Sara doesn’t know what to say to people so she sits alone at social gatherings, hoping someone will talk to her. Mark watches as people around him go out together in groups after church…he wishes they would invite him but they never do. Greg and Joanna struggle to find time to make friends. They both work demanding jobs and have three kids who are all in different activities. They have so much going on, they feel as if they don’t have time or energy to spare for other people. Carson just left for college in another state but all his friends stayed back and went the local university. He gets a few calls and e-mails when he firsts starts class. But then a whole semester goes by and he doesn’t hear from them so he assumes his friendships are over.
You might think these situations reflect a personality issue, a popularity problem, a schedule conflict, or the natural direction of long distance relationships. But the common thread through these scenarios is that each could be a lack of intentionality. The other issues are still there, but intentionality can clear a path through other challenges to find a better route to community. Our temptation is to hand off relational responsibility to everyone else while sitting back and hoping for things to happen. If you want to be a part of a group….if you want to have lasting, strong relationships….if you want friends that endure through many stages of life, then you must be intentional…
…in making your schedule. For years I have expected relationships to occur naturally. I go to church, my kids are involved in activities, we talk to our neighbors, we even invite people to our house. I have filled my life with activities with the precise intention of building relationships but it always seems like those relationships end up being surface level or non-existent. Basketball teams and neighborhood block parties and PTO meetings and girl scout troops are full of people but they will not bring community in and of themselves if they are not backed by intentionality. Make a friend at your kids’ school events but continue to see her on your own time. Go to the block party, but then give your neighbor a call or take them a treat later. Some schedule conflicts are unavoidable (job hours, college classes, caring for a family member, etc.). These responsibilities make it hard but not impossible to build relationships. Calling someone, even on a 5 minute commute, can make a huge difference in connecting with them. Invite someone to help you study. Ask someone to run an errand with you. Clear your schedule a little more if you can and if not, find a way to sneak time with people into the spaces that might seem uninhabitable.
…in your purpose. I often get confused about the purpose of my life. The purpose of my life is not to have kids who are the best at sports or who get the best grades in their class. The purpose of my life is not to head up every function at my children’s school or be a part of every activity at church. My purpose is not even to have a great group of friends or to feel content and happy in my surroundings. My purpose is to glorify God. My purpose is to love God and to love others. My purpose is to seek first God’s kingdom and community is just the overflow of following these purposes. Making sure to reorient yourself to be more intentional about your real purpose can put you on the right track toward the community you are called to. Your way is self-oriented and inwardly focused. God’s way is welcoming and outwardly focused.
…by doing hard things. I tend to be an introvert. People make me nervous. Conversations make me feel uncomfortable. I like being by myself. But, unfortunately for someone like me, socializing is the backbone of community. You have to talk to people to know people and for them to know you. You sometimes have to spend time in groups in order to strengthen relationships. You have to be with people in order to serve people and be served by them. You occasionally have to make a phone call or speak up in a conversation and that may be really hard. The extrovert, in contrast, may have no problem with these requirements. If you are extroverted, then you may thrive at parties and loud social gatherings. You may feel confident and even enjoy holding up your side of conversations, so your “hard thing” might actually look very different. Your community may become stronger if you come along side someone on the outskirts of socialization. Your relationships may be deeper if you ask questions and listen patiently while someone else answers. Your challenge might be to say nothing at all. Community is built through listening and waiting and putting others first and that may be really hard for an extrovert. In either case, you may have to do something hard in order to receive the intended outcome.
…in serving others. Serving others is, generally, not something that just happens. You hold open doors, you let someone go ahead of you, you say please and thank you, you give a hug…but these are just good behavior and not even close to what it means to serve. Serving takes thoughtfulness. You have to plan and prepare. You have to be intentional. I would challenge you right now to think of someone you can focus on serving this week and take action to follow-up with your plan. It may be as big as helping someone move. It may be as simple as sending a card. It could be painting walls or hanging a bag of treats on a door or walking a dog or going to lunch. It may be making soup or giving a ride or going for a visit. Whatever you choose to do, pray for a passionate desire to put others first.
…within your stage of life. I once heard a story about a pastor who had a young member of his church come to him frustrated about the lack of community in his life. He felt like he didn’t have friends and he didn’t know what to do. The pastor’s response was, “at this stage of life, you can’t really expect to have friends”. He went on to explain various reasons as to why it was impossible for this young man to have meaningful friendships in his current situation and gave him no hope for his nagging life situation. Unfortunately this seems to be a very common belief. “I’m working and going to college right now, I’ll do stuff with people when my life settles down”…“I am homeschooling my four kids and my husband works late hours. I can’t possibly build relationships. Maybe when the kids get a little older.”….“I have a one-year-old”…“I’m starting my own business”…“I work two jobs”…“I have soccer and drama club and AP classes”… “I travel a lot”. Every stage of life is too demanding for community, if we allow it to be. Don’t believe the lie that any life stage makes it is too hard to connect with people. Such an attitude is directly ignoring the greatest commandment to love others and it promotes laziness and hopelessness. There are ways around the hurdles in your life and even ways to use such hurdles as a source and means for building deeper relationships. If you have children at home, there are other moms at home too. Invite them over or start a play group. I’ve seen the relationships formed from these groups grow and last through many other stages of the lives of its members. If you are working a lot, make plans to meet someone for lunch once a month and then follow up with phone calls throughout the week. Even a small amount of time together can add up to great support and friendship and is boundlessly better than no time together at all.
…with your invitation. I have always been “Mark” in my example from above. I like being invited to things. I just never want to be the one who invites other people. It is awkward to approach someone. It is frustrating to coordinate schedules. It is overwhelming to choose who you are going to ask. And even finances can come into play. The details become frustrating. I almost never do any inviting but then I hopelessly long to be invited. In order to be loved and included by others you must be able to love and include them as well. Community can only be formed when you jump in as a link in the chain and continue to build it by pulling others in with you. Don’t wait around to be called or invited or included. Be the one who steps up and invites other people.
…with what’s in front of you. My husband and I left behind a group of friends in Ohio that was very precious to us. We had formed a community that most people never experience in their entire lifetime. We challenged each other, we spent holidays together, we ate together, we took care of each other, we endured hardships together. I am so grateful for these people. But I often feel as if I have given up on looking for relationships because I think that I have already peaked in the friendship department. It has been hard not to make comparisons and to expect to find friends exactly like that. In so doing, I am missing out on the people that I have in my life right now…and who may eventually join together to form a community similar to what I had before. But I will never find community if I continue looking behind me. Likewise, I will never find community if I am looking for it beyond my current relationships. You can’t idealize and romanticize community by picturing a crowd of perfect happy people at a farmhouse table in a magically lit backyard. You will never find it. You can’t search for a friend who doesn’t come with baggage and completes you in every way. That doesn’t exist. Your community is right in front of you. Jump in and start building it with whoever God has put in your life.
…with your time in God’s word. On the surface, the individual act of reading scripture may seem unrelated to community. But underneath lies the most vital way in which we need to be intentional. When your heart is drenched in the gospel it will overflow into the way you treat others. You will see the importance of caring for people because you have been so deeply cared for. When you are saturated in the words of God you will find it easier to hear his voice and follow His lead toward other people, not away. When you have studied your Bible you will have on the forefront of your mind verses like “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) and “a friend loves at all times”(Proverbs 17:17). And you will have the word of God dwelling within in you so you are prepared to admonish others as you do life together (Colossians 3:16)
Christ was intentional in his purpose. He was sent to earth with a mission from God and he didn’t let the world sway him to follow something else. He knew the way that was set before him and he followed it hard until the day he died.
What was Christ’s purpose according to these passages?
John 12: 44-50
How did Christ ultimately fulfill this purpose? In what other smaller ways did he remain intentional to his purpose throughout his life?
How can you implement this same intentionality in your life?