Editor's Note: This article summarizes the practical applications of Lynne M. Babb's recent bookFriending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World(IVP Books, 2011).

Technology offers so many options for contacting friends, from texting and social media updates, to talking by cell phone or using video conferencing. But connecting with people through technology is much different than interacting with them face to face. If you’d like to enjoy close friendships using virtual communication, you need to be intentional about how you build and maintain your friendships virtually.

Here’s how you can enjoy real friendships in a virtual world:

Make your friendship with God your top priority. Participating regularly in a relationship with God, the source of all love, will empower you to be the very best friend you can be to other people. Look to Jesus as your role model for what kind of friend you should be – someone who loves people unconditionally and reaches out to help when people are in need. Let the friendship you enjoy with God through Jesus serve as the foundation for your friendships with other people.

Focus on the characteristics of good friendships. The qualities that make good friendships are timeless: loyalty, affection, respect, sympathy, empathy, and understanding. Let these characteristics be your goal for the relationships you build with people you interact with virtually. Focus on the content of your friendships rather than the type of technology you’re using to connect with each other.

Take stock of the current state of your friendships. Do you have as many close friends as you’d like? Are your friendships healthy or unhealthy, and why? Are your friendships helping you and your friends grow closer to God together? Are you able to be a good friend to others most of the time? If not, what challenges are threatening that goal for you (not enough free time, difficulty being vulnerable with others, etc.)?

Pray for wisdom. Ask God to show you how He wants you to invest in your friendships going forward, such as how much time you should spend on relationships with friends who live far away and can only communicate via technology versus how much time you should spend visiting friends you can see face to face. Pray to understand God’s purposes for each of your friendships, and what steps you can take to fulfill those purposes.

Focus on content first, and technology second. What matters most is what kind of messages you want to communicate to your friends rather than the kind of technologies you use to convey those messages. Make sure that technology serves your friendships; not the other way around. For instance, if you love spending time on Facebook but some of your friends don’t, then don’t insist that they join Facebook. Be willing to communicate with them in other ways. Consider whether writing or speaking is best at various times. Speaking may offer a more personal touch when you don’t have much time, since you can quickly hear each other’s voices. But writing allows you to reflect on what you have to say, which can make it possible to express deeper thoughts and feelings than you can while speaking.

Let love be the goal of all of your communication. Be careful that you communicate in loving ways whenever you’re using technology. Think before posting comments or photos online; do everything possible to avoid embarrassing your friends. Encourage your friends whenever you can, such as by responding to their blogs with positive comments and thoughtful questions, and by letting them know that you’re praying for the concerns they’ve shared with you in messages.