Who’s the most offbeat friend you’ve ever had? How has your friendship with that person influenced both of you?
And for that matter, when have you been the off-beat person in a group? What helped you find the group’s “rhythm” (or did you)?
It’s easy to be there for people we naturally have things in common with. The people you’re invested in right now might be like that. Then again, you might be wondering why God put you with them.
The answer’s the same either way: God always wants us to push beyond simply the natural and into the spiritual, so that our relationships can glorify God on every level.
And the fact is: Not everyone we can’t understand is the off-beat one. We may be the ones who are “off”—at least to them. And that’s OK, too. Some people truly are different; most, though, are simply different from us. The point is, there are people God puts in our lives that we have a hard time getting in synch with—but God’s not letting us off the hook. He’s put those people in our lives so he can grow them—and us—in a brand-new way.
The most important thing isn’t that we totally “click” with others, but that we’re willing to push forward and help that other person discover how God’s working in them. God wants to do what God wants to do. Our part is to show up and remain open to God’s leading, even when we don’t fully understand the other person or what God wants to do in him or her. The important thing is: God understands. And when we allow God into those relationships, we have something—and Someone—much greater in common.
Still, challenging people are… well, a challenge. But you’ve been there before, probably more than you know. Think about it:
• When have you felt totally unequipped to help someone else? How were you able to help anyway (or not)?
• When have you felt like you were in a situation no-one else—or maybe even God—understood or could help you with?
• Looking back now, what do you wish you could have helped people understand (or understand more quickly)?
And we’re not alone, either. We have both a helper and an example. “For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NET).
Jesus understands our weaknesses, because he faced every one of the same testings we face. And Jesus not only understands us—he also understands the people we’re with, for the same reasons he understands us.
Jesus certainly understood his disciples as well. But the other way around—not so much. And yet, though they dropped the ball sometimes, the disciples ultimately stuck it out with Jesus. And if you’re reading this, you’re probably already a result of that faithfulness. So let’s look at a couple great examples of both the disciples’ confusion and their faithfulness:
“After this many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:66-68, NET).
“Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and I am glad for your sake that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas (called Didymus) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go too, so that we may die with him”(John 11:14-16, NET).
The first passage is one of the most affecting in the Bible for me personally—you can almost hear Jesus’ voice cracking as He asks, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” The other one, to me at least, is one of the deadpan-funniest passages in the Bible, if also one of the most inspiring (I’m a lot like Thomas). Your turn:
• Where do you see both bewilderment and trust from the disciples here? How do you identify with Peter and/or Thomas?
• Let’s think back to last week’s session on guidance. How does putting the priority on what Jesus is trying to do, rather than our own understanding, help us to help others? How does it grow us?
• How does sticking by someone, even when you can’t understand what they’re dealing with, lead to understanding?
So, here’s a few ideas to consider this week. Try one (or more) out, and see what happens:
• Who don’t you “get” right now that you interact with regularly? Set aside your discomfort and reach out to that person. Start a conversation—even if you have to finish it, too. Take him or her out for coffee. Discover what you do have in common, and begin building on it.
• Who in your family totally bewilders you? You know who it is. Make time with him or her this week, and just listen. Then, take time to pray with him or her. Really pray. Pray with as much understanding as you have, and ask God to give each of you more understanding. And fully trust that God will provide it (James 1:5-6).
• Who’s your most off-beat friend right now? Enter further into his or her world this week. Set a time to get with that person, but let him or her set the agenda for how you’ll spend that time. (Use common sense, but give him or her permission to take you out of your comfort zone.) You’ll learn more about that person, and maybe even discover you like that activity you’d been avoiding.
• If there’s a church that worships differently from yours—either because of its doctrine, tradition or size—go check them out as a group. Don’t go to analyze or critique (let alone criticize) how they do things, but go seeking to understand and worship alongside other members of the Body of Christ. You just might discover something you’ll want to add to your own worship time together.
Ask God to help you commit to the “off-beat” people He’s put in your life, and to help you become better friends with them, even as you work on understanding them better. Ask for humility to understand how God wants to use these people to enrich your life as well—maybe far more than you enrich theirs.