THE QUESTIONS WE ASK EACH OTHER
I remember the question clear as day. I remember the location, where I sat, his position to me, the gist of my response, and even what we had for breakfast. I was a Christian for about 3-4 years. My pastor and I met for breakfast to catch up. I was visiting home sometime after joining the Army. At first, his question took me back a bit. I didn’t expect it, and truth be told, I wasn’t ready for it. It was a question for someone else. Someone more mature. But despite anyone’s maturity level, it is a question that begs for greater degrees of respect in a relationship. It is a question that invites intimacy, so if you’re not ready for this question, you may not be prepared for the intimacy that is possible.
Most of us want intimacy, but many of us aren’t sure how to pursue that. Thinking about intimacy within male friendships nowadays is almost viewed as at least mildly feminine. ‘Real manly men’ don’t typically consider how to increase intimacy in their circle of fellowship of other men. For some reason, it’s just not part of the ‘cultural DNA.’ In the meantime, we wait until someone else takes the initiative, does something effectively counter-cultural, and asks what most of us want to know about each other but are generally too afraid to ask.
In my view, it’s the sort of question that cuts through the fluff we tend to project. It cuts through like a hot knife in butter. When I think about the proverb, as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17), I think to myself; this is the question that gets to this proverb’s essence. There are many ways to sharpen one another, and there are many ideas that have been gathered to help us understand the meaning of this proverb, but, in my experience, none of them reach the tip of the spear-like this question.
I’ve strung you out long enough. I know you want to know what I am talking about. What is this question, you’re asking yourself. Well, here it is.
The question is: How’s your soul?
The Heart and Soul of Christian Fellowship
The heart and soul of Christian fellowship hangs in the balance of how we honestly respond to this question in our fellowship circles. If we keep talking around this question, we will live with a perpetually dull knife of brotherly or sisterly Christian care for one another. If you want to sharpen your brother or sister, you must ask this question if you want to be sharpened. You must take this question seriously. You must also be prepared to provide a response for yourself regarding the state of your soul, and you must be prepared to receive a response from others regarding the state of their soul.
There are a thousand-and-one ways we talk around this question and thousand-and-one ways we miss the mark of going just one-inch deeper in our friendships. I know that disappointment is familiar to just about anyone who has experienced wanting to unload the burdens of their soul only to find out that their friend was either more interested in something else or just couldn’t handle that level of responsibility for whatever reason.
When we see how weak-kneed our friends can be, it can be very isolating. But more importantly, when we see how weak-kneed we can be, it ought to convict us; move us back to the Scriptures for yet another examination of the text, leading us to humbly plead with God to embolden us to be the friend we need others to be for us.
You are fighting for the heart and soul of your fellowship. When the dust of the politics has settled, when differences are ironed out, when the pleasantries and politeness run their course, every friendship is left wanting: Either we will go deeper, keep things as they are, or move away (emotionally or even physically). Please don’t get me started on what geographical distances do to friendships.
THREE WAYS THIS QUESTION IMPROVES CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP
It helps us discern how we actually love others. The degree of interest you have in learning about the state of your brother’s soul reveals what drives you in this friendship, what you’re basically in it for, and the aim of all other inquiries and requisitions of the friendship. It also reveals precisely the way you guard and cut yourself off from those around you. Indeed, it is not uncommon to spend a great deal of time with someone, and you could even spend years and years of fellowship hours, but in the end, not know anything substantive about their soul. It may not necessarily be because you didn’t inquire enough about your friend, showing just how they or we have gone about crafting our perimeters, so others do not see us for who we are. At the core, love is always the issue.
When we are too afraid, to be honest about the state of our soul, that fear may be revealing just how much you love yourself, which may be more than you realize.
When you see the window of opportunity to listen to someone share their soul, and you don’t take it, you might be more blind to self-love than you realize. Love is sacrificial. Love is bold. Love is others-centered. Love does not fear. If you want to improve your friendships, then I challenge you to ask how’s your soul and to share boldly, humbly, and honestly, when someone asks you about the state of your soul.
It helps us see how the gospel is penetrating and settling into the heart. We need the gospel, and we need help believing the gospel on a daily basis. There isn’t one day that goes by where you don’t struggle in your belief in the gospel. Belief in the gospel is akin to having planted a seed. The seed is real, and the seed is really in the ground, but if the seed is going to grow, it needs to be cultivated. It’s not the case where you can plant the seed, walk away without tending to it, and reasonably expect mature growth.
Similarly, the gospel you believe must be cultivated into a deeper and more mature belief. Our vulnerabilities throughout life heighten our sense of awareness for a need for something like the gospel to grasp onto. We need something solid, strong, and firm to withstand vulnerabilities, including struggles from within and struggles from without.
- Struggles include battles with sin such as pride, lust, greed, anger, fear, passivity, and the like. Sometimes, we might not be struggling with a particular sin, but sin may be affecting us. Two instances include things like anxiety and depression. While I think sin is responsible for anxiety and depression, there are debilitating effects of these issues on and in our hearts that aren’t necessarily tied to a specific sin we are committing per se. Instead, they may be built-up automatic responses (emotionally or psychologically) to our environment. Yet, how we manage ourselves or how we respond to our brother or sister who is struggling in the wake of these kinds of automatic responses matters. It is possible to deal with depression and anxiety in sinful ways. Hence our need for the gospel in light of these particular vulnerabilities.
- Struggles include things like events that may happen around us but not necessarily to us, such as when loved ones become sick or dies or a parent develops Alzheimer’s. A child is born with a life-long disability, a spouse commits adultery, and the list goes on and on—the effects of the fall trickle down to us all in various ways and means.
The way we respond to these events reveals how the gospel is penetrating and taking root in our hearts. The principal barometer of whether the gospel is penetrating us is by the degree to which end up worshiping God.
The goal of the gospel is to get you to worship on an increasingly regular basis. The more we are inclined to consciously engage in acts of worship, no matter what happens to us is evidence of the gospel taking root in our souls.
So when we approach our brother or sister about the state of their soul, we are listening for how he is worshiping. We are listening to how she may be avoiding worship. We are listening to how we are to sharpen and spur him unto worship. We are listening to how they are processing the gospel in such a way that no matter what happens to them, they are seeing the light of Christ and the hand of God at work in them. We are listening to what matters to them, to what grieves them, to how or whether they are bothered by indwelling sin, to see whether hope is resident even in the darkest moments of his life.
Listening intently to your brother share the state of their soul is no small matter and must be done with great care, respect, and humility. We do it because we love them and find the ministry of the care of their soul more valuable to us than any embarrassment or whatever else our reservations may seek to protect.
It helps us see the work of the Holy Spirit. Is there a higher aim in the Christian endeavor than to know, love, and enjoy God…now and forever? I think not. Yet, we are wretches to the core, so any manifestation of godliness not only is counter to the flesh but tangible proof of God’s great care and attention to the soul of your friend. It ought to be a joyous thing to see God at work in their heart, and getting to a place of true appreciation of this happens when we concern ourselves with matters of the soul.
If you are tending to their soul, you ought to be able to trace the progress of maturity; notice where the particular vulnerabilities lie, where they are most easily tempted by the evil one, understand and know how God has proven to under-gird them in their battle against sin.
Can you take your finger and trace the steps in an imaginary line noting the agonies of defeat and thrills of victory in their life? If so, then you are doing well to pay attention to the work of the Holy Spirit in their life.
This isn’t meant to be some mystical trickery. We’re not digging under rocks with a microscope or reading tea leaves. No, we’re paying attention; we’re listening; we’re inquiring; we’re acquainting ourselves with someone we claim to love as a brother or sister in Christ and proving this love by tending to their soul. The entryway to seeing the work of the Holy Spirit lies in whether we will concern ourselves with the state of their soul.
Friendship is hard. The older I get, the harder it can seem to be. But there is nothing under the sun like the gospel of Jesus Christ that has the power to unite even total strangers in a new affection and with genuine, authentic, and bonafide concern for another. Christian friendship under-girded by the gospel, led by the Spirit, with a vision Christ-likeness and an eye on Heaven makes concerning ourselves with matters of the soul not only a joy and delight but the most honorable mission. Getting to the heart and soul of Christian fellowship does require work and may at times feel like death, but Jesus said, greater love has no other than for someone to lay down his life for his friends.
You can begin laying down your life today by dropping the self-interest focus toward which you may be inclined, and invite your friend to converse over things that matter by asking them the question, “How’s your soul?”