• Dana L. Butler

How I’m Learning to Approach Relationships Differently {on leading people to Jesus… or n

Monday morning finds me down the street from our place at what has become my favorite Starbucks in our area. I’m growing to enjoy the quirks of the different baristas, and today I find myself smiling as I sit alone with my coffee and my chocolate croissant overhearing their banter.

I worked at Starbucks way back when, and sitting here takes me back to those days. I reminisce about the friendships I developed with co-workers and regular customers, a small handful of which are still in my life today.

I look back at that season, too, with some measure of regret. I contemplate the ways I’m being rearranged inside, and how I hope I’d move differently among relationships like that nowadays.

See, my desire back then was genuinely to help and love others, especially those who didn’t know Jesus, and my heart’s fundamental question as I’d approach a new friend was, “How can I take your hand and walk you into relationship with Jesus?”

Noble and good? Yes. At least, at the surface.

But y’all, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m fairly sure that in my desire to lead friends to the Lord, what actually came across was more along the lines of, “how can I fix you?”

Ugh. How many people did I unwittingly treat as projects?

In more recent years, I’m pretty sure I’ve utterly lost the desire to approach relationships with let me lead you to Jesus as my primary goal.

If I’m honest, part of this transition in my mindset toward relationships has been a result of experiencing firsthand what it’s like to be viewed more like a project than a person worth knowing. More like a person with flaws to be fixed than than like a friend.

I’ve only recently seen how damaging this was to me on a personal level. And I as I’ve found a measure of healing for my own wounds in counseling and in prayer, I can’t help but wonder upon how many hearts I’ve inflicted similar damage. How many precious people have been negatively affected by my subtle *need* to introduce them to Jesus so I could maybe put a notch in my leading-folks-to-the-Lord belt.

Or how many have been hurt by my insecure need to rate folks on a scale of less mature, equally mature, or more mature than I in their walks with Jesus.

The way I previously needed to classify you in my mind, to put you in a category of Needing My Wisdom, or Equal to Me in Wisdom, or Wiser than I Am and Therefore Worthy to Be Learned From.


Oh Jesus, have mercy.

And you all, my sweet friends, are so kind, and I know a number of you will be concerned that I’m beating myself up as I look back at my own immaturity. So I’ll tell you – I’m actually not. I believe Jesus saw the aim of my heart to bring Him glory, and I believe He was (and still is) so tender and merciful toward me in all my mixed motives.

Thank God for His grace and love that cover my sin.

I never would have had words to articulate these ways of thinking a few years ago, and I had no clue how hurtful they could be to the hearts of those I cared about. And I did, y’all. I genuinely cared for people. But I was also prideful, immature, and insecure, and I’m opening up to you the ways in which I now see that those immaturities came out.

And I sit here today and tell you that yes, I am different now. I’m humbler. Wiser. Learning to see all people as Divine Image bearers (Genesis 1:27) through whom Jesus wants to reveal new facets of Himself to me.

But I am still discovering ways in which God is rooting out those former ways of seeing and relating to others.

This is a journey of ever-deepening humility that comes from intimacy with Him. It’s not a quick process, y’all. And I’m so thankful to be in community these days with beloved friends who are gracious to me, who desire me in all my strengths, and in my blind spots, too.

Now, to hopefully bring some clarity here: do I still want to see my fellow humans come home to the heart of God? Yes, with everything in me. Am I repenting for my desire to “lead people to Jesus?” No. I’m most certainly not.


I am learning to approach relationships with people, no matter where they are on their spiritual journey, with a very different motive and heart-posture.

Humility. Kind curiosity. A desire to understand, to learn from.

The older I get, the more I’m realizing that no matter where you are on your personal journey, my life will be enriched and my heart expanded as I choose to approach you with humility. With a desire to deeply know you.

So I pray I ask more questions nowadays. I pray I listen more than I talk. I pray I’m more fully present to you when we’re in conversation. And I pray that out of my much-more-genuine desire to gain understanding of your heart and journey, and out of my personal intimacy with Jesus Christ, will flow the Only Love that can heal and transform your life.

I want whatever of Christ you encounter in knowing me to be a pure, natural overflow, rather than an ulterior motive.

I pray I’m making sense here today, guys, ’cause here’s the other thing I’ve realized:  The people who approach me this way? These are the people by whom I consistently feel the most valued, seen, and loved.

These are the people in my life who just by walking with me, have earned the trust and authority in my heart to call me out, speak truths that make me cringe, help me see my blind spots — and their words land with love, bear significant weight in my heart. 

I find myself more deeply grounded in Jesus just by being in their presence.

To put it in terms that are more common in the church, these are the people who are discipling me.

And mostly, they’re doing it without even trying.

They are simply humble. Present. Curious. Listening. Sharing themselves authentically, without agenda. Loving well, and gently — almost unintentionally — leading me into new facets of God’s heart.

Oh Jesus, I want to be just like them.

P.S. Sharing these words with my sweet friend Lisha’s community.

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