Whether we’re in ministry or not, we all experience relationships that are more challenging than satisfying (I’m not addressing abusive relationships here). In difficult relationships, it’s easy to feel frustrated or hurt, and persevering can be a struggle. Often, it’s evident in our interpretation and response how much we’re focused on ourselves and how difficult the relationship is for us. I found myself in such a mindset recently, and a friend reminded me that God calls us to a patient pursuit of people.
Whatever they are struggling with in their lives, we can engage with them and welcome them in. The gospel is put on full display when we move toward them with the love of the Father, rather than pulling away when we’re offended. Instead of focusing on our own dissatisfaction or disappointment in the relationship, God wants to align our hearts with His to grieve our friend’s sin and suffering, as He does. With a compassionate and tender heart, we seek to know and understand them, to encourage and speak truth in love.
Besides pursuing the relationship, we want to also pursue God in prayer on their behalf. When the focus shifts from the relationship being about our happiness and satisfaction, to being used to honor God and accomplish His purposes, we are led to walk in dependence on Him and to be long-suffering, as He is with us. Sometimes we can feel like the burden is on us to change our friend or fix their situation. We end up being driven by a desire to make ourselves feel better, to relieve the guilt or pressure we feel. But God is the only one who can open eyes and change hearts. And it is He who has the power to be a fully sufficient comfort and help in the midst of suffering. As we seek God in prayer for our friend, He can help us to patiently wait on His timing and rest in His ways, with our hope firmly set on Him.
This patient pursuit requires humility. In difficult relationships, two common pitfalls are withdrawing and giving up on the friendship, and crushing them as we seek control and try to grasp for the desired outcome to happen in our preferred timeframe. But a patient pursuit is more concerned with God’s glory and purposes than our own comfort or desires…it humbly remembers God’s own patience with us and seeks to be dependent on Him.