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Wondering how to build great relationships? Turn to the Bible for guidance—that’s where author Dave Earley found his 14 Secrets to Better Relationships. From “Accept,” “Love,” and “Serve” through “Pray,” “Comfort,” and “Understand,” these principles will help readers build lasting connections with those around them. Author of the popular “21 Most” series, Earley says, “Though I have a degree in counseling, have led small groups for over thirty-five years, and have served as a pastor for most of my adult life, I do not consider myself an expert on relationships. . . . I believe there is only one true expert on relationships—God. He has generously shared His knowledge with us in a book that we refer to as the Bible.”
About the Author
Dave Earley is pastor of Grace City Church in Las Vegas, Nevada (www.gracecityvegas.com). He is the author of 18 books and serves as online professor for Pastoral Leadership and Evangelism for Liberty University. More importantly, he is the husband of Cathy and the father of Daniel, Andrew, and Luke.
Read an Excerpt
14 Secrets to Better Relationships
Powerful Principles from the Bible
By Dave Earley
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Dave Earley
All rights reserved.
Two are better than one. Ecclesiastes 4:9
Life is mostly about relationships. When our relationships are going well, life is good. We feel full, strong, loved, and happy.
But when our relationships unravel—or worse, don't exist—life is empty and lonely. We feel insignificant, insecure, weak, and sad.
We all have a relentless yearning to attach and connect, to love and be loved. This relationship hunger is the fiercest longing of the human soul. Our need for community with people (and God) is to the human spirit what food, air, and water are to the human body. That need never goes away. It marks us from the cradle to the grave.
"We are all just people who need each other," observed campus chaplain Reuben Welch. We need face-to-face interactions with others to be seen, known, understood, and served and to do the same for others. Jane Howard, in her book Families, says, "Call it a clan, call it a tribe, call it a network, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one."
Yet we live in a land of isolation.
The Land of Isolation
In an average year, more than forty million Americans will move. Put another way, every ten years, more than half the people you know will move away. The average American will move fourteen times in a lifetime, and the average worker will stay at a given job for just over three years. Americans move around so much that we find it difficult to sustain intense friendships. Many of us live rootless lives.
The wife of one executive whose corporation moved him every two-and-a-half years admitted, "To decrease the pain of saying good-bye to our neighbors, we no longer bother to say hello." Add in the prevalence of divorce and the fracturing of the traditional family, and it's no wonder loneliness is now an epidemic.
One-quarter of all Americans will experience serious loneliness this month. Ninety percent of the male population in America lacks a true friend. Loneliness, according to Mother Teresa, is "the leprosy of modern society."
Isolation is both increasing and dangerous. Harvard researcher Robert Putnam reports that social connectedness is at its lowest point in history, and this loss of social capital results in lower educational performance, more teen pregnancies, greater depression, and higher crime rates.
Living lives of isolation has damaging results. Loneliness has been called "the most devastating illness of our day." Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University writes, "I know of no more potent killer than isolation. There is no more destructive influence on physical and mental health than the isolation of you from me and us from them."
God's Solution to Isolation and Loneliness Is ... People!
The evidence is overwhelming. We need each other! The persistent feeling of being unwanted, unneeded, unnoticed, and uncared for is something no one can live with. The Bible calls the medicine for this unhealthy condition fellowship.
What is fellowship? The Bible word for fellowship is koinonia. As a noun, it means "sharing together." Fellowship is learning to live life effectively with others. It is born and grows as we value relationships and admit that we need each other.
Secret #1 Value relationships and admit how desperately you need them.
Fellowship involves participating in relationships to the point where you get to know others and feel their hurts, share their joys, work together, and give a lift to one another. Chuck Swindoll writes that when real fellowship occurs, "Fences must come down. Masks need to come off. Welcome signs need to be hung outside the door. Keys to the locks in our lives must be duplicated and distributed ... [and we must] share our joys and our sorrows."
I used to think the only person I really needed was God. After all, He was perfect and He had everything I thought I needed. Yet after facing a series of severe physical battles, I discovered that I desperately needed other human beings as well. I needed their help, concern, understanding, and prayers. I needed community. I used to think community was a nice commodity, but I could do without it if necessary. I was mistaken. Community is an absolute necessity.
Relationships Are in Our DNA
From the first chapter of Genesis through the last chapter of Revelation, God speaks of our relational DNA. For example, Genesis 2:18 states, "It is not good for the man to be alone." From this text we clearly see that, even before the Fall, God said that isolation was not the ideal state. Humanity needed to be in community with humanity. Aloneness was not an optimum, healthy, or acceptable way to live.
In Genesis 1:26 God says, "Let us make mankind in our image." Note the use of the words us and our. They remind us that God has always existed in an eternal, triune community, named elsewhere in the scriptures as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three Persons of the Trinity are separate, yet all are vitally linked as one. In other words, the "Great Three-in-One" is an eternal manifestation of intimate community and glorious interdependence.
Genesis 1:27 states, "So God created mankind in his own image." Our being made in God's image points back to God's communal essence. As creatures made in the image of God, we also have a deep, unique, embedded relational identity. Yet instead of finding the fulfillment of our communal craving within ourselves, as God does within His triune essence, we find it in God and in one another. In other words, we not only have a "God-shaped void," we also have an "others-shaped void" etched into our hearts. We need other people. Life was not meant to be lived as only "Jesus and me." It was meant to be lived as "Jesus and 'we.'"
Our relational hunger is an identifying mark of our humanity. We all have a relational gene and communal DNA. Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson write, "God chose to embed in us a distinct kind of relational DNA. God created us all with a 'community gene,' an inborn, intentional, inescapable part of what it means to be human." Philosopher Dallas Willard says, "The natural condition of life for human beings is reciprocal rootedness in others."
As humans, we are internally wired with a desire for connection. Our craving for community is a reflection of our human-shaped void. No person can be complete without healthy relationships with other people. Community is what you and I were created for.
We Need Each Other
The New Testament contains several metaphors to help us understand the majestic and mysterious nature of the church. The church is referred to as a flock, an army, a family, a branch, and a bride; but the metaphor used most often is that of a body. Paul uses the word body thirty times in his letters to illustrate the functioning church. Nowhere does he use the term more than in his letters to the Corinthians. Why? Of all of the churches he planted, the one in Corinth was the most divided and the least healthy. One of the lessons he wanted to drive deep into their thinking was that they needed each other.
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 1 Corinthians 12:21
Paul argues that just as different members of a human body could never make it on their own, neither can members of the spiritual body (the church) survive in isolation. We need each other. To think that we can get along just fine without others is both arrogant and unwise.
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 1 Corinthians 12:26
As John Donne famously said, "No man is an island, entire of itself." We are in this together. Not only is it impossible for me to flourish without you, you cannot flourish without me. You need me. I need you. We all need each other.
As a pastor, I saw the reality of the pain and problems of isolation over and over again. I have had people tell me, "I'll come to your church. I'll love God, but please don't ask me to get too involved with the other members. I'm not going to get close to anybody. You see, I got hurt and I need to heal." I understand what they are saying, but I definitely don't agree. Let me explain.
Your body is wonderfully designed to heal itself. Let's say that your right hand accidentally mishandles a knife and cuts a finger off your left hand. Which option would give that severed finger the best chance of healing?
Option A:Remove the severed finger as far as possible from the rest of the body. Set the finger on a shelf until it is healed.
Option B:Reattach the severed finger to the hand.
Obviously, Option A will fail. The severed finger will never heal on its own. Isolated from the rest of the body, it will wither and die.
Option B is the only wise option. The injured finger can only heal when it is reattached to the physical life that flows through the rest of your body. Amazingly, as the life flows from the rest of the body into the injured finger, it will heal and again be filled with life and vitality.
What is true of the finger physically is true of us emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. If we detach ourselves from a close connection to the body of Christ, our hurts will never heal, and we will dry up spiritually. God designed us for fellowship because we desperately need it and cannot flourish without it.
We Are Healthiest When Connecting with Others
A recent Wall Street Journal article states, "Increasingly, experts have been telling us how important social bonds are to well-being, affecting everything from how our brains process information to how our bodies respond to stress. People with strong connections to others may live longer. The quality of our relationships is the single biggest predictor of our happiness."
The need for others is dramatically played out when we consider physical health. One major study that tracked the lives of seven thousand people over nine years found that the most isolated people were three times more likely to die than those with strong relational connections. Even those with bad health practices but close relational connections lived significantly longer than people who were isolated.
Another study of 276 volunteers who were infected by a common cold virus found that people with strong emotional connections did four times better fighting off illness than those who were more isolated. Another study found that men who have many friends they can turn to for support are about half as likely to develop heart disease as men who have the least social support.
Dr. James Lynch, in his book The Broken Heart, observes that lonely people live significantly shorter lives than the general population. Harvard researcher Robert Putnam notes, "As a rough rule of thumb, if you belong to no groups and decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half."
Of course the emotional benefits of connection are immense. Dr. Larry Crabb stunned the world of Christian counseling a few years ago when he stated, "We have made a terrible mistake! ... We have wrongly defined soul wounds as psychological disorders and delegated their treatment to trained specialists. Damaged psyches aren't the problem. The problem is disconnected souls. What we need is connection!" Crabb further notes, "When two people connect ... something is poured out of one and into the other that has the power to heal the soul of its deepest wounds and restore it to health."
The First Christians Lived Shared Lives
The Christianity practiced by the first Christians was more than following a religion, ritual, creed, or doctrinal statement. It was a vibrant relationship with God and with each other. From the very first day of their Christian lives, the first believers dove deep into community with each other (see Acts 2:42). As Luke tells us in the book of Acts, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.... Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts" (Acts 2:42, 46, emphasis added).
They put two types of meetings at the top of their priority list. They attended the large celebration times of teaching and worship in the temple courts, where thousands would gather at a time, and they met in smaller groups for fellowship in homes many times a week (see Acts 5:42).
These first Christians faced a world in which they were persecuted for their faith in the resurrected Messiah. They not only wanted to be together, they needed to be together. Though our culture is not quite as harsh as theirs, we still face storms in our lives. Chuck Colson states, "No Christian can grow strong and stand the pressures of this life unless he is surrounded by a small group of people who minister to him and build him up in the faith."
Two Are Better Than One
Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. He knew a bit about relationships. Think of it: he kept several hundred wives happy! Seriously, as king of Israel, he built a network of significant relationships with neighboring nations that brought his people unprecedented peace and prosperity. Writing under divine inspiration, Solomon pointed out several benefits of relationships.
1. Relationships Aid Accomplishment (Ecclesiastes 4:9)
Solomon writes, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor." In other words, two people working together are more productive than one person working alone. Have you ever noticed how some disciplines in life go easier when you aren't trying to do everything all by yourself? Maybe it's exercise or dieting or stopping smoking. Maybe we're talking about doing a ministry. It's often much easier if you have a partner.
Partnership aids accomplishment. A farmer had two oxen who were each capable of pulling eight hundred pounds, for a combined total of sixteen hundred pounds. But when he yoked them to each other and taught them to work together, they could pull two thousand pounds as a team.
2. Relationships Enhance Encouragement (Ecclesiastes 4:10)
Solomon writes, "If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up." There will be times when we fall down. Isn't it nice when there are others to pick us up?
I love the Special Olympics. A few years ago at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the one-hundred-yard dash. At the gun they all started out, not necessarily at world record pace, but certainly with the relish to run to the finish and win.
All, that is, but one boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a few times, and started to cry. The other eight heard him cry. They slowed down.
Then they all turned around and went back ... every one of them!
One little girl with Down syndrome bent down, kissed the fallen boy, and said, "That will make it better."
Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for ten minutes.
3. Relationships Supply Necessary Heat (Ecclesiastes 4:11)
Solomon continues, "Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?" Several years ago when our sons were younger, our family went on a vacation to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One afternoon we were out hiking and got caught in a huge downpour. I have never been so wet in my life.
Afterward I put on my Super Dad cape and said, "Fear not, family—Super Dad will start a fire and dry our clothes. We can also cook hot dogs and marshmallows for dinner."
Unfortunately, our only wood had been soaked in the storm, making it nearly impossible to burn. Plus every five minutes one of my hungry children would say, "Daddy, when can we cook marshmallows? ... Daddy, I'm hungry.... Daddy, why don't I see any flames in the fire?"
After two hours I was about to give up and take the clothes to the Laundromat and the kids to McDonald's. But I couldn't. After all, I was Super Dad!
I'll have you know that, yes, I went through an entire newspaper; yes, I used an entire pack of matches; yes, it took a total of two and a half hours; but we eventually had a fire. We cooked marshmallows! We ate hot dogs! We got our clothes dry!
I remembered Ecclesiastes 4:11. After I got one stick to burn, I placed it near another and they both burned. Everything that burned got pushed next to everything else that was burning. That made the fire hotter and dried the rest of the wood so it could all catch on fire.
Excerpted from 14 Secrets to Better Relationships by Dave Earley. Copyright © 2012 Dave Earley. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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