“Friendship is a much underestimated aspect of spirituality. It is every bit as significant as prayer and fasting. Like the sacramental use of water and bread and wine, friendship takes what is common in human experience and turns it into something holy.”– Eugene Peterson, American-born clergyman, scholar, author, and poet
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Who doesn’t want to spend more time with people who build us up, who are available when we need them, who protect us, and who fight for our families and our marriages? These are the people with whom we can be real, show our vulnerabilities, share our concerns and our celebrations, and be held accountable.
A consequence we see in Genesis of being created in God’s image is that we are designed for relationship with God and with one another. We have already seen that God is inherently relational (Genesis 1:26), so as images of a relational God, we are inherently relational. The second part of Genesis 1:27 makes the point again, as it speaks of us not individually this time, but in twos, “Male and female he created them.” We are in relationship with our Creator and with our fellow man/woman.
A Harvard Medical school study done in recent years identified that those of us with close friendships are less likely to have physical impairments as we age. Another line of research suggests that caring behaviors trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones. You see, not only did God put us into community to flourish among one another, our physical bodies were even designed by our Creator to be in relationship!
In her Blog, 10 Marks of True Spiritual Friendship, author Arabah Joy shares profound truth. “So much in our world works against forming deep friendship–our crazy busy schedules, cross country moves and subbing online interaction for in real life friendship. True spiritual friendship will not just happen. First, we have to BE the kind of friend we want to have.”
Ask yourself these questions:
- Who is the most important relationship in my life?
- To whom do I go to the minute I need to vent/get something off my chest?
- Where do I currently place God on my list of relational priorities?
There are dozens of scriptures that talk about the importance of relationship. We can even go all of the way back to Genesis 2:18, when God came to Adam and said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” So God made a helper suitable for him. The New Testament emphasizes that the number one relationship to which we are called is with Jesus. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And Jesus is not only the greatest model of a friend, but He also commanded others to walk in community with one another. (John 15:12-15)
In Jennie Allen’s book “Restless”, she makes an obvious statement and follows with bold questions. She says, “Every one of us has people in our lives whom we need and people who need us.” And follows that with the questions, “Are we intentionally spending our time in those two categories? Or are we casually bumping up against each other with no real purpose to receive or give love?”
Allen points out that we don’t just need people in our lives, we need the right people. Jesus wrote the blueprint for this. Let’s look at how Jesus pursued and secured life giving relationships.
First and foremost, Jesus prioritized spending time in relationship with his heavenly Father. He would seek His advice and direction through prayer.
Through Jesus’ time in the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, we learn about hospitality and worship. He teaches us to slow down and enjoy our friendships. It points out how our task lists often become a barrier to truly knowing each other and our God.
John the Baptist was present almost Jesus’ entire life. As embryos in Elizabeth’s and Mary’s bellies respectively, John “leapt with joy” (Luke 1:43-45) hearing Mary’s voice. John introduced Jesus to his first two disciples, Andrew and brother Simon Peter (John 1:35-42).
The friendship between Jesus and Peter was glorious and powerful example of how Jesus accepts us, even with all of our faults, doubts and questioning. Peter went on to lead the Early Church by being a great voice for the gospels during and after the Pentecost (Acts 2). It is believed that Peter knew Mark and passed along his experiences for the Gospel of Mark.
We need to be intentional.
Look at the relationships in your life and ask, “who do I need?” Many of us feel too full already to keep up with the friends we have, but love is indeed an active process and a commitment to which we should stick. So initiate vulnerability and depth in those relationships. That’s one of the greatest ways that you will grow and experience God.
Also consider that as you connect with other followers of Jesus in your community, God will teach you how to love in deeper ways, which will transform you into a holier person with a character that keeps growing more like Jesus. Invest in your relationships with other believers.
As God is also pursuing the people around you, He pursues them through us. Acts 17:27 says, “God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him.”
In order to be intentional, it is important to recognize the relationships in your life and the purpose each has. Who do you need (or, who breathes life into you) and why? Who needs you and why?
Are there people who bring out the worst in you? Examine why, move to forgive, and then move on. Do not let the enemy win this battle. Are there people who suck the life out of you? Offer grace but examine your boundaries with them. Remember, we are called to love but not commanded to spend every waking hour with those who drive us crazy!
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
– Colossians 3:12-15
Carry each other’s burdens and in this way obey the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2
In a world that is dominated by ‘likes’ and followers, we recognize that real friendship is such a gift. We need to surround ourselves with those who we can do life with, who understand us and accept us for who we are, and who see parts of our heart that no one else sees. Our Father deeply wants us (and designed us) to be in relationships, to have deep friendships, and to thrive in community.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .’” – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
A critical part of our spiritual growth is to understand and accept that we were not made to be alone. Please join me in this prayer:
Lord, I’m grateful that you designed me to be in relationship with you and with others, because I know that you use those relationships to reveal more of yourself to me. I pray that you give me wisdom to breathe life into those around me and vulnerability to share not only my victories, but my struggles and pain. I ask that you bring others to me who shine your light and speak truth into my life. I pray that through my community, others will come to know you more deeply. And I pray this all in the name of your son Jesus’ name, Amen.