Student Series: Discovering a Deeply Relational God
“Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future”
I remember hearing this sentiment, communicated in a variety of ways at different Christian conferences growing up. It challenged me. I looked at my closest friends and I liked the future I saw. I loved this phrase until about a year ago, the fall of my senior year in high school.
My youth minister at the time preached about calling, seeking the lost, and how we are all called to share God’s love. He demonstrated to us that there are so many people in the world around us hurting, praying to be loved, and we have the opportunity to be the answers to their prayers. I thought about the phrase, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future,” and I began to think, would Jesus have said this?
Jesus befriended the worst of the worst in society’s eyes. He hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes. The Pharisees looked at Him and basically said, “Oh Jesus, by the look of your friends we don’t like the path you’re going down.” His was a path that eventually led to a bloody death on a cross and a resurrection, all to forgive MY sins even though he was blameless.
I read two books this year. I know, impressive right? The books were Befriend by Scott Sauls and Love Does by Bob Goff. Both of these books have had a tremendous impact on my faith this year and both have challenged me.
Befriend focuses on relationships and challenges the reader to invest in a variety of relationships with people from all different walks of life. It showed me how important relationships are — that in the end, our walk with Jesus is a relationship. I went through middle school and a part of high school staying in my “group,” investing in people who were all relatively similar: nice, good, Christian friends who didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, and attended all the right Bible studies. I wouldn’t trade these friends for the world, and I can’t express on paper how eternally grateful I am for the impact they have made on my life, to bring me to where I am today. Many of those relationships are some of the most intentional, life giving relationships one could ask for.
My point is that it shouldn’t stop here. It’s a safe, comfortable life to surround yourself with a bunch of Christians. But we aren’t called to a life of comfort.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
Jesus’ last words command us to build relationships with people we may not be comfortable with, people of different races, sexualities, cultures, people we may not even like. This command is not easy. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s what we’re called to do.
Part of building relationships is love. When I started reading Love Does, I thought it was going to be a book about how being nice to people benefits you. But I learned that love is so much more than just kindness. Love is an action; love does! Bob Goff wrote stories from his life and pointed them back to the gospel. His stories were unbelievable! His book showed me the power of relationships in Christianity, and the role love has in those relationships. This book contained unconventional teachings about Jesus, but some of the most powerful yet simple messages I’ve ever heard.
“… I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
Goff is a perfect example of the full life we experience in Jesus. The common thread in his uncommon stories is that he was all in. He trusted the Lord and sought him with his whole heart; this is where Jesus is found, when we immerse ourselves in His love and commit to a life alongside him.
“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah
Over this last year, I have questioned many of my prior convictions. Why do I do certain things, while abstaining from other things (and so on and so forth)? I grew up with a strong Christian foundation and a rich education of the Bible. What I lacked for a long time was a relationship. I knew all the right verses and played by all the right rules. But I’ve come to learn that this is not how we find God. We find God when we search for HIM, to know HIM, with all our heart. This is the same way we are called to approach our relationships on earth – even though some of those relationships might (and should) push us out of our comfort zone: “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25: 35-40)
The Lord shows himself to us in unique ways, we just have to keep our eyes open.
My faith has been radically changed by these books, and I see faith, love, relationships, and how they all intertwine in a whole new way. I was a kid who looked like the perfect Christian boy; I checked off all the right boxes. But that’s not what Jesus wants. He just wants us, as we are, with all our baggage. He just wants a relationship, for us to know him. At the end of the day, he wants to wrap his arms around us and love us in a way we could never imagine.
We serve a relational God, and I have found that he shows himself through our other relationships too. By the grace of God, he has opened my eyes to see him in the people around me. Because of this, my relationship with my parents has grown from me being a good kid to actually embracing them as my friends, like they’ve always wanted. I’ve seen those safe relationships with friends become truly meaningful, challenging me in my own relationship with God. I have siblings who are so loving and care for me so much, and I want to fully invest in that. I have a girlfriend that has shown me God in so many new ways. I have been blessed with so many youth leaders who, by the love of the Lord, felt called to pour into me. I’ve seen the Lord place different people from different walks of life into my life, and I am hoping to build relationships with people that really bring me out of my comfort zone. The people are there, Jesus is behind them, I want to say “yes” and invest.
Now I looking back at the phrase, “Show me your friends and I’ll show your future,” and I hope one day that if you looked at my friends, you wouldn’t see the future at all. You would only see Jesus, his love, the work he is doing in my life, and the work he wants to do in all of us.
Check out the first article in our Student Series: Finding Comfort in the Lonely Times of Freshman Year.