, even railed against such. Please keep me on your list!!
Samuel C. Williamson
First: EVERYONE!!!!!!!!! Did you see what Steve just did? He challenged and confronted me, publicly!!, yet he did it so graciously that I simply wanted to hear what he said. He just modeled deep, connected, candid friendship. Steve, you are fantastic!
Second, I agree with you. I think my writing was unclear. When I talk about the “Spirit within us,” I mean God’s Holy Spirit (not our human spirit or our human feelings–both of which can be very fickle).
And one of the primary purposes of God giving us his Spirit is to explain God’s Word to us, to help us see Jesus in his Word. Jesus kept saying things like, “You don’t understand now, but later on you will” and “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
As we get out of out “natural” wisdom and rely on God’s Spirit to speak his truth and explain his Scriptures; when that happens, we can challenge friends with Grace. Because the only reason we know something spiritual is the Grace of God.
It’s been my experience as a Christian that most “concerns” for other brother and sisters in Christ stem from a lack of vision of the concerns that we should have about our own ministries and actions including attitudes. Having the Mind of Christ and being continually filled with the Holy Spirit will put that in check. I leave my info below for conversation but don’t always check it as often as I should. I don’t pro port myself to be anything more than a sinner saved by grace, the husband of one wife for 45 yrs and the father of 9 children living. God bless and keep.