The Discipline of Friendship
“Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
Before you read any further, grab a piece of paper and something to write with. Think of something in your life that you’re grateful for and write it down. Next, think of something that is a concern to you and write it down. Finally, think of all the friends you have. How many of them know the answer to the previous two questions? Chances are that it is less than a handful, but hopefully it is more than zero.
Here’s the thing, out of all the spiritual disciplines that we practice (prayer, fasting, Bible reading, etc.), I wonder if, just maybe, the most important spiritual discipline you can practice is the discipline of friendship. Now, I imagine that most of you don’t think of friendship as a discipline, but for many of us, friendship, not just friendship, but authentic friendships are missing in our lives. Individualism, autonomy, privatization, isolation, and secret sin become barriers to having authentic friendships. This is a great misfortune because it is in authentic friendships that we develop into what God wants us to be. This doesn't just happen automatically. It is something we have to work at. We need to place ourselves in situations where authentic friendships happen. We need to practice the discipline of friendship.
Jesus is our supreme example of friendship. At the core of His ministry was a deep friendship with the apostles, whom he called “friends” (John 15:13-15). The author of Hebrews talks about the importance of friendship when we are warned "not to give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:25). This is a call for friendship with other believers, because without it we will never be all God wants us to be.
One of my favorite stories on friendship is found in Mark’s gospel (Mark 2:3-5). A paralyzed man was brought by four of his friends to where Jesus was preaching. The crowd was so large that the men were unable to get to Jesus through a normal route, so they carried the man to the roof, tore open a hole in it and lowered their paralyzed friend to where Jesus was. Jesus saw the faith of the paralyzed man and his friends and healed him. I want to be the kind of friend that the paralyzed man had. I have been fortunate to have friends in my life like he had. I was going through a very challenging time in my life a few years ago and I had a handful of friends who “carried” me.
You see, as followers of Christ, friendship is not optional. We are in a relationship with God and His people and God’s truth is most effective, learned and lived through relationships. So, we must get past our individualism, isolation, and sin and both pursue and practice authentic friendships in our lives.
Kent Hughes sums up friendships best when he writes, “Friendships hold the promise of grace!”