Here is the fourth tip in Shopping for Time:Consider People (Evaluating Relationships Carefully)
When I first read this, I thought it was an odd thing to think about in relation to time management. But as I read further, I realized it is a very necessary thing to think about in relation to time management!
The authors of the book also call this tip "Sit and Plan 2," because it is related to the previous tip about taking a personal retreat to identify your life's biggest priorities in light of God's biggest priorities. "Sit and Plan 2" entails looking at our people priorities. The authors write,
. . . we are often more passive and receptive than we are intentional and purposeful in our relationships. We may allow people to drift in and out of our lives. We don't usually pause to consider why we pursue a certain friendship or neglect another. Emotions and feelings often dictate the way we go about relationships.
However, people are so important and consume such a big chunk of our time that in order to be prudent time shoppers, we should give them special attention. We must prayerfully evaluate our relational priorities in the light of God's priorities . . . . Do our relationships -- the time we spend with our family and the friends we pursue -- bring glory to God?
Have you thought in this way about your relationships before? Have you been purposeful about who you spend time with, and why? This past year has been the first year in my own life that I have really given much thought to this. It has been interesting to me to start thinking very purposefully about the friendships in my life. The authors go on to say,
Of course, following our relationship with God, family should hold top billing. Our husband, our children, our parents, and our siblings should be the recipients of our most ardent affection and sacrificial service.
Because most of us know and do this instinctively, the chapter focuses primarily on friendships, and gives me much to consider. First of all, the authors discuss "friends to choose."
Scripture gives us good guidelines for this.
Friends to Choose
1. Friends Who Sharpen
The authors point out Proverbs 27:17, which tells us that "iron sharpens iron, as one man sharpens another." Hebrews 10:24 skips the metaphor and says more directly, "And let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works."
Believers need to have friends in our lives who "inspire us to serve, provoke us to love, help us grow in godliness, correct us, strengthen our faith, and spur us on to passion for the Savior."
You may already have a friend who would assume this role in your life if you asked.
You might not have anybody in your life right now who is or would be a good "sharpening" influence in your life and faith, and you might have to branch out and go find a woman who will be this friend for you.
Pray for a Godly woman in your life who can help "sharpen" you. :)
2. Friends Who Mentor
If you are a young woman, you need to have a Godly older woman (both more spiritually mature and also older in age, with more life experience) as a friend.
If you are an older woman, you need to make sure you have at least one younger woman in your life whom you're teaching about life with God.
This doesn't need to be "teaching" with a blackboard and chalk and lots of bossiness and too much talking without any listening. :)
This needs to be a relationship where a woman farther along in life can offer Godly wisdom and the benefit of her life experience to a younger woman, and can listen to and pray for and encourage this younger woman. The younger woman can, in turn, grow and mature in Christ and then share what she has learned with a younger woman later on.
Titus 2 tells us that the older women in the church help teach the younger women in the church what is good.
If you are like me, you might feel like it's presumptuous to assume that you have anything to offer a younger woman. Last spring as our church emphasized the importance of these discipling relationships between older women and younger women, I was really wrestling with how to implement an idea I agreed with!
It wasn't hard for me to approach an older woman and ask her to spend time with me, but I wasn't sure how to come alongside any of the younger women in our church to help. I didn't see myself going up to any college-aged girl in our church and saying 'Wow, I can see that you're really messed up, and would benefit from my superior wisdom and guidance." Ha ha ha. And of course that's not the idea at all.
But I prayed about it, and I also switched Sunday school classes so that instead of being with my peer group, I would be around some women in their twenties very naturally.
God has blessed this area of my life greatly since that time, and I should add that I myself learn very much, and am very blessed, by the younger friends in my life.
It might take some time for you to find these mentoring friends in your own life, but I really encourage you to pursue these relationships. You will enrich each other's lives greatly.
3. Friends Who Need Friends
Growing up, my sister and I were always the new kids, because we were Air Force brats. When I got to college, the longest I had ever lived in one place was three years. And I was very shy and introverted! So I really appreciated this friend category, because I grew up being the friend who needed a friend! :)
Hebrews 13:1-2 reminds us "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers."
Find a friend who needs a friend. This may be a new person in your life, or it may be someone "difficult" whom no one else has befriended. I put "difficult" in quotes because I really think "difficult" is relative. Granted, true sociopaths do exist, but for the most part "difficult" people are just people who need more grace shown to them. And chances are, you are "difficult" to somebody. :) Think about how much grace God shows to us.
Making a friend who needs a friend means we have to bust out of our comfortable, laughing, fun group of friends and go talk to somebody who is alone or lonely. No one on earth likes to be lonely. Nobody. Some people like to be alone more than other people, but no one wants to be lonely, and everyone needs friends.
My mom always said, love never runs out. There is enough to go around, and you can always widen your circle and love more people and pull them in. Yes, yes, yes, I believe this with my whole heart.
4. Friends Who Need Salvation
I've mentioned before that my dear husband, Bob, is an atheist. Over the years, I've watched different Christian men approach him with the purpose of sharing Christ with him. Let me give you two specific examples of what I think of as "friendship evangelism done wrong" and "friendship evangelism done right."
A few years ago, a believing man with good intentions started inviting Bob out for the occasional lunch. He was immediately very zealous in his efforts to share the Gospel with Bob. Bob was friendly but unreceptive, and was very blunt about his unreceptiveness. (Is "unreceptiveness" a word? "Unreceptivity"?) After the fourth or fifth lunch, Bob told this man, "Listen, I'm never going to believe what you believe. But I'm happy to eat lunch with you."
Bob never heard from this man again.
"What, are you kidding me?" I thought to myself when Bob told me this. I don't mind telling you that my defensive wife instinct kicked in, and I wanted to have some words with that man! "You're just going to give up on Bob, like that?"
I wanted to tell him, you can't swoop in like that, and then swoop back out again. None of this swooping. We are not hawks going after mice.
Bob felt like he had been this guy's "project" (it amused rather than angered him), because that is exactly what he had been. I'm not saying that there is never a place for speedy and assertive sharing of the Gospel. Nope, I'm not saying that. But when possible, I think it's better to invest in people's lives for the long haul, as we see so many folks in the Bible doing.
About a year later, another man entered Bob's life who also desired to share the Gospel with him. He has met with similar resistance, but because Bob was never just his "project," they continue to have a dear friendship. This man shares the Gospel purposefully, through the Word. But he also shows Christ to Bob by being a very good friend to him. As a result, he has become very dear to Bob, and has gained Bob's respect.
This friend of Bob's understands that when we share the Gospel with our unbelieving friends, we are relying on God to reach that person's heart. It's not our own anythingness that will do it.
It may seem strangely calculating to you to consciously say, "I need a friend who needs Christ," or "I need a friend who encourages me in my Christian walk." But what other criteria do you use to choose your friends? Is saying "I need a friend who gets my lame jokes" or "I need a friend who likes the same movies I like" any more valid?
Friendship is one of God's good gifts, and He desires it for our pleasure and joy. As the authors note, "laughter, pleasure, and companionship" actually "flow from [God's] gracious character." James 1:17 says,
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Friends to Leave
As you might expect, the authors also discuss "friends to leave." I want to give my own bit of commentary on this topic (not from the book) before I discuss what they have to say. For what it's worth, here's my two cent on relationships. :)
If we look at the Biblical model for relationships, God did not create us to have broken friendships. The Godly model is that friendships would last for life. Break-ups and divorces and friendship blow-ups make us feel bad because they're not how we were intended to live.
The Biblical model is that we are either (1) in a friendship with a Godly person, encouraging each other to live Godly lives, or that (2) we are sharing Christ with our friends who do not know Him, or that (3) if we have enemies, we are seeking reconciliation with them.
We live in a fallen world, where death and conflict hold sway. There are circumstances in life where we may not be able to have a relationship with someone for some reason (one example might be that someone refuses to be reconciled to us, or another might be that someone is dangerous and/or evil and we must not be around them), but we can still pray that this person be reconciled to Christ, and through Christ we can forgive people who have wronged us.
Some of you may immediately think of impossible relationships in your life, where you are certain there is no hope for reconciliation. One of my favorite Bible verses is Genesis 18:14. God is speaking of Himself, and says, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"
Another translation of the verse is, "Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?"
God is the God of relationships and reconciliation! :) Nothing is too wonderful for Him. (In the context of that verse, He is promising to make Abraham a "great and mighty nation," even though Abraham and Sarah are old and without children, and Sarah is laughing because it's ridiculous to her that she would bear a child in her old age. But of course, she later has Isaac, just as God promised.)
I just wanted to mention this, because I really believe that "friends to leave" should be the exception rather than the rule in our lives. If we are careful with our friend selection to begin with, and if we're diligent to work through conflict and take things to God in prayer, "friends to leave" shouldn't be a list in our lives.
That said, just as you'd tell your beloved kids to stay away from certain bad influences at school, you need to do the same in your own life if you're trying to walk with the Lord. You know how blunt Proverbs always is about human nature, right? :D Proverbs 13:20 tells us,
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
That's pretty straightforward. And 1 Corinthians 15:33 says,
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
I'm not going to belabor this topic, but I'm going to be blunt myself. If you are a follower of Christ, you need to make sure you don't have friends in your life who are leading you away from Him. If, instead of sharing Christ with these friends and living a holy life before them, you are instead being pulled into unGodly behavior, you need to extricate yourselves from these relationships. And pronto. As the authors write,
. . . the reality is that we don't hang out with the foolish and become more wise. We don't consort with the rebellious and become more obedient. We don't associate with the worldly and become more Godly.
Finally, the authors of Shopping for Time note that the changing seasons in our life will mean that our relationship priorities may also change. New friends will come into our lives, and we may need to spend more time with one person than another for any number of reasons. They encourage us to ask ourselves in each new season,
What specific practical changes do we need to make so that we are investing in the right people for the right amount of time?
I know this is a difficult topic, and might seem engineered if you are used to just floating in and out of friendships. But we have the model of Jesus, who was very purposeful with the friends He chose (if you have never thought of the disciples as Jesus' "friends," that's what they were). He loved them dearly and they gave Him great joy and pleasure and laughter, but He thought about who He invested His time in.
So I hope this topic is convicting and helpful to some of you sisters in Christ.