Remember we're talking about building lasting, non-superficial friendships here, and while we can and should be friendly to all, no one can be a close friend to everyone, because that takes considerable time and effort. Given that existing relationships with family members and Christian friends already fill much of our lives, it’s safe to say that probably three friendships with pre-Christians are as many as most of us can manage. Here are five steps to building spiritual friendships:
Ask God to open your eyes to "see" the people around you who most need your friendship – perhaps the neighbours next door, or the colleagues and friends at work or college, and look for ways to get close to them. Possibly you have several long-term friendships going already. Make them a matter of prayer too. Share names with other Ldi team members and pray together regularly. Perhaps the main thing to pray for is a heart that genuinely cares for and loves people, especially those who are un-lovely and not "loveable" in our eyes. True friendship is unconditional. The basis of true friendship is the enjoyment of people for who they are, and is not dependent on whether or not they become Christians and members of our
2. Mix with people
As "the salt of the earth" we need to be where people are if we're going to make any salty difference at all. That may mean breaking out of the comfortable circle in which we've lived, where all our friends are nice - just like us. Especially if God is calling you to build friendships with people you may have tried to avoid before, you may have to take a deep breath first. But don't worry: if God has put a concern in your heart, He has also equipped you. And it's worth remembering that Jesus risked being labelled and misunderstood by going to certain places and mixing with certain people condemned by the religious establishment of the day, but He did it anyway. We have to take the same risk – mixing with those whom God has given us a burden to reach in order to identify with and understand them.
3. Take an interest
Developing an existing acquaintance is one thing; taking the first step in relating with a total stranger may be the hardest part for some of us. But often we will sense that people cross our paths as an answer to prayer - God has His own way of bringing people together - and relationships can develop quite quickly in such situations. Sometimes the other person will speak first: maybe a greeting, maybe a request for help, maybe even an accident. However it happens and whoever is involved, take an interest in the other person. Ask natural questions. Get better acquainted. Be prepared to share something of yourself if you want to know something about them.
4. Serve or be served
"Ministering to people's needs" as Jesus did may be a two-way thing. It could mean being on the receiving end of a favour, not just on the giving end. A common need of disconnected people who have lost a sense of identity and are living outside of community, is simply to be needed - recognised, accepted and affirmed. And we can sometimes meet that "need to be needed" better by asking or accepting a favour than by offering or doing one. Here's a short list of examples of ways of meeting needs. Take time yourself or with a friend or group to add others:
Help with shopping
Car-pool for school
Invite parents to parenting seminar
Church provides empty skip in car park each month for rubbish
Drinks and/or food when families move into street
Invite neighbours to help with fund-raising or other community service activity
Offer to look after neighbours' pets while they're on holiday
Invite friends for drinks or a meal
5. Look for common ground
Friendships don't grow in a vacuum. They're the result of time spent "doing life" together. So common ground is important. In today's world friendships develop between people who share something. Friendship may start by doing or receiving a favour, but it cannot grow by one doing all the giving and the other doing all the receiving. (Close friendships aren't the result of doing "Good Samaritan" deeds alone, like feeding/clothing the homeless, although they may start that way.) The common ground may be anything from parenting to golf, travelling to music, cars to gardening, DIY to art, walking to biking, cooking to eating Italian food, ABC to XYZ. It could even be theology or church!
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