by Trevor Rysavy
Friendship is a subject I’ve thought a lot about in my lifetime. Of all of the earthly things I possess, it’s my friendships that I value the most. Here are some of the principles I have used to develop these precious gifts.
1. I invest in friendship when it doesn’t seem to matter, so I have them when it does.
Those who have complained to me about their lack of friends seem to do so only when a friend could have made a significant difference. All of my valuable friendships have been acquired the same way a rock is polished smooth; consistent activity over a long period of time. It is similar to depositing funds in a savings account. One cannot deposit funds for one month and expect to have sufficient wealth to make a dream purchase. Money must be regularly deposited over a number of weeks, months and years to provide the wealth sufficient to make large purchases. Similarly, friendships require constant ‘deposits’. Friendships that attempt large ‘withdrawals’ without ‘deposits’ suffer the same consequences as an empty bank account: the end result is ‘insufficient funds’.
2. If I want to be in my friends’ lives, I have to let them in.
Most of my close friends know how I’m feeling or doing when I am with them because I let them have insight into my good and bad times. If we share only the high points of our lives, we will attract ‘acquaintances’ or ‘followers’. If we share only our lows, we will attract ‘counsellors’. If we share both, we will have friends.
3. I don’t draw from one well.
Too many people think the waters of friendship are only best shared with one. I have found that the more friends I have, the more of my personality gets shared because one person alone is not enough to draw it all out. C.S. Lewis wrote in, ‘Four Loves’, that, ‘In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out.’ Some of my friends bring out my sarcastic side, because they reward my sense of humour with laughter often. Others make me more articulate because they are more intellectually advanced than I am. Some are better at challenging me in areas of personal belief because they doubt more than I do and are good question askers. Some friends I see primarily in group settings, while others rarely experience my personality in a group setting. Each friend not only brings a different contribution to my life, but like a magnet, draw certain qualities to the surface that others would not. Having a number of different friends doesn’t dilute my experience of friendship in any way. In fact, it makes it richer. I’ve learned not to be satisfied with one great friend, but to find as many as I can. I’ve never regretted it.
4. If I want more friends, I meet more needs.
Too many people pursue servants rather than friends. The cultural mantras of the day encourage us to seek friends for what we can receive rather than telling people to find friends to serve. In this way, friends are one of the primary opportunities for us to obey the ‘one another’ commands that we see in the Bible. What we may not realize however, is that these commands are ‘rigged’ with the side benefit of developing friends in the process. Millions of friendships have begun by helping an acquaintance build a fence, run an errand, shingle a roof or finish a project. If we lack the friendships we are looking for, we should take an inventory of the needs of those we would like deeper friendships from. Then, we should meet those needs as best as we can. Meeting a need may lead to your next greatest friend.
5. I assume that my friendships will inconvenience me.
None of my friends have moved when I had extra hours to spare. Few of the important conversations I’ve had with my friends have ever come at a time when there was nothing better to do. I once asked a man who was part of a motorcycle club what the attraction was to being part of such a community. He explained that a primary attraction was, at any given moment, any member could call on his brothers and they would drop what they were doing to attend to his needs if necessary. Sounds attractive to me! Imagine if all our friendships operated under a similar code. We all want friendships like this when we need our vehicle boosted in minus 30-degree weather or need our children picked up from school and we can’t leave our meeting at work. If you made a list of all the people you trusted who would never question an inconvenient favour in your dire need, that would likely be a list of your closest friends.
6. I swallow my pride to gain real friends.
True friends are not too afraid to admit their need for others to battle loneliness, sin or a variety of other troubles that we experience regularly. James 4:6 says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’. You could almost say, ‘God opposes the proud but gives friendship to the humble.’ While it is true that pride will thwart almost anything, it is especially true that it prevents deep friendship. Pride can prevent you from asking for counsel when you really need it and can also prevent you from taking it seriously when it is given. It can prevent you from requesting prayer and from sharing your weaknesses. As love covers a multitude of sins, so pride prevents a multitude of friendships.
7. I make sure there is no conversation that is off limits.
One of my best friends commented recently that he was grateful that, ‘no conversation is off limits.’ What struck me about his comment was not only that I value that as well, but that it also was a determiner of the depth of my friendships. True friends are not afraid to ask what I think and are even less afraid of my answers. Those closest to me ask about my marriage, my sin and whether or not I actually like country music for real. I tell my friends what makes me angry and what prayers have not yet been answered. I’ve rode in silence because my friends have my permission not to have ‘their best self’ when we’re together. I have never regretted it. A real friend needs to know they can cross a boundary without trespassing the friendship. If your friendships have sharp boundaries around humour, opinion, doubt and issues of the heart, then it might be time to find some deeper friendships.
8. I have friends because I work at being one.
Too many times I have heard a person complain that they ‘just need more friends’. It is similar to a speaker who complains about having no listeners. People don’t listen to someone who doesn’t offer much in what they say, and people who are terrible friends rarely have them. My experience has always taught me that those who have friends know how to be friends. Many times, the starting point for developing friendships is to ask the question, ‘What would I want in a friend?’ The second step is then to start acting like the friend that we want. As people who are more assimilated into the culture than we care to admit, we are used to blaming others for the lack of true friends. If we are the kind of friend worth having, then over time we will have exactly that, friends.
9. God wanted friends not servants.
The gospel tells us that God sent Jesus as a sacrifice so He could reconcile friendship with the people He created. Jesus said as much. ‘I do not call you servants anymore, because a servant doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.’ (John 15:5) Jesus’ greatest treasure is the relationship with His Father and He wanted us to experience everything that was His. He wanted it so badly for us that He was willing to give up His life in order that we would possess the most important thing to Him. Not only did He purchase back our friendship, but He showed us what true friends are like in the process. If we look at this pattern, we see a perfect pattern for developing friendships. He listens even when He disagrees with us. He initiates. He’s generous with His time and His resources. He’s gentle when we need kid gloves and firm when we need discipline. He says the hard things softly and the soft things repeatedly. He endlessly forgives. He kindly reminds us that He loves us and shares our burdens when no one else will. He prays for us. He never fails. We could have easily been made his slaves. In fact, we should have. Instead, He chose to make us His friends. Never forget that as much as you may desire or need friends, you can never do better than Jesus. He’ll be your best friend for life, and even your afterlife. It doesn’t get any better than this.
1 C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. 1960, p. 92
by Aaron Weiss
The gathered church is a culmination of biblical instructions, cultural expressions, local preferences, and faithful traditions that can be helpful while also being problematic to who and what the church is supposed to be all about. Despite moving towards an increasingly post-christian culture, the concept of church still carries with it a fair amount of baggage and misconceptions. For many, the church is that old building grandma went to on Sundays and hosts community events during the week. If it’s not a building, the church is seen as an institution for others who recall fundraising campaigns to pave expansive parking lots and who knows what else. To others, the church has ecumenical baggage - representing a sort of top-down authority to keep people morally in line.
The original Greek word assigned to the church was ekklesia, which translates as an assembly or gathering. Not a building. Not an institution. Not an ethereal authority. For the New Testament, the church is represented as both the local gathering of Christian believers as well as a reference to a broader group of believers within a city, region, or throughout time. The church is a people who have come together in common faith and common purpose - to praise and honor Jesus. Understanding this is crucial to understanding who the church is ultimately for and disbanding the misconceptions which cripple the effectiveness of its community.
Here are a few of those misconceptions and their remedy.
The church is for you.
This is a timely word for a consumerist society which has wrongly made the experience of church a consumeristic one. Consider how fortunate and oblivious we’ve become to embrace the phrase “church shopping” in comparison to the first century church?! Our attendance and financial support to the gathering of our choosing has propagated an incorrect perception that the church is meant to satisfy me…
As a follower of Jesus, the church is not meant for you - you are meant for the church. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul refers to the church like a body functioning as a whole with many parts. No individual part can stand alone and hold its value. What good is an eye if it cannot share its seeing with the body? What joy is there in the body when the eye shares its sight? Believer, you are made for the body of Christ.
The church is for others.
This promotes an evangelistic bent that has merit while still missing the mark. For decades, this perspective has produced various forms of attractional methods intended to draw outsiders inside. Albeit well-intentioned, the aim of the church is not to make church more approachable or palatable to outsiders. If our first point describes an individual consumerist mentality, this poses a communal consumerism prompting the problematic question amongst believers, “how do we make church more enticing to unchurched people?” At times, the church functions like a bad cable provider offering free TV’s for first-time customers while virtually ignoring its long term customers for the sake of being “relevant” and “missional.” This may be an acceptable business model for some, but the church is not a business…
The church is not built with unbelieving attendees, it is built upon believers who have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to God’s marvellous light. That doesn’t mean that onlookers cannot watch from the shadows, but we cannot suggest that this advances or grows the church. The mission of the church is to be a light in the darkness which is rendered less-effective when we utilize spiritual dimmer switches to tone down the brilliance of Christ at work in his people.
The church is for everybody.
This misconception feeds upon a desire to be inclusive that wants to say there ought to be a little bit of something for everyone in church. This misconception totes balance - just enough bible for the bible-thumpers, visible tattoos for the next generation attendees, and religiously nondescript community groups for everybody else. When everybody is happy, everybody wins…
The church is not for us, the church is meant for Jesus. Scripture refers to the church as the bride of Christ - the church is for him. No-one attends a wedding and sees the bride, thinking, “it was nice of her to dress up for me… for others… for everybody else…” No, the bride is for her groom. Our gathering is for Jesus. Our going is for Jesus. Our growth is for Jesus. Why? Because the bride is for the groom as the groom is for his bride. The church is for Jesus because Jesus is for his church!
The next time you gather, put aside these misconceptions for the remedy that makes being part of the church as beautiful as a bride on her wedding day - the church is for Jesus because Jesus is most clearly and definitely for his church.