Life-Giving Friendship

by William E. Richardson

While we faithfully lead and influence, we must also have the company of friends who will stick close to us through thick and thin. 

David, Elijah, and the apostle Paul were not just spiritual leaders. To many who knew them well, they were also friends. People needed and appreciated their companionship. Equally true is that David needed Jonathan; Elijah needed Elisha; and Paul needed Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus, Luke, and others he mentions in his letters.

Our 21st century world desperately needs us as we represent the One who calls us friends (John 15:15). While we faithfully lead and influence, we must also have the company of friends who will stick close to us through thick and thin.

I Gave at the Office

As spiritual leaders, friendliness is a part of our job description. People expect us to be cordial, caring, and helpful. We extend a hand and offer a smile to a host of people in our communities apart from those who attend our churches.

But some days we carry a heavy load on our own shoulders. On those days, we can’t drag our feet; we’re God’s agents, always on-duty to spread the good news to the rest of the world. So what do we do when we’re the one needing a smile and an encouraging word? What about the times when we carry a burden — not for one day but for a series of days, or weeks?

Of course, we can’t unload on just anyone who will listen. We need a trusted confidant. Without someone to share our troubles, we risk burnout as we spend ourselves in ministry.

I knew a fellow pastor like that a few years ago. He was part of the weekly prayer group I attend. One day, he told the rest of us he could no longer meet with us. His denomination forbade it. But he returned to our group a few weeks later, admitting, “I have to keep attending. I need you guys.”

If you’ve ever used an old-fashioned water pump, you know it can’t keep giving water without also receiving it through pumping. This action requires intentional effort. God calls us to be giving people. But we need help from others so we can continue giving. We must be intentional about developing friendships. Let’s consider the kind of friend those in our world need us to be and the kind of friendships we need.

Mayberry and a Mountaintop

The classic TV program, “The Andy Griffith Show,” speaks volumes about being a friend. To me, Sheriff Andy Taylor is a stand-in for the local pastor. Nearly everyone in town benefits from the friendly sheriff’s insights and practical help. Episode after episode, Andy rises to the occasion. He’s encouraging, resourceful, and tactful.

This is especially evident in Andy’s relationship with his deputy, Barney Fife. Barney needs Andy’s friendship. Where else would the overconfident, yet befuddled, by-the-book incompetent, deputy receive such kind treatment? Under Andy’s care, Barney looks smarter than he really is and heroic when he really isn’t. We may not encounter anyone quite like Barney, but we do have opportunities to befriend and boost the confidence of many while pointing them to Jesus.

Our efforts for Jesus are not in vain. We counsel with patience, preach with hope, and live our lives on-call because we’re on God’s rescue team. He helps us take as many people to heaven with us as we can.

Yes, we win some, and we lose some. There are times when we feel the tug of discouragement, and there are moments when we’d rather be doing something else, but we know deep inside that we can’t stop giving.

We follow Jesus’ example. His friendliness and compassion shined at weddings, funerals, visits to the sick, meals with sinners, and long walks and talks with His disciples. The months of setting aside extra time and giving extra attention to His inner circle of Peter, James, and John didn’t always yield immediately obvious results. Still, he took the three disciples up the mountain where He would be transfigured. There Peter more closely resembled Barney Fife than he did the “rock” Jesus said he would become. That didn’t stop Jesus from investing in their lives. He continued pouring himself into them, treating each event as an opportunity to make God real in some special way.

The tokens of friendliness we offer reveal Jesus to those around us. Each act shines among the needs we constantly encounter. Like Jesus, we take those we’ve been entrusted to help up the mountain to experience God’s presence in some way.

Reaching the Top Together

Because we befriend others as an extension of Jesus, and sometimes with mixed results, we need certain qualities in our friends. While generously sharing the journey with others, we need people to help us along the way.

Erik Weihenmayer understands the value of trusted friends. In 2001, he and his team scaled Mount Everest. Since then, he has also reached the summits of the tallest mountains on each of the other six continents. The fact that Weihenmayer is blind makes his achievements even more noteworthy.

Like others who have scaled the world’s tallest mountain, Weihenmayer knows accomplishing such feats requires teammates. He needs help — and so do we. We can learn from Weihenmayer and his friends.

We need friends who keep us sharp. Weihenmayer’s friends, especially those who travel with him, assist him in preparations for each climb. They spend time together talking, strategizing, and planning for the task ahead. They aid Weihenmayer in his mental and physical readiness.

We can thank God that throughout our lives, He sends people our way to prepare us for each new climb. These mentors and peers encourage our faith, stretch our thinking, and expand our sense of mission.

Proverbs 27:17 talks about iron sharpening iron. This process actually makes both blades more ready for use because they’ve sharpened each other’s edges.

We need friends who will help us to the next level. They see where we are on the mountain. They express the how-to and the want-to to help us climb higher. They let God guide them in helping us in the process of the climb itself.

Moses needed such friends when Joshua led Israel against the Amalekites. Standing on the hill, Moses saw victory in the battle as long as he kept his hands raised. When Moses’ strength waned, Aaron and Hur spotted his need for help and held his arms in the air until the battle ended. Moses witnessed complete victory over the Amalekites that day (Exodus 17:10–13).

In the New Testament, Barnabas saw the potential in Saul before he became Paul. Barnabas didn’t just nudge him forward but opened the doors at Jerusalem for the new Jesus follower (Acts 9:26–28). God used Barnabas to pull Saul to the next level of his climb. This investment paid great returns. Together, the two men went on to become the first missionary team, and the apostle Paul eventually wrote nearly half of the New Testament.

We need friends who will hold a mirror in front of us. Had Weihenmayer not been willing to listen to warnings from his fellow climbers, he would never have safely reached the top of any mountain.

We need positive comments and encouragement. Yet we also need reality checks along with cheering. Otherwise we might get careless and fall. It’s healthy to adopt a prayer like 15th century church leader Thomas Fuller’s: “God send me a friend that will tell me my faults.”

We all have blind spots. Sadly, church history is littered with examples of those who didn’t have friends to warn them and help them see more clearly. Our positions of authority, leadership personalities, and organizational policies sometimes lack enough checks and balances to protect us. We need honest friends who will step in and prevent us from making careless, caustic decisions.

In Galatians 2:11–14, Paul spoke to Peter about an issue he needed to correct. Our situations may not warrant a public rebuke, but we need concerned allies with the clear vision and boldness to confront us.

Keeping Our Balance

We live in a needy world. People all around us need the gospel of Jesus Christ. They long for the kind of sincere compassion Jesus modeled throughout His earthly ministry as He taught and served. Yet giving Jesus to a needy world can wear us down. We must experience the refreshing Samuel Taylor Coleridge promoted when he said, “Friendship is a sheltering tree.”

Every opportunity I take to mingle with other Assemblies of God ministers is a breath of fresh air. Our settings may differ, but our shared doctrinal system binds us to understanding many of each other’s ministry challenges.

I still enjoy my prayer group as well. We sometimes talk about our differences, but we encourage one another by concentrating on our common calling.

While staying true to our call to serve, we must pursue balance. Like Paul, Barnabas, and others, we should be life-giving friends and have life-giving friends. When we keep those vital relationships active, we’re equipped to keep ministering to the varied needs God sends our way.

William E. Richardson, lead pastor, Afton Assembly of God, Afton, Iowa. Read his blog about Christian leaders of the past.