Cathy and I met over 20 years ago. We were both newlyweds and our husbands worked together. Soon, we became friends too. Cathy and I started carpooling to work and as couples, we spent weekends watching each other’s home movies, playing games, and visiting nearby parks.
When we both moved to separate parts of the world, we continued to keep in touch. Over the years, we’ve spent holidays and short vacations with each other. We have a lot in common except for one thing: I’m a Christian and Cathy isn’t.
Many times Cathy has questioned my faith. In the beginning, she seemed somewhat defensive. But as the years progress, she’s opening up more to me. God’s given me opportunities to share some timely words with her and Cathy has asked with interest why my life is different than her other friends.
Jamie, a past co-worker, grew up in the church. Yet, she felt misunderstood after being met with suspicion by some because of her exotic appearance. This caused her to withdrawal from any type of church setting.
She wasn’t thrilled when we were first introduced, especially when she learned my husband was a pastor. Immediately, the walls seemed to go up between us. At first, it made me upset that she’d prejudge me, grouping me with others who’d hurt her in the past. Slowly after spending time working together, God brought down some of the walls and allowed us to develop a friendship.
When Jesus was on earth, most of His friends weren’t believers. Yet, He influenced them with such impact, they came to believe that God loved them too.
I’ve been learning that when God brings people into my life, they are in it for a purpose. Jesus still wants to influence lives and because we are representing Him on earth, He wants to do it through us. He’s expecting us to be His voice, His hands, and His feet.
Of course, I’ve also learned to make sure that I am having a greater influence on them, than they are having on me. If I start to be tempted to compromise my faith to accommodate our friendship, then it’s a red flag that I’m the one being influenced.
Building Strong Relationships
It’s been through my friendships with Cathy and Jamie that I’ve learned practical ways to build strong relationships with my non-Christian friends.
1. Seek Wisdom
Ask God how to be a friend to them. Search Scripture for ways in which Jesus demonstrated this while on earth. He helped Simon Peter fish (Luke 5:1 11), provided wine for a friend’s wedding (John 2:1-12), visited a friend’s sick relative (Matthew 8:14-15), and treated His friends to a meal (Matthew 14:13-21).
2. Be Ready to Pray
Pray for your friends and also offer to pray with them, so they hear your prayers. God sometimes works through the words of our prayers to touch their hearts. For example, one day Jamie kept mentioning at work that she had a headache. I sensed the Holy Spirit not only wanted me to tell her I would pray for her, but also offer to pray with her. Since she’d been somewhat hostile to me, I asked Him if He was sure about me praying with her. Couldn’t I just pray for her silently? But the Holy Spirit keeping tugging at my heart that He wanted Jamie to hear my prayer. After fighting against my own resistance, I made my way to her desk and quietly asked if I could pray with her. Immediately, a warm smile crossed her face and she said, "Yes."
It was a very simple, quick, and ineloquent prayer. I returned to my desk feeling a little shaky, believing that whatever God wanted to do in her life was not dependent on my prayer ability. About an hour later, Jamie told me and others around her, that after the prayer, her headache had gone. God worked through the prayer to touch Jamie, dissolve unfriendly feelings between us, and replace them with a warm friendship.
3. Practice Acceptance
Accept your friend the way she is now and don’t try to change her. Ask God to give you a glimpse of her through His eyes.
4. Speak encouragement
Choose to speak encouraging words and avoid criticizing her lifestyle and actions. Wait until she asks you your opinion and then answer gently, based on what you know Scripture says about it. If you aren’t sure, tell her so and search the Bible for God’s opinion.
5. Offer Unconditional Love
If she tells you something shocking, don’t turn away from her. Be supportive as a friend who loves at all times and build trust with her.
6. Be Honest
Share what you believe and what activities you feel comfortable participating in with her. Don’t feel pressured to go someplace that compromises your relationship with Christ. Try suggesting alternatives instead of criticizing. One time, Cathy and her husband invited us over to their house and decided to rent a film to watch together. Because we have different standards in our film choices, I sent my husband with Cathy’s husband to pick out the movie and gently help guide his selection.
7. Answer with Gentleness
When a friend asks a specific question about faith or what the Bible says about the situation, answer truthfully in a gentle and wise way. Don’t push your opinions. Rather answer simply and be open to dialogue with her. Don’t become defensive, but as Colossians 4:5-6 says, "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person."
8. Be Open
Share ways that God is working in your life when the opportunity arises. Don’t assume that just because she doesn’t go to church, that she’s not interested in spiritual things. Openly live your life in Christ. Don’t try to judge whose heart is open and whose is not.
9. Extend invitations
Invite her to visit your church, attend a Christian concert, or to other activities that God can use to draw her to close to Him. Don’t be afraid to include her in your activities and introduce her to other Christians, who will also be accepting of her.
For those friends, like Cathy, who end up living at a distance, ways to keep them close include:
- Remember special days with cards, phone calls, or thoughtful gifts.
- Call occasionally to see how she’s doing.
- Write letters and mention what God’s doing in your life.
- Build memories together by planning special times to get together. One Christmas our family drove to Cathy’s home for the holidays. Since she and her husband knew we attended church, they thoughtfully chose a local church and took us there on Sunday. Another time, we met halfway and spent the weekend together. We went to an amusement park and a movie. We still talk about the fun we shared on that reunion.
- When Cathy and her husband went through a difficult time, we called often and asked if we could pray with them. They accepted and it brought us closer together.
10. Don’t Give Up!
Cathy recently told me that it’s comforting to have me as a friend because she believes I’ll always be there for her. She knows she can count on me. Her words made me realize that God’s using our friendship as an example of His faithfulness.
Jamie told me after a couple years of friendship that she liked my outlook on life and how I didn’t condemn her, but instead listened to her and offered encouragement. Through our friendship, God’s unconditional love for Jamie was being communicated to her.
Romans 2:4 says, "It’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance." Asking God to show me how to keep close to my non-Christian friends has changed my life. Instead of being on the defensive or trying to force my faith on them, I’ve learned to rely on God’s leading and His gentle ways.
And, when it comes to praying for their salvation over the years, I’ve adopted Winston Churchill’s famous words: "Never give up!"
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Ashleigh Slater, Founder & Managing Editor
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