How to Help Your Friends Through Hard Times

All of us need safe places.

We need trusted relationships where we can lay out our stuff without fear of being condemned or judged. We need friends who can listen to our mistakes and failures and hold them in confidence.

Over and over, we try to make the point that the church isn’t a building, but the people. This means the sanctuary isn’t SOME PLACE—it’s SOMEBODY.

As Christ-followers, we’re the safe place for our friends, a sanctuary where those who seek God can find Him.

Jesus doesn’t live in a building, but in the lives of His disciples. As our hearts meet the hearts of our friends, they in turn meet the heart of Jesus.

If we’re confident of our vision, why aren’t we getting more done?

For the last couple of years, vision has been the all the rage in every part of our lives. Everybody and everything has a vision statement. Our businesses have vision statements. Our churches have vision statements. Every community organization and family has vision statements now. Not to be left out, each and every person has their own, individually crafted vision statement.

They are cross-stitched and framed on our refrigerators. Scrolling across our computers as screensavers and pinned up on our bulletin boards, our vision statements glare down on us.

So, if we’re all confident of our visions, why isn’t more getting done?

Because vision statements aren’t enough.

Not only that, there is a “vision” fatigue among most people. If you want to hear your people groan, announce a meeting to work on your group’s visions statement. If you ask most people, they’ll tell you that vision statements are a waste of time.

It’s not that they’re a waste of time, it’s just that they’re not enough. More is needed.

Let me explain it this way. A vision statement is an agreed upon destination. This is the moment everyone in the car agrees to go to a certain restaurant. Great! Now what?

How are you going to get there? Every vision needs a strategy. We’re going to this restaurant, and we’re going to walk down this street to the street where the restaurant is located. Now everyone knows where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

But that’s still not enough. Each person needs to know how to connect with the process: How do I as an individual engage the larger group to get to the restaurant? Meet the group at this time, and we’ll walk there together. Great! Now we’re getting somewhere.

Everyone on our teams need to 1. Know where we’re going (Vision) and 2. How we’re getting there (strategy) and 3. How to engage in the process (tactic).

Vision statements are vital, and yes, everyone needs one. But it’s only the beginning of the process, not the end.

Jesus Didn’t Promise to Make You Better

I walked around my house with a builder friend of mine talking about some of the things I wanted to change and update. The house was about 40 years old and was becoming seriously dated in its curb appeal. After I finished making one of my points, my friend looked at me and said, “Mike, I can fix everything you’re talking about and at the end of it all, you’re still going to have a forty-year-old house. You don’t need a new coat of paint. You need a new house!”

That’s the problem with most of our lives. We don’t need a few things fixed. We need a new us.

Jesus doesn’t promise He’ll make us better. He promised to make us new. It’s not a matter of being “better” or dealing with a few bad habits. Our problem is we’re fundamentally messed up. We can’t tell right from wrong, up from down, or good from bad. We do things we know are wrong. We do them even though we don’t want to do them. We know what’s right; we just don’t have the courage to do it. (Paul says this better in Romans 7.)

An experience with Jesus changes us from the inside out. Our hearts are changed. We desire different things. We want the things Jesus wants.

It changes the way we think. We’re intrigued and captivated by the things Jesus talks about.

It changes the way we love. No longer do we see love as a contract (you love me and I’ll love you back), but as Christ’s living reality within us. Our brokenness is replaced with His strength. Our anxiety is replaced by His peace. Our anger is buried under His love.

We’re not just different. We’re new. That’s why we call it being “born again.” This is the transformation Jesus promised. The problem isn’t that we need a few things fixed. We need a new us. That’s why the gospel is good news. In Him, all things are made new.

The Fallacy of Working Harder

Lily Tomlin, a great comedian, says if you win the rat race it only means you’re the fastest rat.

For most us, we only think about winning the race. We don’t think: Is this a race I really want to win?

The fastest rat? Really? Surely life has more to offer than that. It does, but you have to be intentional about your choices. You can’t just go with the flow.

Everyone knows that water flows downhill. Here’s a news flash: when left unattended, EVERYTHING flows downhill. So, pay attention, and be very intentional about deciding WHO you want to be in your life and WHAT you want to do with your life. Then, make your choices accordingly.

Sure, life is hard. But just because it’s hard isn’t a guarantee that you’re doing the right thing. Too many of my friends have arrived at the painful realization they have been working very hard at the wrong thing. They won a race they didn’t want to run in the first place.

Working harder at the wrong thing doesn’t make it right.

Life is hard. Nothing comes cheaply.

This is a good day to make sure you’re running the right race, working for the right thing and in general paying the price for what you want. Every now and then, you need to lift your nose up from the grind stone to make sure you’re going where you want to go.

After all, you don’t want to be the first person to arrive at the wrong place.