What to Look for in a Good Friend

God made us to be in relationship with each other. We were made for community and we all want good friends. But what do good friends look like? What do they do or not do? In the most intimate of the 13 letters the Apostle Paul wrote that help form the New Testament, Philippians, we see a portrait of what to look for in a friend. Consider these 5 behaviors that a good friend will consistently live out and ask yourself if you model them as a friend yourself.

friendship dog and cat

In Philippians 1.3-11, Paul gives us this template for what good friends do. A good friend will…

  1. Remember the best in you (v. 3).
    • When Paul prayed for his friends in the church in the city of Philippi, his thoughts of them brought him great joy. He chose to focus on their good qualities, rather than upon  their limitations and weaknesses. He remembered their best.
    • What emotions and thoughts rise up in the minds of others when they think of you…joy, happiness, and peace or fear, worry, and anxiety?
  2. Give their best to you (v. 5, 7).
    • He said that he had them in his heart. He fully gave himself to them by giving them the deepest thing about himself, his heart. He used the word koinonia, which means deep partnership, as he described their strong, intimate relationship. Paul was not a relationship skimmer. Rather he gave himself fully to these special friends.
    • How would others describe you? A relationship skimmer or one who is willing to risk and go deep in friendships?
  3. Encourage the best in you (v. 6).
    • He was confident that God would finish the work that He had begun in them. He emphasized that truth and sought to bring out their best. Good friends will bring out your best. Liz Wizeman who studied 150 leaders and wrote Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter discovered that there are two kinds of leaders: multipliers and diminishers. Multipliers bring out the best in others by amplifying their strengths, encouraging them, and empowering them. Diminishers do the opposite. They drain you by having all the answers, micro-managing, and being self focused. Good friends will always seek to be a multiplier in your life.
    • How would others describe you: as a multiplier or a diminisher?
  4. Pray the best for you (v. 9).
    • Paul fervently prayed for his friends. He prayed that they would love Jesus and others more, would learn more about God, and would live out the truths of God’s Word in their conduct and character. Good friends will pray that those three things will become reality in their friends.
    • When you last prayed for your friends, what did you pray for them about? 
  5. Expect the best from you (v. 10-11).
    • Good friends will hold you accountable. They will tell you what you may not want to hear because they will expect the best from you. They won’t let you settle for what is just ‘good.’ They will challenge you to do and be your best.
    • What friend in your life holds you accountable? Do you have a friend that knows you will expect the best from him or her?

Good friends are rare. But when God gives them to us, they are worth their weight in gold.

What question above most resonated with you? Is the Holy Spirit prompting you to become a better friend?

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Jesus’ 6-Step Strategy for Resolving Conflict

Conflict is unavoidable in relationships. Conflict isn’t necessarily sinful or destructive, but it can be depending on what we do with it. Jesus outlines a clear, specific, and workable process in Matthew 18. And, we simply can’t improve on what Jesus says. I’ve summarized into a 6-step process the essence of what I believe Matthew 18 teaches us.

Successful resolution

Before I suggest these steps, here’s the actual passage of Scripture.

Matt. 18.15   “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.  18   “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19   “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (NIV)

  1. Determine if you really need to approach the person about the issue.
    • In verse 15 Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you.” In other words, we simply should drop some issues. If we can pray through them and commit to not using them against the other person, drop it.
    • But if you can’t, what might warrant taking the next step?
      • Go if the issue is seriously dishonoring Christ.
      • Go if the issue is damaging your relationship with the other person.
      • Go if the issue is hurting others.
  2. If you do, go with the right heart and attitude.
    • In verse 15 the Scripture says, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” The win here is that the relationship stays intact, not necessarily that you reach a resolution, even though you hope you do find one. Ultimately the goal is not to win an argument or point out the error of the other person’s ways, but to reconcile. It takes a right heart to help make this happen. In this post I outline 5 ways to prepare your heart.
  3. Prepare for your meeting with the person before you go. Do your homework.
    • Assuming that you’ve arranged a meeting with the person, don’t go in blind. Give some thought to what you want to say. Proverbs 14.8 tells us that, The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways.
    • I’ve found that the acronym, DESC, provides easily recallable mental hooks to guide such a conversation.
      • Describe the behavior that caused the conflict.
      • Explain the emotions you feel/felt when it happens.
      • State the desired changed behavior (the solution).
      • state the Positive consequences the new behavior will bring.
  4. Go in private and in person.
    • We often miss this step yet Jesus is very clear on this when he states, “just between the two of you.” By going to the other person first it avoids prematurely pulling somebody else into the issue and stops potential gossip. Plus, a face-to-face meeting allows us to observe body language which experts say accounts for much more of a message than words alone.
    • However, sometimes it may be wise to seek counsel from an objective party so he or she can give us objective advice.
  5. When you meet, use grace-filled words.
    • If in our conversation with this person we put them on the defensive, the meeting’s over. Grace-filled conversation, however, can create safety and openness to resolving the issue. A great verse that speaks to this is Ephesians 4.29.
      • Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
  6. If you reach a dead-end and feel the issue warrants it, enlist others to help.
    • Sometimes the issue is so serious that even after repeated 1-1 attempts to reconcile we must take the next step. In verse 16 Jesus says if we reach a stalemate, we must include others in the process. Often the leadership in the church should be included at this point. And then if the other party simply refuses to budge, the church must take more severe action (v. 17). Seldom do issues warrant such a drastic step. Yet, God sanctions such action for the sake of the unity in the church (vss. 19-19).

What steps would you add to this list that have helped you resolve conflict?

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Should you Try a Bilingual Service at your Church? We did and WOW!

At the church where I serve as Lead Pastor, West Park Church in London, Ontario, we held a bilingual service last Sunday. About three years ago the church embraced a Mandarin speaking congregation looking for a home. Our Chinese church, now over 100 strong, is an integral part of our faith community with their own Mandarin service each Sunday and a full-time pastor. Not only do Chinese make up a significant part of our church, we recently counted over 15 nationalities represented at West Park. We’re becoming a home to a growing number of non-caucasions. Here’s what we did during that service, the impact the service made on us, and some guidelines to consider if you do one.

mandarin service

WHAT WE DID:

  • We translated every part of the service: the welcome time, the announcements, the message, and the offering set up.
  • We sung four songs in English with Mandarin sub-titles. A Mandarin speaking worship leader led the fifth in Mandarin with both English and Mandarin subtitles.
  • Two bi-lingual leaders translated the announcements and the welcome, and our Chinese Pastor, Joe Chou, translated my message on how to resolve conflict.
  • I used a simple Gospel passage, Matthew 18.15-19, as the primary Scripture passage. I also used a flip chart to illustrate each point by drawing a simple diagram to explain each step to resolve conflict that Jesus taught in the passage.

WHAT HAPPENED:

The experience was absolutely incredible and added a fresh touch to our service. I’ve been at West Park eight months and this was my favorite service. The sense of God’s presence was palpable. The feeling of unity was powerfully present. I’ve never heard better corporate singing since coming here. The interaction between Joe and me kept the interest of both the English and Mandarin speakers. The song led by the Mandarin speaker was amazing, a taste of what heaven might be like. And, we received many positive comments about the service.

GUIDELINES FOR HOLDING ONE:

With North America becoming more multi-cultural, should you try a bilingual service, even if you don’t have a different language group meeting at your church? Absolutely. If a different language group does not meet at your church, invite a local church that speaks a different language to join you. Here are some guidelines to consider if you decide to hold such a service.

  1. Get buy-in from your leadership before you begin.
  2. Promote the service in advance.
  3. Provide bulletins in both languages.
  4. Choose simple, easy-to-sing songs, familiar to both language groups.
  5. Translate every part of the service.
  6. Schedule extra time for your combined worship team. I recommend combining both language groups in your worship team.
  7. As you begin the service, explain that the service will be held in two languages.
  8. Use a good translator. Joe’s excellent translation abilities made a huge difference.
  9. If you are the lead pastor, affirm the value of the experience and thank the language group for being a part.

If you’ve held bi-lingual services at your church, what other pointers would you suggest?

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How to Foster ‘Aha’ Moments in your Team

Wise leaders encourage their teams to solve their problems with their own insight rather than with the leader’s insight. When an staff person or a volunteer brings a problem to us, it’s often easier and less time consuming to give them advice and solve their problem. Yet in the long run such a response can foster dependency on us to solve their problems and diminish their motivation simply because the solution isn’t theirs. And, people are less likely to act on somebody else’s ideas anyway. So how can we replace ‘answer giving’ with self generated insight?

Idea face

Insight is a solution to a problem that recombines what we know in a new and fresh way that often leads to creativity. Rather than solving a problem analytically, when we focus our attention outwardly on the problem, insight occurs when we turn our attention inward and becomes less focused. This inward focus can help us experience a sudden ‘aha’ solution. This historical illustration about insight describes the ‘aha’ process well.

We use the word ‘eureka,’ attributed to Archimedes (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC), to describe an ‘aha’ moment, a flash of insight we sometimes get. As a brilliant scientist in antiquity, Archimedes is perhaps known for a story about his inventing a method to determine an object’s volume. A goldsmith had forged a crown of gold for the then king, King Hiero II. He was concerned, however, that the goldsmith has substituted the cheaper metal silver for some of the gold. He asked Archimedes to find the truth without melting the crown. This stumped Archimedes until a flash of insight appeared to him.

One day as he took a bath, he noticed the water level rise as he stepped in. Suddenly he realized that by making few mathematical calculations, he could use water volume displacement of the crown to determine if it was indeed made of pure gold. In his excitement, he ran into the streets naked crying, “Eureka, Eureka!” which means in Greek, “I have found it.” Thus, the word ‘eureka’ we use for insight. Through this insight he then discovered that the goldsmith had indeed substituted silver for some of the crown’s gold.

Archimedes had discovered an insight in a moment when he wasn’t even thinking about the problem. When we get a ‘eureka’ or an ‘aha’ insight, we just know the answer without actually knowing how we got it. The insight doesn’t come piece by piece, but usually all at once.

Researchers who study insight use a word game called Compound Remote Associate (CRA) problems. Study participants try to create three two-word phrases from three words that could share a common word. For example, consider these three words: barrel, root, and belly. What two-word phrases can you create that share a common word? Participants often use the word beer to create beer barrel, root beer, and beer belly. After they solve the problem they press a button to indicate how they solved it, either logically or with an ‘aha’ insight. Using both EEG and fMRI, neuroscientists then examine their brain functioning (Jung-Beeman et al., 2008) to learn what happens during insight.

Through these studies they’ve discovered a process that occurs in our brain when it receives an insight. First, our brain is at rest in what is called the default mode. We may be daydreaming or our minds may be wandering. MRI studies show that at this stage, the alpha wave (the wave active when the brain idles during daydreaming and relaxation) spikes. This indicates that our brain is visually gating (Sandkühler & Bhattacharya, 2008), reducing the visual input it’s processing to reduce distractions.

This is in contrast to the brain’s dominant wave, the beta wave, active during visual focus and alertness. The alpha wave shows that the part of our brain behind our eyebrows is more active prior to an insight. This part of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex, lights up when it senses conflict. This makes us more aware of competing alternatives and enhances our predisposition to switch between difference solutions (Beeman, n.d.), potentially creating an insight. That is, if one solution doesn’t work, the brain will try another. This part of our brain helps orchestrate attention since it is so highly connected to the rest of the brain.

Finally, at the moment an insight occurs the gamma wave spikes (Kounios et al., 2006). A gamma wave, the fastest brain wave, sweeps across the entire brain 40 times per second to bring our brain to attention, much like how a conductor synchronizes an orchestra when he raises his baton. The gamma band activity indicates new brain maps are being formed, the insight. And when that happens it literally feels good because neurotransmitters are released. As the insight occurs at the point of gamma synchrony, right hemisphere activity also increases to help us make connections with subtle associations we might have otherwise missed. The brain’s right hemisphere, which process information more intuitively and holistically, apparently drives the insight process.

I envision a setting ripe for an insight akin to a guy drinking lemonade while sunning in a lounge chair at the beach. Then, as he reads a fishing magazine, the solution to a nagging work problem suddenly pops into his mind. That image contrasts to his intense mental state a week prior at work when he tried to solve the problem, much like how Rodin’s famous sculpture ‘The Thinker’ pictures. So, insights are more apt to come when are brains are less focused and rested.

Consider these tips to help your team learn to develop insight.

  • Daydreaming: Insight often comes when we daydream and allow our minds to wander (Christoff et al., 2009). Teach your team how daydreaming can help them solve problems. Encourage your team to schedule times to daydream and to allow their minds to wander rather than always actively trying to solve problems. Help them realize that thinking less about a problem may actually bring the solution. In fact, some companies such as Google, Intuit, and Twitter expect their employees to take time for daydreaming about projects other that than those they’re working on (Waytz & Mason, 2013).
  • Mood: When we are in a positive mood, problem solving often comes more easily (Subramaniam et al., 2008). Yet when we’re anxious, we solve fewer problems because the anxiety uses up brain resources. So if you’re facing a dilemma in your organization, it might help if the team watched a funny movie to stir the creative juices.
  • Location: Encourage your team to discover the kinds of activities that help put them into an insight state. Two settings have helped me generate insight. Ideas pop into my mind when I read and walk at a reasonable pace on my treadmill. Insight also comes more readily when our family leaves for vacation while it’s still dark. I’m the driver and I’m usually the only one awake that early in the morning. With little roadside distraction, my brain has generated many good ideas during those three or four hours of solitude.
  • Application: Although insight gives us a nice dopamine rush (the neurotransmitter involved in attention and reward), we all know that the feeling eventually wears off. Remind your team to record their insights in an easy to remember location so that they won’t forget them. Even if your team member can’t immediately act on an insight, getting him to commit to acting on it at a later time can help translate the insight into action (Rock, 2007, p. 108).
  • Speed: If you’re working with a team member who is trying to find a solution to a problem, don’t rush the process. Give him time to engage his brain. Allow space in conversations and encourage him to carve out some down time to give his brain a break.

The above is a brief excerpt from of my newest book to be released next April entitled Brain-Savvy Leadership: the Science of Significant Ministry. 

How have you helped foster ‘aha’ moments among your team members?

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Sources:

Beeman, M. Insight in the Brain. Available from: <http://groups.psych.northwestern.edu/mbeeman/PLoS_Supp.htm>.

Christoff, K., Gordon, A.M., Smallwood, J., Smith, R. & Schooler, J.W. (2009) Experience sampling during fMRI reveals default network and executive system contributions to mind wandering. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (21), pp.8719–8724.

Jung-Beeman, M., Collier, A. & Kounios, J. (2008) How insight happens: learning from the brain. Neuroleadership Journal, (1), pp.20–25.

Kounios, J., Frymiare, J.L., Bowden, E.M., Fleck, J.I., Subramaniam, K., Parrish, T.B. & Jung-Beeman, M. (2006) The prepared mind: neural activity prior to problem presentation predicts subsequent solution by sudden insight. Psychological Science, 17 (10), pp.882–890.

Rock, D. (2007) Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work. Reprint. HarperBusiness.

Sandkühler, S. & Bhattacharya, J. (2008) Deconstructing Insight: EEG Correlates of Insightful Problem Solving. PLoS ONE, 3 (1), p.e1459.

Subramaniam, K., Kounios, J., Parrish, T.B. & Jung-Beeman, M. (2008) A Brain Mechanism for Facilitation of Insight by Positive Affect. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21 (3), pp.415–432.

Waytz, A. & Mason, M. (2013) Your Brain at Work [Internet]. Available from: <http://hbr.org/2013/07/your-brain-at-work/ar/1> [Accessed 26 June 2013].

Resolving Conflict: 5 ways to prepare your heart

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7 he forcefully deals with a judgmental spirit which often gets in the way of resolving conflict. Often when we try to resolve conflict, it doesn’t go well because we’ve not prepared our heart beforehand. I’ve found these 5 heart benchmarks crucial to prepare my heart before I attempt to resolve a relational conflict.

Choose to Resolve or Continue Conflicts - Conflict Resolution

Benchmark 1… Attitude: I have a constructive one.

When Jesus tells us in Matthew 7.1 to not judge, he’s not prohibiting what judges do in the court room nor saying we can’t call sin sin. Neither is he saying that we should never confront another about their unhealthy or destructive behavior. Rather, He’s speaking against what we’d call a judgmental, morally superior, or hypercritical spirit that He often saw in the scribes and Pharisees. Before we deal with a conflict, we must examine our attitude to make sure our goals for doing so are constructive and corrective rather than critical and condemning.

Sometimes a judgmental spirit shows up in a subtle way when we take delight in the misfortune of others. The Germans coined a word for this experience, schadenfreude (shod-en-trod-a). When we take delight in another’s misfortune, our brain actually releases dopamine, one of the feel-good neurotransmitters, into our brain’s pleasure center. So, the next time you take subtle delight in the misfortune of the person with whom you face conflict, you’re probably doing what Jesus said we should avoid.

Benchmark 2… Fairness: I’m using a fair standard.

In verse 2 Jesus says, For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. This is another way of explaining how the golden rule works. What goes around, comes around.

The attitude or standard we use against others will be the same attitude others will judge us by. This passage seems also to imply that God Himself will apply that same standard against us. As John McArthur writes, “Self-righteous judgment will become its own gallows.”[1]

Before we attempt to resolve a conflict, we must check the standard of fairness we’re applying that we hope the other person will apply with us.

Benchmark 3… Introspection: I’ve looked within.

Jesus used an exaggerated metaphor of a guy trying to take the speck out of another’s eye when he himself had a log sticking out of his own eye. He was illustrating that as ludicrous as that image appears, it’s just as ridiculous to be judgmental and picky toward somebody with whom we have a conflict when we have not faced up to our own sin and responsibility in the conflict. So, we must first look within. Otherwise, we can become so obsessed with the other person’s issues that we miss the really big stuff in us.

The next benchmark is a close cousin to this one.

Benchmark 4… Responsibility: I’ve owned my part in the conflict.

In verse 5 Jesus says that we must first take the plank out of our own eye. In other words, before we can address another’s contribution to the conflict, we must own what we’ve done that has contributed to the conflict.

Jesus even includes the concept in one of the beatitudes where he says, Matt. 5.4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matt. 4.4)  He looks with favor on genuine repentance.

When we do this we then become qualified to attempt reconciliation… and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matt. 7.5)

Benchmark 5… Discernment: I’ve counted the cost.

In verses 6 Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”

The dogs and pigs He refers to are not cute puppies nor pet potbelly pigs. They represent mangy, wild dogs and pigs that would just as soon rip you apart as anything. Jesus uses an exaggerated picture of a man holding precious pearls trying to convince the dogs and pigs that his pearls are valuable. Doing so is fruitless because such animals only care about getting food and would rip you into pieces were you to get in their way. Pigs and dogs don’t appreciate valuable things.

Here’s His point. It may not be worth the price to attempt reconciliation. It may be better to yield your rights that you are morally and legally justified to receive. It may be the wisest choice not to confront. For by doing so, you may simply make things worse. Some people will reject you no matter how well-meaning you are, how concerned you are for them, or how well you prepared your heart. With such people, don’t force the issue. Practice discernment and count the cost.

On the other hand, it may be costly as well to not attempt reconciliation. Bitterness and a further unraveling of the relationship could result if you don’t attempt reconciliation. The longer you go without attempting to work through conflict, the more the issues can fester that can poison and destroy a relationship. Refusing to seek relational reconciliation may bring a lot of hidden costs. Again, practice discernment and count the cost.

Resolving conflict is never easy. But the chances of successful resolution increase when we appropriately prepare our heart.

How have you prepared your heart before attempting to resolve a conflict?

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[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 434). Chicago: Moody Press.