Would you cross a bridge built by someone who had no experience building bridges?
In the 1870s, St. Louis was the fourth largest city in our country, but it was the hardest to reach. Standing between it and most of the country was the ginormous Mississippi River.
James Eads set out to change that. Only problem was he’d never built a bridge. But he had two things going for him: he was a designer/inventor, and he knew the Mississippi River.
When the bridge was ready for use in 1874, not everyone was eager to use it. Not only was Eads an untested bridge builder, his bridge was radically different.
- No bridge had ever been built with alloy steel and wrought iron.
- No bridge had ever depended entirely on cantilevers.
Would these things hold against the currents of the river and the weight of traffic?
To provide his bridge was safe, Eads walked an elephant across it. Then he ran 14 locomotives across the bride. The elephant did not drown, and the locomotives lived to see another day.
Since then, bridges like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate bridge have surpassed the Eads Bridge as recognizable icons of America, but Eads paved the way.
James Eads had never built a bridge before, but he proved that we can build bridges in difficult situations. You can build a bridge too—even if you’ve never built one.
The apostle Paul was also a bridge builder.
“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Cor. 9:20-23).
Let’s follow Paul’s example, building bridges into the lives of other people—even people we don’t know or who are different from us.
1. Be friendly. Well … duh. Seriously a friendly word, even just a smile, can make a world of difference to someone. People are willing to talk to those who make the simple gesture of smiling and saying hello.
2. Assume they also want a relationship. Assume that because it is probably true. Even cranky people. We are surrounded by lonely people who have put up a wall, but deep down they’d love a human connection.
3. Accept them as they are. We can build relationships with individuals without embracing their lifestyle.
4. Ask questions. Don’t just talk about yourself. Get to know the other person by asking questions. People like to talk about themselves, and they feel valued when others want to get to know them. If the person is from another culture, ask about it. Their culture is a part of who they are, so again, they feel valued.
5. Be persistent. Some people, while inwardly wiling to form a connection, may be initially shy or untrusting. Don’t abandon them; just keep building a bridge—brick by brick.
6. Invite them. Invite them to a party or an event your Bible study group is hosting. And invite them to participate in your Bible study. Do this with caution, though. Your goal is to build a bridge—a relationship—and not give them the impression proselytizing is the only reason you’ve talked to them.
The best thing we can do is build a bridge to a person that will ultimately lead them to cross another bridge, the one that leads to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Bridges take time, but once they’re built, they’re worth crossing.
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