|IS HE YOUR FRIEND?|
"A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." Proverbs 18:24 (NKJV)
Here we read that in order for us to have friends, we must be friendly. Nevertheless, we are living in selfish times, and so perhaps even the person who does desire a friend, will not get one. Perhaps those who might be our friends are too pre-occupied with their own lives, to want to expend the effort to have a friend. For friendship requires sacrifice – one can simply not have friends unless one is willing to put out some effort. Friendship and marriage have that in common. Marriages are failing at an unprecedented rate today because many people do not wish to put out the effort it takes to consider the needs of their spouse. Romantic novels, movies, and television have sold us a lie regarding what marriage will be like, and many enter into it expecting to have all of their needs met by their spouse. Two selfish people who keep trying to take from each other that which neither are willing to give, will not last long together.
However, friendship is different in that there is no binding (or ostensibly binding) commitment. We do not write up friendship vows as we do wedding vows. Rather, we meet someone with whom we have a certain chemistry, which is normally based on common interests, and we spend time talking with that person and getting to know him or her. That person may become a confidant as we get to know him or her better. We might share things with that friend that we would not share with anyone else. There is a closeness and a familiarity that is special. When he or she calls we look forward to the conversation. There is joy in the communication – and it is further enhanced if there has been none for a long time. A long distance call from a friend can be a special event. We know that person not only knows about us, but also cares about us.
"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." Proverbs 17:17 (NKJV)
A friend is someone that we trust. We believe he or she will not betray us, but will rather be there for us when we need help. It does not matter how we look when we see our friends; for the relationship is not based on that. Friends are like children who love their parents. The child does not care if mother’s hair is a mess or if father is losing his. That is totally irrelevant to a child, because the relationship is not a material one. We do not turn away from our friends because they become old and gray, or gain weight. The very thought of such a thing is ridiculous in the consideration of friendship. A friendship is a special relationship which is quintessentially a spiritual tie – not a physical one. If the relationship is purely physical, then perhaps the person is not a friend – rather just an acquaintance. Friendship, as we just read in Proverbs 17:17, is all about love, and that love must to some extent be altruistic for a friendship to be real. Friendships do not last long unless this element is present. There must be a willingness for both parties to do something for each other without a profit motive and without a selfish motive. In friendship we begin to see the love of God transcending the human boundary. Here, to some extent, we see God’s care for us manifest through other human beings – and this phenomenon is not confined to Christians – not in the least. Some of the greatest friendships are between people who do not know God, and perhaps occur due to their desire to find or know Him, or as a substitute for knowing Him.
On our planet we have the taste of heaven and hell – even as we have it in a microcosm in our own lives. One day a person does something very nice for someone, and the next day the same person treats someone else very badly. On the heavenly side, friendship is one of those prized gifts that money cannot buy, which is given to man from God through other men. On the hellish side, we find that the very people we consider our friends can, and many times do, hurt us the most. They can hurt us more than mere acquaintances because we have been more intimate with them, and have consequently trusted them more than others. And when they betray us the effect can be, and usually is, devastating.
Most of us know what experiencing this is like. It causes terrible pain, not only for the betrayed, but also for the betrayer. No one comes out of a betrayal unscathed. When Judas betrayed Jesus, he ended up hanging himself, after he considered his actions in retrospect. Alexander the Great, who conquered the known world as a young man in his thirties, could not conquer his own temper. One day his best friend said something that irritated him, and in a fit of rage he threw a spear at him and killed him. But not only did his friend suffer, Alexander later regretted it terribly. He had actually killed the person whom he liked the most. Alexander the Great gives new meaning to the phrase, "With friends like that, who needs enemies," but perhaps the clearest example of friends who discourage is found in the Book of Job.
"…Miserable comforters are you all!" Job 16:2 (NKJV)
Perhaps we will find in our deepest despair that our friends turn out to be like Job’s. Let us consider that Job’s friends were sincere – they sat with him for seven days without saying a word – commiserating with him by their quiet presence, over the tragedies that had befallen him. Giving a person that much of your time shows a commitment and a sacrifice. But perhaps that is what is so capricious about their accusations against him. They seemed to be his friends, and in human terms they were, and yet they accused him of gross sin, and claimed that was the cause of his troubles.
Moreover, the one who should have been Job’s closest friend, his wife, turned against him vehemently, not even wishing for him to live, advising him instead to "curse God and die." Do we think that Job’s dilemma was unique, and that rarely would Christians today experience such things? If we think such, then we miss the understanding that human nature has not changed – it is still fallen, and the results of sin still manifest themselves in even our deepest friendships. We also see a biblical pattern in which we find that in our most dreadful and grievous experiences, we will be abandoned by at least some of those who are closest to us. Jesus, of course, saw the apostles flee, and Paul experienced the same, saying:
"At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me…" 2Timothy 4:16-17(NKJV)
Horatio Spafford wrote the words for the hymn "It is Well With My Soul." He was a successful lawyer and pillar of the church in Chicago, and he was a friend of evangelist D.L. Moody, whom he strongly supported. Spafford invested heavily in real estate on the shore of Lake Michigan, only months before the great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed everything there. After that he sent his wife and four daughters ahead to Great Britain where he had planned to meet them and assist D.L. Moody in his evangelistic campaigns. The ship sank and his wife telegraphed him with these words, "Saved alone." Shortly afterwards he left by ship to join his bereaved wife, and at the spot where his daughters drowned, he penned the words:
"When sorrows like sea billows roll –
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul."
However, there is more to the story. When Spafford and his wife returned to Chicago, they were spurned and ridiculed by their church. The friends he had which he thought would comfort him in his great distress, instead reviled him and blamed him for the tragedies, telling him that sin had to be the reason for them. So Spafford’s testing and trouble did not end with financial ruin and the loss of all of his children – it continued due to insensitive Christians who judged him because they, like Job’s friends, did not understand that trials can befall believers who have not grossly sinned. This is not to say that sin does not bring trouble into our lives, for it certainly does. Nevertheless, we cannot judge a person’s character by the circumstances of his or her life. One person Jesus healed was told to go and sin no more (John 5:14), but another had not sinned – the affliction existed that God might be glorified (John 9:2-3). As a matter of fact, in Job’s case, God said that he was the best man living on earth at the time of his trial. Spafford may have also qualified for an accolade, for in 1881 he established an American colony in Jerusalem, where he and his family cared for the sick and destitute for the rest of his life.
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
Another hymn which may inspire us regarding friendship also predicts the problems of human friendship. We read:
"Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee-
Thou wilt find a solace there."
"Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?"
The answer is no. We cannot find another friend like Jesus. However, sometimes we may wonder whether or not He really is our friend. For when trouble strikes, in our perversion the first one we sometimes blame is God. He is omnipotent, is He not? Consequently, He allowed this to happen and is not being fair with us. This is not only wrong-headed thinking; it is spiritual poison. When Christians think this way, it is diametrically opposed to everything they know about God. It is a seed of rebellion that must be destroyed or it will destroy us. Nevertheless, lest we feel condemned, we need to know that it is quite natural for us to think in this manner. We read that the first is the natural and the second is the spiritual.
"However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual." 1Corinthians 15:46 (NKJV)
Our first reaction may be natural, but with the spiritual insight we have all been given, upon reflection we must jettison the natural understanding and in spiritual maturity embrace the eternal truths of Scripture, which are also revealed to us by the Holy Spirit and are written in our hearts. The enemy is always trying to vilify God in the natural realm, and we must look at things in the spiritual realm or we will have things backwards. The One who died for us on the cross because He loves us so, is not our enemy, but is rather our Friend. We may not completely understand why He does not supernaturally intervene in every one of our difficulties and fix them immediately, for we may not grasp the fact that this life is a proving ground for us. It is not our final destination, but rather a journey in which we are being tried and tested by processes He has allowed for our spiritual growth. It is probationary time in which we are being refined for eternity. Nevertheless, if we cannot grasp this, we can at least comprehend the fact that we lack the faculties to fathom it. For He has succinctly told us:
"‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.
‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.’" Isaiah 55:8-9 (NKJV)
Perhaps it bothers us that we cannot understand how He is working in our lives, but let us also be consoled that we cannot understand the extent of His mercy, either:
"For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him." Psalm 103:11 (NKJV)
Moreover, even human logic reveals the foolishness of turning against Him due to troubles we experience here. For how, and why, would He change in such a fickle manner, in any event? Was He your wonderful loving Savior when you asked Him into your heart, and when He supernaturally revealed all of His deep love and concern for you – only to become something quite different in your mind because one day you found out you had cancer, or your child was born with Downs Syndrome? No, He is not the fickle one – rather, He tells us:
"For I am the Lord, I do not change…" Malachi 3:6 (NKJV)
Instead, we are the fickle ones. We are the ones that can be doing so well today, and fall so far from His perfection tomorrow – and let us consider this well and stay humble and God-fearing as we acknowledge it. Our human friends are the fickle ones who can change on us and sorely disappoint us – Jesus Christ will never do that. The enemy may make every attempt to make us think that is the case, but it is not. Rather, we should flee from such illogical and ungodly thoughts.
Things will happen to us, and we will not understand the reasons. Have we not read of the suffering of Christians around the world, and also throughout the ages, not to mention the Book of Acts? Are we then so spiritually dull as to believe we are exempt from all of this? Or is it deceptive teaching that has twisted our understanding so that we believe that we will experience no afflictions? Has not God warned us by telling us:
"Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all." Psalm 34:19 (NKJV)
"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." John 16:33 (NKJV)
He even spoke it through Job:
"Yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward." Job 5:7 (NKJV)
He is still our friend in the test, and He has promised deliverance. But He has not promised trouble-free living. Only deceptive teaching has promised us that. Satan lied early on to man with the false promise in Genesis 3:5 that "you will be like God." Today we are told by some that we can control the earth and our lives if we only have enough faith. Several teachers clearly tell us that we are "little gods," using that exact terminology, and that we can create our own environment by using faith. These same people say that God’s will is not the point; for we now have power to exert our own will. Some of them also say that we should not be praying the Lord’s Prayer because that is for the Old Covenant – for it was given before Christ died on the cross. How convenient for them to teach such a thing, since that prayer includes the most important phrase we will ever pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done."
Rather, it may be that our greatest faith challenge will be to believe in our Friend even when things are not going our way. We are not here to have everything we want – we are not guaranteed smooth sailing, but are rather quite candidly taught by Christ that we will have troubles. However, we are also promised mercy from heaven through our trials. When trouble comes, that is not the time for us to despise our Friend – that is rather the time when we need Him more than ever. He will not fail us in that time, but will rather uphold us, for He promises:
"Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me." Psalm 50:15 (NKJV)
We Know Better
The enemy may try to deceive us and turn us against God in our severe trial, but we have the Book which explains it all. Job did not have the Book and yet when he spoke of his trials he said, with great revelation:
"…When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." Job 23:10 (KJV)
He is my Lord and Savior, and Master and many other things, but He is also my Friend. And my Friend will never fail me. He is sad with me when I am sad, and He understands me. His compassion is greater than any human friend, and His care for me is greater than anyone on earth. Let us consider what happened when Christ’s friend, Lazarus, died. We read:
"Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’ And some of them said, ‘Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?’" John 11:35-37 (NKJV)
Jesus wept, as some were considering that He could have kept Lazarus from dying. And, indeed He could have – for in the next passages we read of how Christ raised Him from the dead. Nevertheless, Jesus had compassion, even though in the divine order of things, according to an eternal plan greater than man’s understanding, He would not deliver him right away. There was a deific reason why events had to unfold as they did – but this did not deter Christ’s compassion for Lazarus and his suffering. He wept as He weeps with us when we are afflicted and harassed by trouble. And this is characteristic of the whole Godhead, for in John 14:9 Jesus said, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father." How do I reconcile His weeping and commiseration with His omnipotence? In the case of Lazarus I know the reason by reading John 11:38-44. In my own life, the reason may not be revealed to me, but I do not have to know it – I simply know that it is true.
Another hymn, "He Giveth More Grace" by Annie Flint, reminds us of His true character:
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater;
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase.
To added affliction He addeth His mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
His love has no limit;
His grace has no measure;
His power no boundary known unto men,
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
That is a description of Christ’s friendship. But is He your friend? Or did He stop being your friend because of something that happened in your life? Are your children not following God, or can you not have children? Has your marriage ended in a divorce although you tried to save it? Has the promotion at work eluded you again, or has your ministry not prospered? Are some in your congregation turning against you, in spite of the sacrifices you have made for them? Have you been so discouraged that life itself has become a chore, and you are sick of trying?
Whatever the reason, if the relationship has become stiff, and if you are holding a grudge against Him, you need to turn around and embrace your Friend, for He is still "a very present help in time of trouble" (Proverbs 46:1a). He is not the cause of your problems, and He has meant you no harm. Whatever has happened to you had to happen – there is a cosmic reason beyond human reason for it. In fact, there is a perfect explanation that you will not understand until you become perfect in heaven (if you still want to know then). He did not save you to make you miserable, but rather to give you peace and victory even in your most miserable hour. Nevertheless, friendship takes two – as the proverb at the beginning said, we must be friendly to have friends. He wanted the friendship enough to die on the cross for you, and He still wants it. Are you willing? Lay down your complaints, and consider a line from a more recent Christian song:
"I don’t need to understand, I just need to take His hand."
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