Friendship is a Big Deal!
Here’s a classic made famous by James Taylor, written by Carole King during the January 1971 recording sessions for her upcoming album Tapestry. “The song was as close to pure inspiration as I’ve ever experienced” said Carole. “The song wrote itself. It was written by something outside myself, through me.”
We used to sing it in coffee shops as a testimony to God’s love. If you’re in the mood to listen; it’s a universal theme.
God is a friend to everyone. But it often doesn’t feel that way, does it?
For some he can’t be a friend because he doesn’t exist. For others he’s such a big and important CEO that he could never have time for them, and anyway he’s too busy. For others he’s a grandfather, sugar daddy, rub-his-tummy-and-make-a-wish kinda figure in the sky for special occasions. For others of us he seems to be around as a friend sometimes and then totally disappear, usually when we’re needing a friend the most. It’s weird, and often downright disheartening.
God knows for sure that he’s way too big and complex for us to wrap our heads and hearts around. To make himself more accessible he’s revealed various aspects of himself to us. Which gives us a hint that he doesn’t much like the ‘big CEO’ title when it comes to relationships. He’s a Father who welcomes and embraces us when we’ve got lost or when we need to be reassured that he has our back and every other part of us. He’s a Father who provides, who creates, who protects, who hears, and who never leaves. He is kind and compassionate, non-judgmental while always speaking truth.
God is human and personal in Jesus. Down to our level in order to draw us into his reality. He walks beside us like a brother, he picks us up when we fall, he forgives us when we lose the plot and totally screw up. He believes in us when we have lost the faith. He encourages us, and even guides us when we have no clue what happened to the path. He gives us peace when we’re terrified and calms the storm within us when we panic. He doesn’t flatter, lie, or deceive. He listens to our rants, empathizes, and speaks truth – even the hard kind; and in those times his eyes are always warm, never cold.
God is a powerful friend in his Holy Spirit. Which can cause us to scratch our heads and hearts and wonder how that works? A crude example would be electric wire. The Father surround and protects (outer plastic covering), the Son conveys and enables in tangible form (the wire within the covering), and the Spirit is the power that flows and makes the wire ‘electric’ and everything else light up.
That power flows to us and in us, usually provided on a ‘just in time’ basis. When we are weak strength comes. When we have no words sentences flow, even through stutters. When we turn up for someone feeling totally inadequate he changes the atmosphere, breaks down walls, releases understanding, heals old wounds. When we pray for the sick and feel nothing he turns up and changes everything: just needed some grubby hands to flow through, any piece of wire will do, get over yourself. Thanks for taking the risk. And we get so surprised. What a relief it’s not all about us, and yet it is, how does that work? Get used to it. Confusing, amusing, frustrating, humiliating, amazing grace!
But what happens when the wire seems disconnected? When nothing lights up? When words like these describing God’s friendship are more akin to strangers in our present and teasing irritations to what we are enduring? Everyone experiences such seasons during the course of a lifetime. Some unfortunately have never known the ‘lighting up’ and have become weary, or even scared of the possibility. What’s missing?
God’s always said that he is not enough for those who live in human form. Just as Adam needed Eve so we all need friends – with skin on bones. We’ve become so isolated and independent in this hyper-communicating age of texts and phones. It’s an irony how friends are Facebook, or the odd airbrushed event portraying our best moments. But we all know that’s not the friendship that nourishes and nurtures, there’s no friendship rooted in such shallow ground that provides comfort and strength.
The way God is a friend in all three of his personae is a clue as to how we can be friends with one another. But it’s rare and far between. Being a friend who never gives up on another. Someone who is willing to enter into the mess of another, repeatedly, not merely once ‘to do the right thing’. One of the best examples of friendship in the Bible, alongside David and Jonathan, and Jesus to his disciples, is the parable in Luke 5 of a friend who pounds on the door of his friend at midnight. The one friend has received an unexpected visit from another friend and he has no bread to provide him with hospitality. So he wakes up his friend with pounding on the door and persists until his needs are met. There’s friendship that means something; irritate me until I respond. Be inconvenienced until the penny drops and you provide for the inconvenient request – from a friend.
Today our friendships tend to be polite, politically correct, don’t offend, knock once and leave… at least we tried. Many of us walk with limps, in isolation, with a long list of people we know, but a frighteningly short list of people to whom we are known. Of course to lengthen the second list it works both ways. We need to make an effort, love one another as I have loved you, go the extra mile, answer the questions honestly when asked, “How are you?” Listen to the answer and keep knocking when the first reply is, “Leave me alone.”
I think God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are longing for us to step up and fill in the gaps for one another. Help one another believe when that fire, once so bright, is mere ashes in our heart(h). Listen to the sorrows and disappointments so that another can help shed the graveclothes that can cling like death itself; when the truth is we’ve been resurrected and called to life. That’s what Jesus encouraged the sisters and friends of Lazarus to do as he shuffled out of his grave. He needed friends beyond Jesus.
As the cliché goes. Start by being the friend you’d love to have. Yes, people are fickle and very disappointing in terms of expressing unconditional love. Christians…. let’s not pontificate on that one…. Just know that today, wherever you are and whatever you’re going through, you’ve gotta friend. So open your eyes and heart and find where they’re lurking, then pound on their door at midnight. And while you embark on that adventure look for the other one or two or three to whom you can offer bread, repeatedly over the next while. You may be the one who helps them see and hear again, so that hope arises as your friendship blows the embers to life and the flames grow bright and warm.
Yes, this is going to be a challenging winter with long dark days of limited contact. It will be a winter when friendships can make all the difference in the world. Remember, to give love we have to receive love… as Jesus said. We can’t give away what we don’t have. We can’t be strong for another if we refuse to show our weakness. It’s called being authentic and real. God alone knows, this is one area where the fields are white and ripe for harvest!
Listen to these songs by Josh Baldwin and ask God to release a new gift of friendship to flow to you and through you. As Jesus promised when the friend pounded on the door at midnight: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”