Feel stuck in struggling relationships? Everyone is hardwired to seek meaningful, rich relationships. We’re designed to want to be known and accepted and loved. It hurts when close interactions with family members, friends, and even co-workers hit bumps—or brick walls.
So when it comes to our hearts, we all want to be a little smarter, right? The problem is, we live in a culture that just tells us to do what feels right. That’s where we can go wrong.
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It’s no wonder we toil in struggling relationships when it’s so easy to go with the flow of our culture and not realize our approach to relationships is a little short of biblical. True relational intelligence — the skill or wisdom of navigating relationships well—must align with what the Word of God teaches. After all, God designed relationships, didn’t He? He’s the Master who created our hearts. He is the very inventor of love.
Think of it this way. Say I’m hosting a swimming clinic. But then let’s say Michael Phelps is hosting a swimming clinic down the road. Which clinic are you going to go to?
Not mine! Why? Because I’m not the most decorated Olympian swimmer of all time. I’m just a guy who knows a few strokes. Heck, I would close down my clinic and go learn from Phelps!
Now, this may be a silly illustration, but the God of the universe who invented love is the Michael Phelps of relational intelligence. Who do you want to learn from? God, or the latest love guru on the top ten relationship podcasts? God, or your neighbor? God, or your best friend?
Relational intelligence is not merely acquiring knowledge, it is applying knowledge: in other words, wisdom.
But that can be a hurdle. First, the Christian approach to relationships is countercultural. It’s not the way everyone dates, the way everyone does marriage, the way everybody does family. Look around, though. How is that working out? If you see broken hearts and disappointment, you might want to consider a different way. The Jesus way. After all, Jesus was countercultural. He calls us to live, not according to the teachings of the world but according to His truth.
The apostle Paul sums it up.
I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2).
Second, Christian relational intelligence is counterintuitive. Wait, put others first? Give up our rights? Love sacrificially?
It’s not what comes naturally. It only comes from letting Jesus rule our hearts. It only comes from becoming more like Jesus.
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it (Matthew 16:24-26).
An intimate, life-giving, character-shaping relationship demands a rugged commitment to one another. Like the one Jesus made on the cross for us.
Honestly, learning to swim is counterintuitive too. What kid at first wants to put their head in the water? Fear of drowning is real! But if you keep your head up, your body goes down. You will dog-paddle all your life. That’s okay, but it won’t lead to any Olympic gold medals.
Likewise, sticking with the world’s struggling relationship practices won’t get you intimacy and commitment and deep love, either. Only embracing the inventor of love will. Only by accepting the love of Jesus, who went the ultimate distance to call us into relationship with Him, can any of us truly feel loved and love others.
Today, start to learn relational intelligence from the Master.
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Lead Pastor, Awakening Church
Ryan Ingram is currently serving as the lead pastor of Awakening Church in San Jose, California. He and his wife, Jenny, planted the church in 2012 with a passion to awaken this generation to new life in Jesus. Ryan leads his church community through teaching and strategic leadership. He graduated from Moody Bible Institute (in Chicago) and attended Moody Theological Seminary. He lives in San Jose with his wife and three children.More Articles by Ryan