This is a series exploring what it looks like for Christians to actually live like Christians. In your relationship to God, it looks like being surrendered to Him. In your relationship to this world that we live in, it's living a life that's separate from the world's values. In your relationship with yourself, it's having a sober self-assessment, an accurate picture before God of who you are – your strengths; your weaknesses; your gifts. Then it's actually learning to serve and love, to be connected in authenticate community.
Newspaper article – journalist writing about her personal journey, her sadness and her disappointment, her inability to sustain meaningful relationships. There was a flood of responses. One lady wrote "I often feel like I'm standing outside looking through the window of a party to which I'm not invited." Anybody ever felt like that? You feel like you go through life, but you are missing the real action, the real connection. You see people laughing and doing stuff, but you feel like there's this invisible bubble around you. Everyone might think you have it all together, but you feel very lonely. The end of the article - "Sometimes, it seems easier to give up and accept disconnectedness as a dark and unshakeable companion, but that's not the companion I want. So, I will persevere."
We're going to talk about how to get connected from the heart with people, but you're going to have to persevere. Robert Putnam - classic book - Bowling Alone - calls “loneliness the new epidemic in western culture.” It's interesting, isn't it? Never in the history of the world have people been able to communicate as much and, yet, be as connected so little. We have email, voicemail, Blackberry, iPhone, fax, videoconference, Facebook, Twitter. If you want to communicate you can. Yet people are more disconnected. We have more people committing suicide and more murders. These are people who gave up and concluded that life wasn't worth living. They were so alone or depressed.
Among men, they say that less than 10 percent of all the men in our society have a true best friend, another man that they can really share with. I mean they can drink a few beers and watch rugby or play golf or hit some tennis balls. But when it gets down to real life, less than 1 out of 10 men have a true friend.
Unfortunately, in the place where God designed for authentic community, it often isn’t happening. They walk into a room. They sing some songs. They sit down. They listen. They get up. They walk out alone and we call it church. That's the experience of the great majority of people.
So, how do you experience authentic community?
1. Jonathan and David model how to experience authentic community.
David is a shepherd boy and there's a big battle. Everyone's afraid of the big bad Goliath. He's a Philistine giant and has the nation of Israel paralyzed. David, the little shepherd boy becomes a national hero. With a slingshot and some stones, he slays the giant. Saul, who is the king, asks David “who's your dad?” He tells him that his dad's name is Jesse. Saul says, “I want you to stay in the palace with me.”
Saul has a son named Jonathan. David and Jonathan build a deep friendship. From their relationship, we are going to look at some principles that are helpful for us in pursuing authentic community.
7 Essentials for Biblical Community – 1 Samuel 18 - 20
A. Be Aware – God orchestrates circumstances and chemistry. 18: 1, 2 - If you want to learn to have deep friendships you need to go beyond the superficial. Here are very practical ways to really be loved from the heart and to love other people from the heart. There was an immediate bond – literally - "God knit their souls together." There was a love between them and they became best friends. It was an unlikely friendship. David was a shepherd - in the low rung of the social structure. Jonathan is a prince and he's going to become the next king.
Sometimes, you miss the greatest people God puts in your life because you have an unconscious filter about the kind of people that you'll really connect with - social status, skin colour, education - we look at how pretty they are or how they dress. God might bring the very best friend you'll ever have from a different background. But, you’ve got to be open. All of us have an unconscious, social box - some people get in and other people don't. We tend to love people and connect with people like us.
B. Be Intentional – We rarely drift into authentic community. 18: 3 - Jonathan takes the initiative. He's the prince. He's got the money, the power, the position. He calls the shots in the palace, other than his dad. He makes a vow before God and he verbalises to David that he wants to be his friend. He seals the pact – v. 4 – need more time - saying “I'm laying aside my power, my prestige and my position and I want you to know that I'm committing to you. I want us to be on even terms. David, I want to be your friend.”
You don't just drift into friendships. Making deep friendships, authentic community, has to be a priority. You need to have intentional pursuit and intentional commitment. Jonathan sees something about David and says, “I want to get to know him better.” It's not just that he's a hero and he killed the giant. There was something about David's faith. There was something about David's walk with God. "God knit their hearts together." God orchestrates circumstances. God orchestrates chemistry, but we have to be intentional.
Maybe there are 1 or 2 people in your group that your heart starts to get connected to. You need to say “Why don't we have coffee this week?” “I heard that you run. I like to run. Can we go for a run together?” It takes intentional pursuit or it stays fairly shallow.
C. Be Honest – Share the last 10%. v. 5 – David’s becoming famous. His popularity is getting higher than the king. The king becomes increasingly jealous. 19: 1 – 6 - Saul listens for a little while and then his jealousy and his fear takes over again. Saul is a great study in personal insecurity. Desperately insecure people have difficulty with deep relationships because they compare all the time and they're threatened.
Great friendships are characterised by honesty. We tend to be honest with about the first 90 percent. If my dad was the king and I had a really good friend that he was going to kill, I would say "David, it may be a good time for a holiday. You need to get out of town. Here's my private donkey. Here's a few bucks. Here's a weeks timeshare." It took a lot of courage to get 100 percent honest with his father. Jonathan told the last 10 percent and confronted his father with his sin. Jonathan had the courage to tell David 100 percent of the truth.
That door needs to swing both ways. When you find someone who tells you some really hard truth that hurts your feelings - your initial reaction is to reject them and get angry - you've probably just met one of your very best friends. If it's an issue in your life, almost everybody else sees it, but very few people care enough and love you enough to tell you. You want great friends? Tell them the last 10 percent. “It could cost my friendship.” Well, yes, it could or it could make it. Proverbs 27: 5, 6
D. Be Available – When crisis comes, “friends” arrive. Saul's got the SWAT team after David. 20: 1 – 4 - David's saying, “Your Father is after me.” Jonathan says “No ways, I talked to dad. He's not going to do this.” What happens in your friendships when 2 different stories come out? What do you do and where do you go?
Jonathan's available, he listens and says, “What do you want me to do?” David says, “I need you to get on the same page with me and find out if it’s really true that your father's trying to kill me.” Proverbs 17:17 "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."
Crisis often reveals who your true friends are. When crisis comes, there's cost. When crisis comes, there's sacrifice. When crisis comes, true friends show up and ask this question, “What can I do?” We’ve got convenient friends and we got real friends. Real friends are available.
E. Be Loyal – Don’t “shrink back” when things “heat up.”20: 5 – 9, 16, 17 - The reason we don't have really great friends is the price of loyalty is very high. You don't betray your friend. Many of us will get in a situation, and I've had a few, where life heats up, it gets messy – it might be a horrendous relational situation - it might even be you really blew it and sinned big time. People are judging you and letting you know you blew it. Rather than standing by you and helping you, they judge you.
Real friends never tell you that the sin's okay. But they say, “You may have messed up but I'm here for you. How are we going to get through this? What's the game plan? You’ve got to get right with God. You can make it through this. I'll be here for you.” That is a friend. That's authentic community. Proverbs 17: 17
F. Be Vulnerable – Refuse to let fear or pride limit your relationships. Jonathan and David realize that David is going to have to run for his life – it’s obvious that Saul is not going to back off. David is hiding in the bush behind a big rock. They've got this code worked out. Basically – “It's not good, Dad's trying to kill you. Let's talk.” 20: 41, 42 - They cried. They embraced. They verbalised how much they cared. They allowed their emotions to be expressed. Now, you girls do this a little bit better, than us guys. Vulnerability is, basically taking off a layer, appropriately, wisely, with safe people at the right time and in the right way. You got to be vulnerable, not with everyone, not all the time, but it's the key to deep, authentic community.
G. Be Spiritual – Help them become an r12 Christian every day in every way. David's running for his life and he spends about 10 years dodging spears and hiding in caves and living on this promise, "God said I was going to be the king. I don't feel like a king." During one of his down times - 23: 15 – 18. Don't be afraid to be spiritual. Proverbs 27: 17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man or one woman sharpens another." You need to have a friend who can say, "Let's pray right now." “I was thinking about you and this verse came to my mind.” Your number one goal in your friendship is to help this person become an r12 Christian every day in every way. Help them trust God. Help them obey his word. Help them do the right thing. That's the goal of your friendship.
2. David and Jonathan’s covenant with God was the basis for their devotion to one another.
It's their vertical relationship with God that was the basis of the level of devotion because that's what the trust was built on. They made a vow to God. They said, “We're going to do our relationship according to God's word. We're going to do it God's way. We're going to be loyal. We're going to be honest. We're going to be true. We're going to be vulnerable. We're going to be committed.” You don't have the power to do that in a relationship apart from Christ in you. John 15: 9 – 13 - starts his relationship with the Father. "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now, remain or abide in my love. If you obey my commands, you'll remain in my love, just as I've obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I've told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this. That he lay down his life for his friends."
You can't love one another apart from experiencing it with your heavenly Father. Our covenant with God will determine the level of our devotion with people. Your walk with God will determine your depth with people. People with a shallow relationship with God have shallow relationships with people. They don't have the capacity to trust, to give, to be vulnerable. You can be vulnerable if you're secure in Christ. You can be honest and face rejection and tell the last 10 percent, if you know God's got you covered. If you don't, you’ve got to manipulate and play politics and games.
3. Jonathan and David's relationship reveals that authentic community occurs when the real you meets real needs for the right reason in the right way. Romans 12: 9 - 13
Authentic community is the core of Christianity - the last prayer of Jesus – John 17: 21 - "...that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
From our very human perspective, we can talk about authentic community and deep relationships - our loneliness is solved - we'll walk with God better - we'll be happier - it fills our emotional tank - life is just a lot more fun with people when you're connected and when you're loved. And that is wonderful, but it's not the most important reason. According to Jesus, our credibility as his followers is based on how well we love one another. The world has every right to say, “I don't believe that Jesus is God, that he came to forgive sins, if his followers don't love each other the way he loved them.”
How can you experience authentic community?
1. Get connected in a spiritually positive relational atmosphere - be aware, be intentional. Can be church, home, work, wherever
2. Go deeper with one or two people in your group - be honest, be available, be loyal. Take someone to coffee or have dinner together. Find someone that you feel you’ve got some chemistry with. You get closer by asking a lot of questions. Then let them ask you questions.
3. Share and pray about a significant struggle or fear in your life with a safe person – be vulnerable, be spiritual. Say “Thanks for taking 45 minutes for coffee. Here's a struggle I'm having. I'd like to get your thoughts. Would you pray with me.” God will begin to work in very powerful ways.
Don't wait until you are ready to die to begin to share what matters most with a handful of people. Don't let busyness, don't let job demands, don't let fear of rejection, don't let past hurts, don't let anything keep you from allowing the real you to meet real needs for the right reason in the right way. You will never regret it.
Prayer – “Father, we need courage and grace and strength to have those Jonathan and David relationships. I pray that you would help us hear the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit and just take that first action step in Jesus' name. Amen.”