Side By Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love, by Edward T. Welch. (Crossway, 2015)
This was an encouraging, easy, and super practical read. I was marking and underlining nearly the entire time I was reading!
As the title suggests, this is a book about walking through life with those around us, specifically in their times of need.
This book is divided into two sections:
1. We are needy
2. We are needed.
It is divided in such a way because Welch argues that, in order for us to help others, we must first recognize our own neediness for God’s help and for the help of those around us. Only after we recognize our own neediness will we then be able to reach out with humility and love to help those around us who are also in need.
In many ways, this book is simply a book on how to build relationships that are more than skin-deep. If we’re honest, we all can use help in this area, can’t we?
Personal Takeaways from the Book:
1. The Importance of Seeing the Unseen
In learning to walk side by side with each other, Welch encourages us to look for the unseen among that which is seen.
For example, when one shares a prayer request for a friend’s health or a strained relationship, listen for the burden that may be behind that prayer request. Often, the cares for the physical things in life are an indicator of cares beneath the surface.
It is these things lying beneath the surface that we want to take note of so that we might better understand those things that are near to another’s heart. (This may sound like Welch is encouraging his readers to “read between the lines” or “assume things.” That’s not the intention. Rather, I believe Welch is simply encouraging us to have a listening ear and a compassionate heart in order to take note of those often-missed details in another’s life that are plain to observe…if we would just take the time to observe them!)
2. The Value of Scripture-Saturated Prayer
Prayer is powerful, for it is communication between us and God. And God has given us the privilege of interceding for those around us.
For this reason, prayer comes up over and over again in Side by Side, both in the context of making our own requests known to God and also in the context of lifting up others before the throne of grace.
Welch suggests that our prayers should not only present the burden (for example, the prayer request for a family member’s health) but also the deeper need (perhaps the concern for the salvation of that family member.)
Over and over again, Welch reminds us of the importance of using Scripture to fuel our prayers. This is significant, for so often, when we pray, we end up just rattling off a list of requests instead of praying according to God’s character.
Welch suggests that once we have identified the deeper need behind a surface need, we can then “attach words of Scripture that capture both our real needs and God’s purposes and promises. That is, we pray for what we know our Father wants to give us.” (page 61)
In my mind, I think of this approach as simply holding God to His Word: “Lord, You have told us in Your Word that [insert Scripture]. And now I am praying that You would act according to what You have said.”
3. The Weight of Small Deeds
We all can think back to a time in our lives where someone’s simple act of kindness touched us in a significant way.
Simply taking the time to listen and express care and compassion can go a long way in ministering to the heart of one who is carrying a burden. It can also be the act that turns an acquaintance into a friend.
Welch gives many helpful pointers for interacting with people on a casual level that can then lead to a closer relationship.
He also gives some very practical advice on ways to minister to someone going through an intense form of suffering, such as grief. Anyone who has gone through suffering knows the significance of small deeds—both for good and for bad.
4. The Significance of Asking Good Questions
This somewhat overlaps with my previous point, but Welch goes into great detail (and a step-by-step how-to) on how to have a conversation that goes beyond the surface questions that we all love to ask: “How are you?” and “How was your week?”
It is almost laughable how simplistic Welch gets.
For example, there is an entire chapter dedicated to the importance of simply greeting people at church. I don’t think I’ve ever read a whole chapter on the need to be intentional about greeting people! Until now.
But think about it: how often do not we hear of an unbeliever (or even a believer) who visits a church, but is turned off because no one talked to him?!?
Yes, it’s the small things.
The ensuing chapters take the reader through the steps of how to ask questions to help “see the unseen.”
Welch aptly describes the importance of asking good questions and then listening to their answers:
“We hope to learn what is important to the person we’re talking to, which is another way of saying that we hope to hear what is on his or her heart. The way in is to listen for what is dear, what is loved, what is feared, what is hard–we listen for how someone feels.” (page 81)
With that said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I read it in just a couple days and found it to be super-practical, giving me lots to think about.
I think any believer could pick up this book and find it to be very helpful in a variety of really practical ways.