Well, I wonder if you’ve experienced a conversation with someone recently in which you really connected. Have you ever had a conversation in which you feel that you’ve really bonded? Occasionally when talking with someone else, it’s almost as if your souls open up and you connect. You move beyond the “Hi, how are you?” You’ve connected.
Or do you ever have one of those conversations in which you just don’t connect? No matter how hard you try, you feel that you just can’t get through to that person. You could be talking to your teenager, and they look at you like you’re from another planet. Or it could be your spouse. You can usually connect, but for whatever reason it’s just not happening at that moment. We desperately need others to understand us – to know how we feel, and for us to understand how they feel. We want to be connected.
The California Department of Health Mental did a study, and what they found is so profound that you need to hear it. They discovered that if you’re disconnected to other people, there’s no one in your life that you really feel understands you, you are two to three times more likely to die an early death, you are four times more likely to suffer from emotional burnout, you are five times more likely to suffer clinical depression and you are ten times more likely to be hospitalized for an emotional or mental disorder. Human connections are good medicine.
This shouldn’t surprise us. Proverbs 27:9 says, “A sweet friendship refreshes the soul.” There’s something about an intimate relationship that refresh us spiritually. We were designed for intimate, loving relationships in which we’re enjoyed simply for who we are and not what we can do for others. You need people who understand you, who relate to you and who can connect to you.
Now, you may think that the Bible has little to say about the subject of friendship and how to get connected. But the Bible is full of advice on how to be a friend, and on the benefits of friendship. It’s full of examples of good friendships. David in the Old Testament had a friendship with King Saul’s son, Jonathan. They made a vow to be friends, and David kept this vow even after Jonathan died. When Jonathan died, David said, “How I weep for you, my brother Jonathan! Oh, how much I loved you! And your love for me was deep, deeper than the love of women!” They had a friendship that was tested, but they drew together in difficult times and remained friends to the very end.
Jesus had close friends. Out of his disciples, Jesus had three close friends: Peter, James, and John. Out of this inner circle, John is called “the disciple Jesus loved.” The Bible records that Jesus had some close friends that he would stay with when he was nearby. Now, if Jesus had close friendships, that’s a pretty good indication that we will need close friendships as well.
Today we’re going to talk about how to connect with people. The Bible – especially the book of Proverbs – is full of principles on how to connect with people at the deepest level – the heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul level. This is one of life’s most important skills. No matter how brilliant you are, unless you know how to connect with others, you’re not going to go very far.
Unfortunately, most of us are never taught how to connect with others. It’s certainly not taught at school. Some of us might not have learned healthy patterns at home either. What does the Bible say about relating to others? This morning we’re going to look at five principles of relating to others from the Bible. Everyone here can use these principles. If you want to relate better to someone in this church, you can apply these principles. If you want a better relationship with your spouse, you can use these principles. Whether it’s with your children, your employer, or anyone – these principles are applicable.
To get the most out of today’s message, at the start I want you to think of somebody that you would like to be closer to. Think of somebody you would really like to connect on a deeper level with than you’re connecting with them right now. If you can’t think of somebody, you really need this message! Who would you like to get closer to? Who would you like to have a deeper connection with?
The first key to connecting with them is this:
1. BE COMMITTED TO THE RELATIONSHIP
The first key to connecting with others is to be committed to the relationship. Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” To put it another way, it’s better to have one, reliable friend rather than a number of reliable ones. An important key in relationships is being committed to the other person.
Do you remember when you made a major transition in your life? You graduated from school, you moved jobs, or you even moved cities. You probably made promises to keep in touch. How is it going? If you’re like most people, you connected with others and you didn’t miss the old relationships that much. You weren’t really committed to the relationship.
That’s not all bad. You can only be friends with so many people. But if you want to really connect with a particular individual, you’ve got to be committed to the relationship. You’ve got to say, “I will be this person’s friend, no matter what.”
Let me ask you: how many close friends do you have? How many have you committed to connect with, no matter what happens in your life? If you can’t think of anyone, this might be the reason why. If you’ve thought of one to three people, you are a very blessed person. God has given you some very precious friends. If you think that you have four or more friends of this type, you probably have a problem. Most people can’t have more than about two or three deep friendships. And when you find friends of this type, you had better be committed to them.
Now, acquaintances aren’t wrong. It’s nice to have a lot of acquaintances. But you can be so busy cultivating acquaintances that you never take time to develop deep friends. You don’t need many friends in this life, but you do need a few good ones. It’s better to have two good friends than a thousand acquaintances. They key difference between a friend and an acquaintance is commitment.
Good relationships take time. They don’t happen by accident. They take cultivation, work, a lot of time to build a deep connection with somebody. That requires commitment. There are going to be times that the relationship carries a cost. That cost might be inconvenience. That cost may be difficulties in the relationship. It may be time. But all good relationships carry a cost.
Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” Circle always. A good friend is always loyal. There are going to be times of adversity in which true friends are needed. This will be the time that many of your friends will disappear. But a true friend is always loyal. When you’re blowing it and you’re making a mistake, friends are in your corner when you’re cornered. And they see you through when everybody else thinks you’re through. They walk in when everybody else walks out. They are there with you even when you don’t deserve it. Every close relationship begins with a commitment.
This is especially important for men. Many men tend to deny their needs for deep friendships. It’s easy to coast and to talk about the weather and about sports. But we need accountability. We need deep friendships. We need to be able to open up to a few good men. Gordon MacDonald, in his book When Men Think Private Thoughts, points out that men begin to relate to others competitively. They feel that the investment of time is too costly. But he writes,
You, my male friend, are a relational being; you must connect. God has made you to share life with a host of people, not just your wife. You are meant to share life with other men as you work with them, fight the battles of life with them, and discover the world with them.
You need friends.
Now, ask yourself – who are you committed to? It can’t be too many people. “A man of many companions may come to ruin,” Proverbs says. Who are the two or three people that you will stick by no matter what? If you’re married, is your spouse one of these people? Once you promised that you would stick with them until death do you part. Somebody’s said that a lot of marriages start off as an ideal, quickly move to an ordeal, and eventually become no deal. Can you apply this principle of commitment to your marriage?
Who are you committed to? And who knows it? Have you ever gone to any single individual besides your spouse and said, “I just want you to know that I will always be there for you.” Have you ever said that to anybody? Have you ever established that kind of intentional commitment and said, “I want to grow close to you as a friend”?
You need to be committed. That’s the first key to getting connected.
The second key is this:
2. BE CONSTRUCTIVE WITH YOUR WORDS
Proverbs 11:9 says, “Evil words destroy one’s friends.” Your words have tremendous power. They have the power to build your friends up. It’s amazing what a few, well-spoken words can do to cement a friendship. But your words also have tremendous power – power to destroy your friends.
Proverbs 12:18 says it best: “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.” I can be a tease. Very quickly into my marriage, I learned that cutting remarks – even in jest – can be very damaging to a relationship. A few misplaced words can do serious damage. We need to choose constructive words – words that build up and heal – rather than destructive words.
What are some of the ways that we can be constructive with our words? THE FIRST THING THAT WE NEED TO DO IS TO CONTROL OUR ANGER. Some of us are very quick-tempered. Others of us let things bottle up, and then one day – watch out! But our angry words can be incredibly destructive. Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to anger, but a wise person quietly holds it back.” We need to learn better patterns of relating than to just vent our anger.
Sometimes we underestimate the power of our words. We say things without really thinking. People remember them. Think back in your own life to some very hurtful things that were said to you years ago. We can still feel the pain from these hurtful things even today.
We need to think of our words as power tools. Have you ever read the instructions that come with power tools? Here’s an example of what you might find in a power tool in your garage, and see how closely these instructions relate to the other power tool that God has given us – our mouths:
Know your power tool.
- Keep guards in place.
- Be careful around children.
- Store idle tools when not in use.
- Don’t overreach
- Never use in an explosive atmosphere.
Another step that we can take, besides controlling our anger, is this: WE CAN TALK LESS. I love Proverbs 17:28: “Even fools are thought to be wise when they keep silent; when they keep their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.” Your mother probably told you, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all.” That’s Biblical advice. If our words are a power tool – you don’t have to use it as much. Talk less. One of the reasons we get in trouble is we just talk too much sometimes. We talk before we think. We need to talk less.
The third step that we can take is to LOOK FOR BUILDING WORDS. Proverbs 25:11 says, “The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry.” I can remember single statements that a person made that will stay with me forever. On the day of my wedding, a man that I greatly respect said to my new father-in-law, “I wish I had a son just like Darryl.” I overheard that comment. Do you think that I’ll ever forget that? Look for ways to build other people up.
In every situation, there’s a positive way to say something, and a negative way to say something. Our world has enough negativity. People are torn down enough. Look for a way to build others up. Your words are powerful enough to do that!
That’s the second key to connecting with others. Be committed to the relationship, and then be constructive with your words. The third key may seem contradictory, but it really isn’t:
3. BE HONEST ABOUT PROBLEMS
Do you think that you will have problems in your relationships? One of the keys to developing healthy relationships is to know how to handle the problems that inevitably come up. That takes honesty.
Proverbs 27:5-6 says, “An open rebuke is better than hidden love! Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” In other words, it’s better for a close friend to be honest about a problem in the relationship, than for an enemy to tell you that you’re great when they don’t really mean it. Sometimes friends are the only ones who love us enough to tell us what we really need to hear. Proverbs 24:26 says, “An honest answer is like a warm hug.”
Genuine, healthy, deep, meaningful relationships are built on honesty, not on flattery. They’ll tell you when you’ve got spinach in your teeth. They’ll tell you when you’re blowing it. They’ll tell you when you’re wasting your life, making a dumb, bad decision. Because healthy relationships are built on honesty. All of us have blind spots. The question that really matters is, do you have anybody in your life that loves you enough to point them out? Who cares enough to say, “You need to work on this.”
Now, you can be honest while still being constructive with your words. You can do this by watching your language. I used to use accusatory statements. “You always do this…” “You never do this…” Understandably, the conversation doesn’t usually go well when you do this. I’ve learned to try using feeling statements. I’ve found it a lot better to say, “When you did that, I felt this way. I know that you probably didn’t mean to do that, but that’s how it made me feel.”
Another way that you can be constructive and honest at the same time is to compliment in public, correct in private. With your spouse, your children, and in all your relationships, you owe them the dignity of dealing with problems in private. Praising someone in pubic does wonders for them. Correcting them in private makes them a lot more open.
You can also wait for the right time. My wife knows not to address problems with me late at night. I can’t tie my shoes late at night, and I’m certainly not going to be able to address relational problems at that hour. It’s almost as important to know when to say something as it is what to say.
There are a whole set of relational skills that you need if you’re going to deal with your relationships honestly. It comes back to commitment. Are you committed enough to the relationship to work through problems with honesty and integrity? Do you need to go through a season of working through issues in order to come out the other side with a healthy relationship? Who do you need to get honest with? What problem in your relationship are you pretending isn’t a problem? Which of those issues do you need to be candid about? Sometimes you must care enough to confront.
The fourth key is closely related:
4. BE WILLING TO FORGIVE OFFENSES
If you’re in a relationship long enough, there are going to be times that you’re going to need to forgive. We need to learn how to forgive offenses. Proverbs 17:9 says, “Disregarding another person’s faults preserves love; telling about them separates close friends.” Friendship requires the ability to forget. Harping on the past has destroyed many marriages and friendships.
Have you ever had a fight with someone, in which you’re tempted to bring up all the mistakes they’ve ever made? There’s nothing that will kill a friendship faster than doing this. Y ou’ve got to forgive.
Proverbs 19:11 says, “People with good sense restrain their anger; they earn esteem by overlooking wrongs.” One of the benefits of dealing honestly with problems is that you can then move on and forgive them. You can forget how they’ve offended you. Why? Because first of all, Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” The Bible tells us that God won’t forgive us if we don’t forgive others. The two are linked. That’s why we need to forgive others. The other why is because it’s good for you. When you forgive, you release yourself from a burden that you were never meant to carry.
Well, how many times should you forgive? In Matthew 18:21, Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive, and he suggested a number: seven. That sounds pretty reasonable to me. It was more than the religious leaders of the day demanded. But Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.” The point is this: don’t even bother counting. Real forgiveness doesn’t keep track of offenses. When you’ve worked through the issue honestly, it’s time to move on.
How? That’s the hard part. Forgiveness is an act of the will. It’s a command. The decision comes first; the emotions come later. If you wait to feel like you want to forgive, you’ll wait forever. But once you make the decision to forgive, the emotions will come along eventually. It’s amazing how the emotions will follow an act of obedience.
Romans 12:21 says, “Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.” You need to forgive if you don’t want evil to get the best of your relationships.
By the way, this type of forgiveness is impossible if you aren’t a follower of Jesus Christ. One of the best steps that you can take to improve your relationships is to begin following him. When you begin to follow Jesus, he transforms your relationships. He forgives you and gives you the power to forgive others. You can’t hope to have good relationships until you begin to follow him. If you’re not a follower of Jesus, the best thing that you could do to improve your human relationships is to get your relationship with God straightened out. How? By accepting what Jesus did on the cross to re-establish that relationship. He came to reconcile you to God. You need to accept that gift and begin to follow him.
The final key to connecting is…
5. BE CONFIDENTIAL WITH INFORMATION
There were three pastors who got together and decided to work on being honest. They sat down in a small group and said, “Let’s just be honest with each other about what our greatest struggle, our greatest sin is.” The first guy launched things out by honestly saying, “I struggle with lust. I always have. And I’ve honestly had some very evil thoughts.” The next guy said, “To be honest, I struggle with materialism. And I’m in debt.” The third guy looked at them and said, “I struggle with gossip and I honestly can’t wait to get to a telephone!”
If you’re going to have good relationships, you need to learn to guard confidentiality. Proverbs 11:13 says, “A gossip goes around revealing secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.” Proverbs 18:8 says, “What dainty morsels rumors are—but they sink deep into one’s heart.”
We tend to think of gossip as one of those little sins, a misdemeanor sin. But when God talks about gossip, he puts it on the list with things like sexual immorality and murder. Why? Because it is so destructive to relationships. Gossip can tear a friendship apart, a family apart, a church family apart. More churches have been destroyed by gossip than persecution. More friendships have been destroyed by gossip than any other kind of disloyalty. It’s incredibly destructive to relationships when you trust someone and then find out you couldn’t trust them. What’s so destructive about it?
My favorite story about gossip has always been about the man who went to the rabbi and confessed the sin of gossip and asked him, “What penance can I do for this sin?” The rabbi said, “Here’s what you do. You take a feather pillow and walk up on this mountain, rip it open and let the feathers fly everywhere.” The man did that and came back and said, “Is that it?” “No,” said the rabbi, “Now I want you to go pick up every feather.”
That’s what gossip does. It just goes everywhere. You don’t know the impact that it’s having but it’s tearing relationships apart. It’s tearing you apart in ways that you don’t realize.
What is gossip? Definition: Gossip is talking about a situation with somebody who is neither a part of the solution or a part of the problem. If they’re not a part of the problem or the solution and you’re talking with them about it, that is gossip. If you have a problem with another person, the Bible tells you to go to that person directly. To talk to anyone else about that problem is gossip. It’s sin.
Now if someone comes to you with gossip – talking about a situation with you when you’re not part of the solution or the problem – what do you do? Simple. You tell them, “You should go talk to the person involved.” What if they don’t want to? Simple. Step two: you offer to go with them. Say, “It really sounds like you’re concerned about this problem, and yet I sense you’re hesitant to talk to the individual. Let me come with you so that we can deal with the problem together.” What if they still refuse? Then stop the conversation. Don’t be part of the gossip. Tell them as nicely as you can that you don’t want to hear that information.
That’s how you have healthy relationships. Now, I’d like you to pause and to evaluate yourself. Who would you like to connect to at a deeper level? What keys can you implement from this morning’s message? Is it to be more committed to the relationship? To be more constructive with your words? To be honest about problems in your relationship? To be willing to forgive? Or is it to be more confidential with information? What I’d like you to do is to select one, and to begin putting it into practice this week.
Father, thank you for our relationships. Thank you that you’ve made us to be connected with other people. I pray that today we would take whatever key we’ve identified as the one we’re going to practice this week to build better relationships.
I pray for anyone here who might not be connected to you. I ask that they would pray, “Lord, I realize I’ll never be properly connected with others until I’m connected with you. Thank you that Jesus came to restore our relationship. I accept what he did to pay the penalty for my sins. I accept him today and pledge to follow you beginning today.”
We pray these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.