Over the last two weeks, we’ve looked at the question “What’s in a Name” and dealt with the importance of taking the time to “Ask, Listen, and Observe”. This week, we’ll be taking the art of the Two Minute Relationship a step further as we consider the importance not only of showing an interest in those whom we meet, but in taking the time to relate to them, ourselves.
I have often speculated that one of the many reasons God does not make us perfect (at least our vision of perfect) upon our acceptance of Christ is that, in many cases, perfect people are entirely unrelatable. Think about it for a minute – how often do you pick up a book, only to put it down again when you realize that the author (or his characters) have nothing in common with you – no similar experiences, no shared struggles or triumphs. You may even feel that you were born on separate planets! Unfortunately, Christians often try so hard to “have a good testimony” that they cover up the commonalities between their lives and the lives of those who surround them and, as a result, they fail to have any testimony at all. While, ideally, we shouldn’t handle our life experiences the same way we did before we knew God, we still have the same types of experiences that everyone else does. Want to see someone loosen up and open themselves to a great conversation? Take the time to show them (not just tell them) that you have some common ground!
One of the best ways to do this is through telling a good, clean joke. Humor spans every form of human condition and telling a joke is a quick way to dispel the misconception that Christians are all serious all the time – in other words, it’s an ice-breaker. God didn’t create humans just so we could spend our lives suffering the effects of an unjust universe and not everyone claiming the name of Christ has a persecution complex. Telling a joke lets the person you’re talking to know that you’re human too and can appreciate the lighter side of things. And, once they know you’re not some extremist whacko planning to take over society and implant everyone with cow brains, folks will be far more willing to engage in honest discussion about other topics. In the thirty-seconds it takes to make someone laugh, you’ve formed a relational connection upon which you can build.
There’s more to the art of “relating”, however, than just demonstrating your ability to walk on the bright side of life. The truth is, you’re life probably isn’t a dream, or at least it isn’t 100% of the time. You probably live in a house with people who don’t always see eye-to-eye or have had a teacher who failed you no matter how hard you tried. You just barely make enough money to pay the bills and you know what it’s like to have a bad day at work. Just as humor connects us to our fellow men (and women), so do struggle and sorrow. Sometimes, our willingness to admit this makes the difference between a continuing dialogue and one that gets cut short. Remember that the appeal of Christianity is not that it changes our world, but that it changes the perspective from which we view that world! When people see you reacting with peace and joy in circumstances that only drag them down, they’re going to want what you have!
Finally, take the time to pray. How does this relate to… well… relating? Think of it this way – if I know you and the two of us have something in common, and I have an absolutely fantastic friend who also understands that commonality, it’s only natural that I’ll want to introduce you. And that’s exactly what happens when a Christian offers to pray for an unbeliever. It may sound crazy, but offering to pray for someone is one of the easiest and most inoffensive ways to share the Gospel. Most people are amazed that someone they’ve never met before would take an interest in bringing them before God.
For a long while, I would offer to pray for people only after they’d jokingly made some comment about it. (You hear, “Say one for me while you’re down there, will you?” quite a lot when you’re stocking the bottom shelves of a department store!)
The first time that I made the offer on my own was to a lady whose husband was a soldier in an Army National Guard unit which had been called up to fight in Iraq. We met at a business meeting and I could tell that she was struggling; trying to take care of the kids on her own, maintain and fix things around the house, and worrying that life might continue to be this way forever. It was wearing on her. Afterwards, I asked if I could pray for her and her husband. Her response was an amazed and grateful yes.
As you go through your week, take the time to ask yourself whether your words and actions express concern and interest. Do those around you relate to your circumstances? And when you relate to theirs, do you let them know? It doesn’t take much to form a relationship, just a genuine, honest, intentional approach – a willingness to let others see you as you really are, not as you wish you were.