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I've been blessed with some amazing friends. When my father died back in January, several of my friends surprised me by showing up for the funeral unexpectedly. Two of those guys flew all the way from Pennsylvania to Georgia, rented a car and drove to my town simply to support me on that difficult day. When they walked into the church, I burst into tears because I couldn't believe they would sacrifice so much to stand with me.

I've come to learn that good friends are so much more valuable than money, fame or career success. Yet many Christians I know struggle in the area of relationships. Many people I've met—even pastors—admit they have no friends. And many churches are full of lonely people who are starving for friends but don't know how to make any.

The modern church doesn't always place a high value on relationships. While the New Testament commands us to "love one another deeply with a pure heart" (1 Pet. 1:22), we have developed a cold corporate culture that doesn't resemble the book of Acts. We are content to herd people into buildings for services and then herd them out.

Our main concern is that they simply occupied a seat and listened to a sermon. But did they connect with each other? Even in churches that try to nurture relationships, only a fraction of the people get involved in small groups.

I don't believe we will see New Testament revival power until we reclaim fervent New Testament love. But that serious form of love isn't possible without deep healing and serious attitude adjustments.

Do you need more friends? Do you find it challenging to move beyond superficiality into deep, meaningful connection? Do you struggle with loneliness? Here are five of the most serious reasons Christians today struggle in the area of relationships:

  1. Self-centeredness: Jesus defined love when He said, "Greater love has no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Real friendship is always sacrificial. We tend to want friendship on our terms; we want to be loved and encouraged and comforted. But if we want that kind of love, we must be willing to give it to someone else first. British preacher Charles Spurgeon wrote, "Any man can selfishly desire to have a Jonathan; but he is on the right track who desires to find out a David to whom he can be a Jonathan."
  2. Lack of transparency: Too many people today live with secrets. We are experts at faking it. We hide our private pain behind masks and thick body armor. We go through the motions and we mouth the right words—but church life becomes shallow without raw honesty. True friends take off their armor, reveal their shame and share their hearts—and they confess their sins to each other (see James 5:16). This is the path to true healing.
  3. Bitterness: Paul told the Ephesians, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one other, just as God in Christ also forgave you" (Eph. 4:32). Yet many Christians today have never let go of their resentments. They don't realize that people who seethe with anger over past hurts poison themselves—and make it impossible to develop close friends. Bitterness will make you unfriendly—and people will avoid you because you are toxic. If a grudge takes root in your soul, get rid of it quickly before it eats your capacity to love.
  1. Low self-esteem: Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). But our love for others is short-circuited when we don't think we have anything to offer in a relationship. Many people lack the confidence to reach out and make friends because they don't think they deserve to be loved. Self-hatred can be caused by abuse, lack of parental affection, bullying or other factors. If you struggle to love yourself, you must be willing to crawl out of your shell and seek help. Reach out to the people around you. God has prepared someone to pray with you!
  1. Fear of rejection: I meet people who have given up on church altogether because they were betrayed. Some have even left ministry positions because friends turned their backs on them. Their attitude is "I will never let anyone hurt me like that again." But is it really worth it to close the door on the possibility of friendship just because of one or two bad experiences?

Proverbs 18:24 says, "Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family" (MSG). The loyal friends in my life have more than compensated for any disappointments. Friendship is a risk worth taking. Don't let anything stop you from enjoying healthy relationships.

J. Lee Grady was editor of Charisma for 11 years before he launched into full-time ministry in 2010. Today he directs The Mordecai Project, a Christian charitable organization that is taking the healing of Jesus to women and girls who suffer abuse and cultural oppression. Author of several books including 10 Lies the Church Tells Women, he has just released his newest book, Set My Heart on Fire, from Charisma House. You can follow him on Twitter at @LeeGrady or go to his website, themordecaiproject.org.

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