As a general rule, we will not be able to have growing relationships in which we help other people unless we see the good in them, and they know we see good in them. Would you listen to someone who helps you merely out of duty rather than love? Would you listen to someone who doesn’t really like you? God has determined that help takes place in the context of love and respect. Enjoyment can sum it up—do you enjoy the other person?
The apostle Paul did this well: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4). That is how he begins his first letter to the Corinthians. It is the way he starts every letter. What makes this letter unique is that the recipients were bad. They boasted in their reputation and associations, ignored the poor among them, and were known for being divisive. Yet even in all their badness and their disrespect for Paul, he could see the Spirit working in them. He could see the good in them, and he enjoyed it.
Such an attitude can lead to deeper conversations:
“Let me tell you more about the grace I have seen in you.”
“Somehow you remain hopeful in hard things. How do you do it?”
“You have been given amazing gifts, and I have been praying that God would protect you so you can continue to use them well.”
“I have been thinking about you recently.”
If we were to receive such thoughtful comments, we’d be willing to open up to the one who spoke them, numbering him or her among those we call first in times of struggle. Paul teaches us something very important in this regard—he didn’t let the bad overshadow the good. He was able to affirm the good and encourage his readers in the faith. We want to do the same.
The goal here is to keep our eyes open for good things in others. When we see good things, we savor them and point them out. As you get to know people, you will encounter many hard things, some unattractive things, but if you also see good, you will see people more as God does, and that is a blessing.
Look for the Good
All humanity has been created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). Though sin has distorted and sullied that image, the image persists and is the reason we can enjoy each other (James 3:9). Everything good is a reflection of the God who is good. The following story is an example of what can happen when you look for the good.
A wife had had enough of her husband’s lies, lewd comments about other women, drunkenness, and self-admitted narcissism. She asked to see the pastor of the church she attended; and her husband, who mocked her profession of faith, was willing to go with her.
Why did he see the pastor? He said that he was certainly not going to change, but he wanted to “help her be happier. I love her.”
The pastor saw the bad. The husband’s sin was flamboyant. And most people would quickly forgive the pastor if he had jumped up and strangled him. However, the pastor entered a different way. He saw the humanness—something of God’s reflection in him. He saw how the man was affected by his wife in his simple willingness to come and seek help with her, and that is good.
“You are a hybrid if I ever saw one. You are hard as can be on the outside but softer on the inside than you let on. Thank you for coming.” The pastor was soon brought into some of the difficult and painful things in this man’s life.
Just keep heading toward the heart. It is the repository for our emotional life, and good comes from its springs. Keep looking until you see the good, and you will see it.
1. Notice Character Qualities
Be eager to discover patience, self-control, humility, kindness, selfless acts, encouraging words, attentiveness, courtesy (which is a form of respect), interest in justice and the marginalized, hard work, and love. These refractions of divine goodness are best identified, praised, and enjoyed. If their appearance is episodic and brief, and even if they are contaminated with selfishness or pride, don’t let the unattractive features of someone’s life blind you to the good.
Her house is a mess, and her friends assume she will be late. Many find her frustrating and unreliable. But those who know her see more. When help is needed, she is there and usually on time. When you speak with her, she is all there.
She hears you, anticipates where you are going, is moved by what you say, and will pray for you more than will five other friends.
Love is able to see past the clutter of a disorganized life. Other evidence of the good in people is easy to see but only if you have access to some behind-the-scenes details.
He is never too busy to help. A two-hour drive to pick up a stranded member from his church was the most recent interruption to his very full days. As he recounted the trip to a friend, it was clear that he’d enjoyed every moment of it, even though he’d been out quite late the night before. This good was recognized because the friend with whom he shared the story took the time to ask for a few more details.
2. Notice Gifts and Talents
Everyone has strengths, and these strengths are good. They can be used selfishly, but they are also gifts from God that are expressed in the way we serve one another.
You can probably identify your friends’ gifts rather quickly, including strengths in organization, administration, music, teaching, parenting, math, reading, mechanics, aesthetics and decorating; planning; computer technology; electronics; construction; empathy; and athletics. Here’s one:
She was a teen stereotype—piercings, tattoos, a low-grade sneer, and a commitment to seem uninterested in church. No adult had any point of contact with her.
The children in the church like to run among the pews after the service. One Sunday a two-year-old, who tends to be part of this pack, strayed and went for the steps. The toddler could navigate the steps, but the tattooed teen was unsure about that, so she quickly followed to make sure the little girl was okay, trailed her in her wanderings, and then escorted her back to the main room.
A parent noticed this and went over to the teen, saying, “Thank you so much for how you cared for that little one. You are very kind. But you’d better be careful. Soon all the kids will want you as their big sister.”
From that moment on, you could watch the teen brighten and relax whenever that parent stopped to say hi.
Just keep looking. You will see something good.
A high-functioning autistic young man can remember many people’s names and birthdays and past conversations. If you were to meet him, you would think he hadn’t noticed you, because he always looks away. Little would you know that you had found a place in his heart and that he will remember the details of your conversation the next time he sees you.
The church is an ideal venue to see the talents and gifts of others, because most gifts emerge in the context of serving people.
3. Notice Pleasures and Preferences—Even Hobbies
Whereas character qualities and even innate gifts can go unnoticed by those who possess them, pleasures and preferences are what others consciously enjoy. Everything good is a reflection of the God who is good.
Listen for what excites them. When we hear people talk enthusiastically about almost anything remotely good, we are brought into their pleasures and can find ourselves enjoying them too.
And if they enjoy something we find uninteresting? Out of respect, we believe they enjoy that something for a good reason, so we will ask a few more questions.
“Why do you like watching baseball so much?”
Yes, we like something just because we like it, and sometimes people can’t give reasons for their preferences. But if we ask, we might get something more.
I knew someone who had a preference for Diet Pepsi that bordered on obsessive, and he always seemed a little cranky if I drank something else when Diet Pepsi was available. For years I attributed it to an eccentricity, until I asked why Diet Pepsi seemed so important to him. “My older brother, who died when I was eight, drank Diet Pepsi.”
That is an admirable preference.
With baseball, you might hear something similar:
“I enjoy watching it with friends.”
“I enjoy the statistics and the camaraderie of being in a virtual league.”
“When I was a boy I would watch it with my father, and it makes me feel like I still have a connection to him.”
Now we are getting somewhere. Sports can be about relationships, or it can be about admiring physical skills or appreciating strategy. When you follow others’ interests and pleasures, you might begin to enjoy what they enjoy or at least the reasons why they enjoy it.
4. Notice Spiritual Vitality
As enjoyable as all those are, more direct expressions of faith in Jesus Christ are even more so.
A friend asks you to pray for her.
A person tells a story about turning to Jesus in the midst of great weakness.
Someone confides in you about a struggle with anger and asks for help.
A spouse says, “I was so encouraged by Scripture this morning. Could I tell you about what I read?”
Immediately after a church service, a friend greets you and mentions specific ways that she was challenged and encouraged by the morning’s sermon, and she asks for your thoughts as a way she can learn even more.
A friend told me about his favorite sermon. It was ten minutes long, and he recounted it word for word. The result was a double gift. He enjoyed remembering it, and I was spellbound. The next day I sent him this note: “Thanks so much for the sermon. Now it is among my favorites, and I will quote you when I pass it on to someone else.”
All of us can see the good in our friends. Scripture, however, authorizes us to see the good and enjoy it in all people, even when most of us are not always so good. This will encourage others, increase our affection for them, and make it much easier to talk about things that are hard.
Edward T. Welch (PhD, University of Utah) is a counselor and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. He has been counseling for more than 35 years and has written extensively on the topics of depression, fear, and addictions. His books include When People Are Big and God Is Small, Crossroads: A Step-by-Step Guide Away From Addiction, Running Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of Rest, Shame Interrupted, and Side by Side. He blogs regularly at CCEF.org.