True friends are rare. In my life they’re a very small and surprisingly varied group. Discounting relatives, there’s… well, not many at all. They’re a little bit like each other but very, no, really very, unlike me. After 71 years I have very few true friends and that’s fine. I have many friends and some good friends, but true all-in-all, right-through-to-the-marrow-friends, trust-them-with-your-soul friends? Just two.
Two people I can ask for help if I’m struggling with something that doesn’t please God, if I’m in sin and can’t haul myself out, if I need prayer (and we all need that), if there’s some aspect of …oh, you know… stuff. Two people I trust.
To trust someone is a massive decision. Trust sparingly. Be wise. Life soon teaches us that trust is precious and to be guarded. Don’t lay your soul bare to just anyone, do not cast your pearls before swine as the book says. But to have a friend with whom you can be totally honest, and know that they won’t trample all over you with the hob-nailed boots of righteousness, but will still care more about your walk with God than your feelings… wow, that’s a proper big shiny gift. It’s confirmation to you that God is in your life. He has brought you these friends, I love the Message version of James 1: 17-18 ‘So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.’
My good friends are a gift from God, and they desire God as I do, or even more. They are on the same search, a few steps ahead. If you have friends like this, regard their wisdom, patience and their kindness, and be ready to listen and learn. ‘Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.’ That’s Proverbs 27:9 ‘Earnest counsel’ is sometimes quite hard to take, but do yourself a favour – take it! In time you may find that God gives you wisdom enough to support them in return ‘Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.’ That’s Proverbs 19:20
Trust only those who pray. Seriously.
I mean, ‘seriously trust only those who pray’ but I also mean ‘trust only those who pray seriously.’ Hah! I like that. I’m glad I thought it.
I’m not saying we should, doormat-brained, accept every scrap of advice, not even those the very dearest and most soulful person gives us. That loads too heavy a weight on anyone’s back. We can’t jettison responsibility for our soul life onto someone else. Pray and think. If your friend is Godly, the advice will be filtered through the teachings of Christ, the epistles, or the Old Testament, and you’ll know the peace of the Spirit. Pray about it. Pray about everything.
What sort of relationship pleases God?
1Peter 3:8 ‘… all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.’
A friendship of selflessness, joyful love, deep and unshakeable, deep concern for the state of your soul, that’s a Godly friendship. You may not be close geographically, you may be continents apart, you may live in the same town but rarely see each other… different generations and cultures and histories…. but you pray for them, and you care about them… deeply. Not a dependancy or a familial tie, a romantic friendship or an intrusion, but an uncomplicated independent friendship. Such a great gift. It comes from God, this agape love. It’s not a rational thing, you don’t decide to do it or have it. It’s a gift.
But hang on! Like preaching or teaching or music, if friendship is a gift we may indeed all have it, but it’s pretty obvious we don’t all have it in abundance. It’s a bit like generosity – we can all be generous at times but some people are born unthinkingly generous, the right hand not knowing what the left hand is giving, while others can’t help but count the cost of everything, meting out their gifts as if they come from themselves and not from God. If someone doesn’t have the gift of generosity in all its fullness, that’s OK, they will have other gifts. And just like generosity, friendship is part of personality, varying from person to person. It may not mean as much to you as does to me. And you know what? The people I consider true friends, for whom I would walk a hundred miles (take your pick – Al Jolson or The Proclaimers) may not feel the things I feel, but here’s the thing… that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be equally reciprocated. Friendship is not about me. It’s about them. It’s about love and faithfulness and … I’m going on a bit. I’ll try to rein it in.
Do you have someone you trust? Would you always, always give them the benefit of the doubt, even though they’re human and they may get things wrong? Do you trust that, although they certainly have quirks and weaknesses like everyone else, they would never intentionally and wilfully do wrong? Then you are blessed. Proper blessed. And I know it sounds churchy, but you are!
The people I’m thinking of, my true friends, are the greatest gifts. I do, I really do, thank God for them every day. They consistently point me thataway, to God, nudging me back from the edge of the cliff, and when I ignore their warnings and dodge their hands, they care enough to speak the truth – hard truth – in love. And they don’t make a song and a dance about it, and they don’t refer to it again, and they make me laugh, which always helps. (a sideways memory: Ken Dodd, a British comedian, told the story of coming out of his dressing room after an afternoon show, when two middle aged women were walking past, chatting. One said “What did you think of it?” and the other replied “It was alright…. if you like laughing.” I like laughing)
So, my friends give me so much. What can I do in return? I can thank them. But that gets a bit wearisome after a bit. I suppose I could ring the changes by saying it in Welsh, Latin, French…. and maybe I could learn a few more languages, but even so….. But here’s what I can do; I can pray for them. That’s my job. And it’s your job too, for those you love. Purposeful, thoughtful, examined, directed, constant, tearful prayer. ‘Earnest’, like the man said. That’s what makes you a true friend, whether they know it or not. Prayer for each other is what makes the church.
Oooh. That’s a new thought. When we pray for each other we are helping God to create the church. The prayer becomes the church. Oh, I dunno. Something. (It’s 3.02am and I should go to bed but I want to get to my last thought so I’m ploughing on, no time for these segways.) I’ll think about that tomorrow.
In the songs we regularly sing there are quite a few calling God our friend. They catch me short. The first time I saw the words, I felt distinctly uncomfortable. Was it OK to call God my friend? Can I really state with certainty ‘I am a friend of God. He is a friend of mine. I belong to Him and He belongs to me’ ?
The bottom line is that I trust Him. Things are tough at the moment in some aspects of life, but I discover that I trust Him. Without wavering. He is to be trusted absolutely. I know that the heart of this Divine Friend is good and faithful, unwavering. He can be relied upon as we can rely on nothing else, His word is flawless, living and true. He was there when I was a child and He’s there now and for eternity.
Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures. Psalm 119:89-90
I know that He is my friend not because of the circumstances of today, but because of His nature. Every good thing about friendship is true about my relationship with God. He understands me, accepts me, cares about me, He guides and corrects, He is wise, forgiving, patient, He hears me and answers me, my heart lightens when I think of Him, He reaches down when I can’t reach up. He is wonderful.
My God, my Saviour, my Lord, my Friend. Wow.