In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Without having seen Him you love Him; though you do not now see Him you believe in Him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy.
I Peter 1: 6-8
Throughout this study on encouragement, we have used the word “authentic.” Authentic means “genuine,” “real”, and “honest.” Authenticity and encouragement go hand in hand. Placating someone is not encouragement. Encouragement needs to come from a place that is authentic, genuine, real, and honest. In order to be authentic with others, one has to be honest with himself or herself. And before one can be honest with oneself, one has to be authentic and honest with God. One reason why we have a hard time being authentic with others is because we are not authentic with God. One reason why we have a hard time extending unconditional love to others is that we don’t understand the unconditional love of God. Or maybe we understand the unconditional love of God and just don’t feel worthy of it.
I once asked a group of teenagers how many of them liked peer pressure. The answer was NONE of them liked peer pressure. I asked them how prevalent peer pressure was in their lives, and they all said it was something they dealt with on an almost daily basis. I then challenged them that if peer pressure is something that everyone has to deal with and that no one likes, why couldn’t they collectively work to eliminate it? If only half of them dealt with it, or if half of them liked it, that would be one thing. However, if all of them deal with it and none of them like it, it would seem that they could find a way to collectively eliminate it.
We all crave, or at least I would like to think we all crave, authentic relationships. Yet, there are significant challenges to making them, the greatest of which is you need other people who are also interested in having authentic relationships. As they say, it takes two to tango.
Before looking at authentic relationships with others, start with your relationship with Christ. He desires an authentic relationship with you and with me. After all, what could be more authentic than to be willing to die for someone and then going through with it? There was nothing pretentious there. He laid down His life for us. He didn’t just inconvenience Himself for a day or two, or dig into his wallet and take out some money. He didn’t just do us a favor, or offer something out of guilt. He lovingly laid down His life for us. He wants an authentic relationship with us. He desires that authentic relationship from the Garden of Eden, which is why through His death on the cross and Resurrection that He opened up a path back to that first relationship we enjoyed. He has opened the path; all we have to do is follow it.
If the two greatest commandments are loving God and loving our neighbor, the path to an authentic relationship begins with these two things. By loving God, by creating an authentic relationship with Christ, it will lead to more authentic relationships with our neighbors. By establishing more authentic relationships with our neighbors, it will lead us to a more authentic relationship with Christ.
Let’s start with Christ—to make an authentic relationship takes time. So, are we investing time with Christ? Invest time speaking to Christ through prayer, and listening through Scripture. If I say that God has “spoken to me” through prayer and the scriptures, some might say that it is arrogant to think that God speaks to ME. To which I would say, “God speaks to all of us, the challenge is are we listening?” In prayer, we don’t just “give God His due,” but we open our hearts to God. We cry to Him, we take our pains to Him, we take our joys to Him, we involve Him in our decisions, we obey Him, and many times we surrender to Him, to His will, even when it contradicts ours.
What made the relationship of Adam and Eve become inauthentic with God is that they stopped loving Him and started following their own desires. They stopped trusting Him and went their own way. The foundation of an authentic relationship with Christ is based on love and trust. This is the same way we lay a foundation with others.
Encouragement and authenticity go hand in hand in building relationships with others. Encouragement can help to build or solidify a relationship. Authenticity will inspire encouragement.
When we are authentic with God, we will feel encouraged in the relationship. When others encourage us towards God, it will be easier to be authentic. God’s grace comes in all kinds of ways. His grace gives us the courage to be authentic with Him and with others. His grace strengthens relationships that are already authentic.
Lord, thank You for the gift of another day. Thank You for the gift of offering another prayer. Lord, fill me with thanksgiving, for blessings large and small. Help me to build an authentic relationship with You, and with others. Help me to have the courage to take down walls of pretense and pride and replace them with honesty and humility. Amen.
If an authentic relationship is something we all want, why can’t we all agree to guide our relationships that way? A good first step is going to Christ and building our relationship with Him, and asking Him to help authenticate our relationships with one another.