Last night (Wed), I finished this book and was sort of sad that it came to an end. Let me tell you why:
What is this Book For?
This book is a great reminder that all relationships, ranging from co-worker to spouse, are God-ordained and used by the Lord to bring out in us His perfect will for our hearts and character. Let me discuss this by using the book's very own subtitle:
We all struggle with relationships. Whether it be a relationship with a roommate or with a boss. The reason why we struggle with relationships is 1) we are sinners, and 2) other people are sinners. There is no such thing as a perfectly sanctified relationship--and if we actually have something close to one, it's probably because it is only superficial. The best relationships are those that get past trivial acquaintance and stir up who we really are (marriage, anyone?). At some point we all wish someone thought, acted, or lived like us; we tend to be the center of all our relationships. Because we all naturally drift toward our own interests in our relationships we often find ourselves in conflict with people over idiosyncrasies (small peculiarities that tend to annoy us) and things that would promote our own comforts, preferences, and schedules. Yeah. A show of hands, anyone? The worst thing about relationships, they are not an option! Thus, the next point. (You can put your hand down now.)
The best and worst thing about relationships: God designed us to live our lives in community! Relationships are not something we can throw away without doing damage to who we were created to be. To resist relationships is to become subhuman. So, in the great sovereignty of God, He has ordained all of our relationships to reveal who we are so that we can identify the areas in our character that need the most work. To put it another way, superficial acquaintances are not really that helpful when it comes to character development. The problem: We all tend to go after the easy-to-manage, low stress, relationships with people who are like minded and similarly gifted. Show of hands? By doing this we retard our sanctification. Relationships are a mess worth making because through relationships we are trained to become less self centered and more Christ-like. The application: 1) Understand that any meaningful relationship is going to take work, 2) intentionally go after hard relationships, and 3) be thankful for the [God-ordained] annoying people at work, the spouse who you love but just can't seem to keep peace with, the boss who is egotistical, the parent who wants to run your married life, the sibling who is grown but still acts like a teenager, etc. God is sovereign. You can only see your relationships in this way if you are a Calvinist...or close to being one... ;)
"We would prefer that God would just change the relationship, but he won't be content until the relationship changes us too. This is how God created relationships to function. What happens in the messiness of relationships is that our hearts are revealed, our weaknesses are exposed, and we start coming to the end of ourselves. Only when this happens do we reach out for the help that God alone can provide" (12).
"You can't take the Gospel seriously and not take your relationships seriously" (45).
"God chooses to surround us with people who are different from us because he knows it will promote his purpose" (47).
"Each of us has tried to be the Holy Spirit in another person's life, trying to work spiritual changes that only God can accomplish" (54).
"What do you think God typically uses to regain our affection? Ironically, he uses other people! That is one of the blessings of conflict. He uses the difficult seasons in our relationships to allow us to see what we typically live for besides him" (84).
In reference to serving those with whom we have difficult relationships:
"If our relationships are going to produce Christlike character in us and if Christian community is going to flourish, it is going to take lots of people who relish being demoted in the eyes of the world."
The only criticism I have is that there were many missed opportunities to use scripture in support of a statement or idea. Overall, this book is great! However, there was not one verse from Proverbs quoted, and there were many places that one could have been used.
This will be a book that I refer back to again and again. I think it is a must read for ministers who will find that church is one big heap of people with relationship problems. I think the average person will see themselves in what is described. The authors use great examples, and they do so a lot (this is probably the greatest strength). Readable. Enjoyable. Practical.
Thoughts? Comments? Concerns?
(You can put your hands down now.)