In our day many of us live with calendars full to the brim and our lives have very little time for anything outside our regularly scheduled daily or weekly activities (which are often very fine activities). Over the years our family certainly fit this category although we have always been very selective in how we use our time our days and weeks have tended to fill up fast. However, Betsy and I have always had an almost unspoken policy that whenever we receive an invitation to spend time with others we do everything we can to be able to accept.
It was not until the other day that we realized that we operated this way which prompted us to think about why that is especially in light of the fact that many of us are exhausted at the end of a “normal” day. In other words, why make time to accept invitations that will certainly add to the tiredness and often take their toll on our daily family dynamic?
Life and Ministry Are All About Relationships
Deep and meaningful relationships do not just happen. They take work, sacrifice and time. We see some excellent examples of this in Scripture. First, our God is a relational God. He is not a God who values rituals or works to belong to him, rather, he values relationship. Hence, he is called our Father and his people, his children. We see this relational picture painted throughout Scripture. Furthermore, he speaks to us through his Word so that we may know him personally and we can even cast our burdens upon and speak to him from the heart through prayer.
Secondly, Jesus was the personification of God’s value on relationships. Jesus spent his time with people. He spent countless hours walking with his disciples talking with them from place-to-place. He went to wedding feasts, spent time around the table eating and conversing with good friends as well as those he just met. In fact, I cannot think of a time that Jesus turned down a sincere invitation to spend time with someone. Of course, the relationship between Jesus and his people is that of a bridegroom and a bride – the closest of relationships.
Third, the early church carried this relational pattern out. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament shows us that they met often, they ate together and they generally met in homes which is the most natural context for relationships. In fact, the “one anothers” are all about driving godly relationships. It is certainly no coincidence that one of the biblical qualifications for pastors is that he must be hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8).
Again, the New Testament makes it clear that life and ministry are about relationships because God is a relational God.
Accepting Invitations Makes an Important Statement
As I stated before, most (all?) of us live very busy lives and are usually tired when our normal routine ends each day. Therefore, when we accept an invitation actually says a lot. It says that spending time with that person is important to us. It says that we are willing to give up other things, such as family time or other forms of leisure, for the sake of building the relationship. It says that we appreciate the effort, planning, and thoughtfulness that goes into extending an invitation and showing hospitality. Finally, it tells our children that relationships are worth sacrificing for. In all, accepting an invitation speaks volumes to the one who is doing the inviting.
In fact, now that we live cross-culturally accepting invitations seems especially important because it takes much more effort (on both ends) to make friendships with nationals) than someone from our own culture. Moreover, the sign of appreciation is amplified ten-fold particularly because in Latin American cultures relationships are of great value.
What if I am an Introvert?
I can already hear my friends who may be more introverted than me stating that it is much easier for me, as an extrovert, to accept every invitation I can (and it probably is easier for me). However, this is where Betsy, who is an introvert, can be very helpful for me. Betsy would almost always prefer to spend any extra time we have together at home with our family which is a good balance for me. However, Betsy is a great example of one who places her personal preferences and tendencies aside for the sake of building relationships and investing into the lives of others. As a result, she has reaped the reward of some really amazing relationships with other godly women.
I have a missionary friend who, himself is an introvert, state, “If you are an introvert in ministry, you have to overcome your introverted-ness for the sake of loving and shepherding others well.” He went on to point that “overcoming your introverted-ness” does not mean abandoning who you are or how the Lord created you, rather it means that you must die to self in this area for the sake of having a fruitful ministry because fruitful ministries are built around fruitful relationships.
Our Experience: Deep Relationships
What have Betsy and I have experienced in our 11 years together using this approach? First and most important, we have been blessed with several deep, lasting and profound relationships over the years. Of course this has not only come through accepting invites but by being intentional about extending them as well. Secondly, our lives are richer because we have spent special times with people who we may not have otherwise had the privilege of spending time with. Although it can be a little nerve-racking, we always love when someone we would have never have thought to spend time with invites us to do something. Third, we see a love of people being developing within our children. We have tired to work hard at modeling and talking with them about the principle that people are more important than routine, preferences and things. At this point, it seems to be a lesson that is actually sticking.
A Warning and a Challenge
In closing we would like to issue a warning and a challenge. First the warning: If your daily and weekly schedule leaves you no time to extend or receive invitations or if it leaves you too exhausted for this, you need to change your schedule. In fact, if your schedule falls into this category it is hard to imagine how you can be living out the life or relationships that we are called to in Scripture. Will pulling out of some commitments be hard? Probably, but the relationships that you will gain will far surpass anything you had going before.
Next, we would like to extend a challenge to you: Accept the next three invitations that come your way, even if you have to make some sacrifices to do so. If you do this, we are confident that you will see the Lord bless those times and perhaps bless you with some incredible friendships.