As we seek to start dynamic spiritual conversations with the people that we are drawn to, it’s important that first we:
- Experience God’s love and acceptance towards us, and live out of that
- Be filled with God’s love towards others, shown through our instinctive prayers for them
- Live an authentically real and open life with others
Now, thinking externally and directionally towards others, let’s explore what it looks like to practically and tangibly demonstrate God’s infectious love.
The message that Jesus taught, that God's way of life was now available here and now on earth to all who chose to align their lives with Him, was constantly being demonstrated as Jesus lived life with people.
To some, he brought physical healing. To others, emotional healing. For those who were cast aside by society as rejected, he befriended. For those who stopped believing in themselves, he gave hope. Every person was different and had different needs, but he met each one as he was guided by God his Father.
For every encounter Jesus had with people who were open to him, he deposited an experience of God's love in them and around them. Sometimes, he didn't lead with words, he led with actions. Every time, though, sparked a spiritual conversation.
What would it look like for you and I to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, and demonstrate God's love towards them in creative and unexpected ways?
What could it look like to strategically and proactively demonstrate God's love? To create experiences, offer gifts, share invitations, recognize accomplishments, encourage the discouraged, celebrate milestones, send notes/texts/emails that communicate God's love?
Before we start spiritual conversations, it's important that we live the message. I love Young Life
's phrase: "Earn the right to be heard."
Let's be so serious about demonstrating the love of God before we start talking about it. Talk, we know, is cheap, unless reinforced with consistent behavior. By the time we're hoping for our conversations to turn towards spiritual matters, wouldn't it be cool if our lives sparked such curiosity that people responded to our questions with, "You know what, I was dying to ask you about that....!"?
What's something you could do- right now- to demonstrate God's infectious love towards someone else? Take a few seconds to get quiet, and ask God WHO and WHAT....and don't wait for the WHEN because it's right now.
I want to know the real YOU. I want to know what makes you tick- what fires you up, what irritates you, what makes you laugh and what makes you cry. I want to know if you've had a good day. And why. I want to know if you had a bad day. I care about YOU.
So do people who you're intentionally becoming friends with to express the love of God towards. They are NOT interested in a contrived, everything is happy, life-is-always-good version of you. They aren't interested in you "becoming all things to all people" by pretending to like things that you don't have any interest in, or doing things that you don't like to do. They want to know the real YOU.
In this third post of a six part series on Starting Everyday Spiritual Conversations, we're going to take a look at what it means to live your life in an authentically passionate, honest and humble way, and allow God to use you to impact others.
If it's true that you and I are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14) then apparently it's no accident that we are the way that we are. If it's true that God knew us before we were born, and "prepared us to do good works" (Ephesians 2:10)
And if we are the way that we are then we must have purpose
and a design
behind who we are: personality, sense of humor, skin color, born into our family, at this point in time, with our unique story.
We are the way we are because God wants us to be the way we are.
And if we are made the way we are then God must want to use us the way we are.
Not the way somebody else is. Not the way I feel like I'm supposed to be. Just me. Just you. Do the people around you know the real YOU?
Do they know how quirky and weird you are? Do they know what you want to do with your life? Do they know who you're voting for? Do they know who your favorite team is? Or what your favorite movie is? Do they know about what or who has hurt you?
We don't really become friends with other people until we start letting our guards down. (That's why road trips, retreats, and living together are so bonding- we just can't keep up the pretending for very long).
God wants to use you. Not the you that you think you're supposed to be. Not the you that you think other people want you to be.
So before you start spiritual conversations, stop acting and start pretending like
One of the things I've discovered over the years when I've made the decision to start a spiritual conversation with someone who doesn't share my faith is that they react more to my attitude and heart posture than to the things I'm saying. I might be saying clever, intelligent, and interesting things, but when I've started conversations out of arrogance or obligation- it overpowers the message.
Our body language gives it all away. Amy Cuddy's TEDTalk
dives into the significance our non-verbal messages send to people and how even split second "tells" give away our true disposition and attitude. No matter what we say with our mouths, if we don't actually believe it others will know- every time.
In short, if you're not motivated by love, it's probably not going to go very well.
Why is it then, that so many times I've been encouraged to "just do it" and go tell someone the gospel message, even if I'm not feeling it? Is there really more value to me growing into a courageous mindset than the potential damage my lack of love can have on someone else's heart? Although it's tempting to believe that God is so powerful that He will overcome our deficiencies and spiritually take over every time, when I listen to the things Jesus taught and look at the way he demonstrated the gospel message, he seems extremely intent that my heart be in the right place. He longs for us to be motivated by love, too.
There's a great conversation that Jesus gets to in John chapter 5 with the Jewish leaders after he heals a guy who'd been an invalid for 38 years. The religious authorities are really upset that he 'worked' on the sabbath, and even more so when Jesus equates the work that he does with the same work God the Father does. In other words, Jesus comes out and says that he and God are the same.
When he's challenged (aka persecuted) Jesus has this response: "the Son can do nothing by himself, he only does what he sees the Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does" (John 5:19).
Jesus is motivated to act because of what he sees God doing.
Not because he's obligated to.
Not because he feels like he's supposed to or has to.
Not because he was afraid someone someone would accuse him of being spiritually shallow if he didn't.
Not because everyone else was doing it and he didn't want to be left out.
Not because he felt distant from God and wanted to rekindle the fire in his heart.
But because God's love was overflowing towards this man who's been suffering, and Jesus sensed that same flow of love coming out of his own heart. He only acts when his Father acts. He only says what the Father wants him to say.
Before you and I rush into a spiritual conversation, let's take a minute to uncover our motivation. If you're inspired to start a spiritual conversation because you authentically sense God's presence, feel drawn to that person, and desire them to have an encounter with God- then rock on.
If you don't, check yourself before you wreck them.
If you don't, then take a few minutes to spiritually align your heart to God's heart. Picture that person in your mind. Ask for God to help you see them the same way He sees them. Take time to imagine what their lives could look like if God was fully present.
You'll know your heart is ready when you sense affection and acceptance for them. You'll know you're ready when praying for them comes easy to you.
One of the most damaging myths about being a follower of Jesus is that we will get MORE of God's love in us AFTER we do things for Him.
It's rarely said as clearly as that, but I've been around many Christian communities and heard speakers imply that the reason we aren't connecting to God's love and experiencing His presence is because we aren't doing enough for God. I'm quite sure that's known as Pharisaism (impressed by my large theological vocab word?), and it's an evil idea.
In the first part of this six part series on Starting Everyday Spiritual Conversations, we're going to explore the idea that before you attempt to share God's love with others, you need to experience it yourself.
Prodigal Son, by He Qi www.heqigallery.com
Honestly, I wish that the myth were true. I wish that I could control God by doing things for Him- when I want, what I want, and with whom I want. I wish that when I felt empty inside, all I had to do was go share the gospel with someone or go befriend someone who doesn't know God yet.
But it doesn't work that way. God doesn't work that way.
In the story of the Prodigal (Luke 15) the most striking and shocking moment is the Father's unequivocal acceptance of his younger son who rejected him. Almost equally as shocking is the older son's decision to reject the Father's acceptance and stand outside of his Father's love. It's a story about acceptance- God's radical, shocking, unexpected and underserved acceptance of his children exactly as they are.
If you're like me, you might have grown up with a God-is-out-to-catch-you mentality and theology. A little bit like Santa Claus ("he knows when you've been naughty"), and a little bit like a stern dad ("you just wait until your father gets home!").
But something I've been learning as a dad is that I'm actually DRAWN TO my kids when they're acting disobediently. There's something inside me that is sparked when my kids throw fits, tell lies, make messes, and slow me down. It's affection. As much as I dig them and who they are when they're being cute, funny, or creative, I'm learning that I'm also drawn to them when they misbehave. Pure acceptance: for better or worse. No hint inside or expressed of condemnation, rejection, or shame.
God's the same way with you and I. He's not repulsed by your bad behavior or screwed up thinking or messy heart- he's DRAWN TO you out of pure acceptance and affection. He loves you. He actually likes you. Really.
Before you make a list of the people in your life who need God's love, and before you start praying for them, and before you start strategizing how to talk to them and what questions will be best to start spiritual conversations with them, experience God's ACCEPTING LOVE of YOU.
Try this: open your hands. Close your eyes. Turn off your phone, and your email. Get quiet. Let your mind sink down into your heart. And just say quietly (out loud or to yourself) "Come Lord Jesus, let me know your love for me." Repeat that phrase 10, 20, 30 times for a few minutes. Each time believing more in your heart that it's true. That you are totally, absolutely, unregrettably loved and accepted by God who sees you and knows you.
, I wrote about the crucial first week of work, when the office culture you're stepping into makes its biggest attach on the real You.
Now, I want to get even more specific (because a good friend of mine is starting his first full-time job....tomorrow!) Your first day of work is the most important day of your new life.
: you knew I was going to say that, didn't you? I don't just mean the obligatory "bless my day, Lord" prayer, I mean spending some time the night before and getting up extra early to sit and spend time in God's presence. Of course you should tell God about your anxiety and worries for the new job, but spend the bulk of your time trying to listen to what He's up to, what He's calling you to, and what it means to walk in harmony with His presence. Also, it would be a GREAT idea to ask a few close friends to pray for you throughout that first day, too. Get snappy
: this one's a surprise, right? I don't think it's unspiritual or heretical to admit that "the clothes make the man", and we feel
better and walk with confidence when we're dressed well. Maybe go out and spend a few (future) dollars the day before on an outfit that's going to help you feel good. Prepare questions
: you know you don't know anything. They know you don't know anything. So why spend energy pretending like you know? Prepare a few important questions, the obvious ones like, "What's expected of me today and this first week?", and the not so obvious but really obvious ones like, "Where's the best bathroom in the building?" or "How long do I have for lunch?" Asking good, inquisitive questions will speed up your learning curve, and help you gain the confidence that you need to get competent at your job. Initiate
: even though you're new, it's your opportunity to start new friendships with your co-workers. Initiate with them, both at the copier and water cooler but also by asking them to lunch. For more ideas, check out a great post by Eric Scofield
, Regional Director of Young Life in SoCal.
Your first day is so important. It sets the tone for the rest of the week, and your time working for that organization. Plan it out, don't just wing-it.
If you're about to start your job, what do you need to do to get ready?
For those of you who are already working, what do you wish you had done differently that first day?
In a negative sense, there's a lot of pressure in being a Christian. There's pressure to do a lot of stuff: go to church, read your Bible, pray for your friends and family, pressure to give money, pressure to serve, pressure to be kind, pressure to be moral...
And when you start your first job or internship, there's pressure to be a spiritual influence on those around you and be a leader. You might have Christian friends or a pastor ask you: So, who are you reaching out to at work? Or, has anyone accepted Christ yet in your office?
But I'm not so sure God wanted it to feel like pressure for us. Do you think Jesus felt pressure?
Here's what Jesus said about the kind of pressure he felt to fulfill his calling:
“‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.’ ” John 5:19-20
I don't think he felt pressure in the same way you and I feel it. He seemed at peace, unhurried and unburdened in his interactions and the way he kept his relationships.
Here are some practical ways you and I can get into the same flow that Jesus had:
1. Pray less but more frequently: I know, it sounds mildly heretical, but what I mean is what if you experimented by praying more often throughout the day, like every hour for a minute or two, rather than try to cram all of your prayer requests in on your commute to work. It might shift prayer for you to be more relational and conversational, and you might start catching glimpses of the things God is up to throughout the day. Your life with God would become less compartmentalized.
2. Think like a Spiritual Director: a good spiritual director recognizes that his/her role is to help you identify the movements of God within and around you, and respond to God appropriately with courage and faith. They ask great questions like: Where are you sensing God draw you into relationship with someone? Where are you feeling his invitation to bless someone around you?
3. Use your imagination: what are the things that God is into? Probably things like: being kind, using your words to encourage others, helping people experience acceptance, being a source of healing, working with excellence....when you start living out of a sense of imagination, I think we start catching more glimpses of what God is up to.
What do you need to start or stop doing to experience less pressure but more connection with God?
Your first five days on the job are the most critical to getting started as the YOU you're supposed to be and want to be.
In my experience, once a week has past, it's really hard (or impossible) to shift back to the real YOU. So, take careful thought and intentionality to who YOU are, who YOU want to be, and how YOU want people to experience YOU.
1. Every office has a culture, and it is well established and stronger than you. Learn about it, be a cultural observer, ask inquiring questions about what's normal and how people behave. Note where you disagree, feel resistance, or don't like. Also, pay attention to what you do like, what is good, and what is healthy.
2. You can't change much, especially when you first get started. But hopefully you were hired well- you did your due diligence and so did they about whether or not you're going to be a culture fit.
3. Adapt to the rules and norms, fit in and be a team player. Most likely, people in your office will work longer hours than you feel necessary or important. Work the same hours they do, or even more. It builds credibility, stamina, and trust.
4. Decide what you will be different about, and stick to it. If you decide to be someone who doesn't complain or criticize (about the boss, co-workers, the system, clients, customers, traffic, etc), then don't do it. Ever. If you decide that you're going to be someone who goes above and beyond, maybe when other entry level employees don't, then do it, and keep doing it. Be consistent.
5. Pray for direction. If you believe God strategically places people in settings to be a unique gift and blessing, and if you believe God can and will use you in meaningful ways, then partner up with Him and what He's up to already. Pray for wisdom, guidance, a gentle spirit, tenacity, courage, and servanthood.
I know many recent grads are getting started with their first full-time job out of college. What are YOU going to do to stay consistent with who YOU are?
And, maybe people are feeling stuck in their jobs, not sure how to recalibrate and become the real YOU. What's the next step you can take to make a change?
I'm realizing more and more that the word NETWORKING has a negative connotation to a lot of young people. It comes across sometimes as using people, manipulating, or self-service.
I think I can understand that. When I engage in networking, honestly I am thinking about who I'd like to meet and how best to meet my needs through people.
But I think that's okay.
Networking IS about expanding your network of professional relationships in order to advance your career, and as a byproduct the careers and interests of others.
But it's done best with a servant posture.
When I'm networking I am honestly thinking about how best to meet the needs of others: how I can help them and perhaps who I can introduce them to. I'm taking genuine interest in what they're interested in and seeking to understand their passions and what they need to be successful?
Well, partially because I like people. I actually am genuinely interested in what other people do, care about, and dream of. I also know that true friendships are developed through serving each other. In the past few years the people that I've connected with the quickest have almost always shown sincere interest in me. I like that. It builds trust, warmth, and connection.
- So what if networking was about building authentic friendships around generosity and concern?
- What if networking was about intentionally and strategically helping other people reach their goals?
- What if, like in any good friendship, the seeking to serve went both ways, and you and I also shared about our goals, plans, dreams and needs?
What if we redeemed networking?
Witnessing unsolicited acts of generosity always, always brings tears to my eyes. I can't help it, I just love it.
I love reading stories
about Tim Tebow flying in a fan with a serious illness or disability (and their whole family) to the city where he's playing and paying for them all to watch the game, stay in a nice hotel, and spend a lot of time with them.
I love watching news clips
of the Secret Santa from Kansas City, who was once homeless and received the generosity of a friend, then spent the rest of his life dropping $100 bills at the feet of people who were in need, asking them if they dropped something. He gave away nearly $1.5M over thirty years in $100 bills.
And I love when friends of mine tell me that they took a roommate out to dinner, paid the bill, and spent a few hours asking questions and listening to their fears, anxiety, and hopes for the future.
Generosity is a spark that reveals the best in people. Generosity is a spark that cuts through fear and self-centeredness and treats others the way God would treat them if he were you. Generosity inspires, catalyzes, and transforms.
Who's on your heart today, this week, to be unexpectedly, undeservedly, and radically generous towards?
One of the conversations I keep having with student interns and young employees at companies revolves around experimenting with small, whimsical ways to build trust with co-workers . What are the small but significant things we can do to serve, bless and care for the people we work with, and in such a way that leaves behind the scent of Jesus? For one guy, who shall go unnamed (even though I wrote a lot about him one time here
), a Muffin Experiment was just that idea.
We were having breakfast a couple weeks ago to catch up and to give me the chance to learn what God has been up to in his life. After we finished and were paying, he bought a muffin to go. Odd, I thought, since we just finished a big breakfast, so I asked him what was up. He said he was in the middle of a Muffin Experiment, where each morning he would buy a muffin for a different person at work, and would give it to them along with a short note of encouragement and gratitude.
$1.70 per day for five days, with a hunch that God is into that sort of thing. That's a good investment. After the Experiment there's been no cataclysmic shift in the spiritual lives of his co-workers, he hasn't received a raise or a promotion, but I'm guessing two things happened:
1. Whoever received a muffin in the morning with a note from my friend also received a breath of fresh air that day. I bet they felt a little lighter, a little more full of joy, and I be they enjoyed work a little bit more. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if they told their spouse that night about the muffin they received that morning.
2. I bet they think a little differently about my friend. Who knows what they thought before- intern, entry level employee, nice, kind of quiet, smiles a lot- but I bet they know think he's a little weird, but in a good way. I bet he makes them smile when they see him now. I bet they're pretty open to starting a friendship with him.
So, I think way too often we're waiting for God to magically, unexpectedly and supernaturally 'open doors' for us to share our spiritual testimony or something. I wonder if God is already up to something, and like a good partner in crime, is waiting for us to make the first move.
What's your muffin?