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12 Thoughts on Friendships

There are good ships and wood ships, ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships, and may they always be.” Irish Proverb (seen at a recent visit to O’Connor’s Restaurant in Worcester, MA).

I have been thinking lately about the types of friendships we foster and the importance of good friends. Maybe that is why the above quote caught my eye. Friendships are important. That seems, I suppose, like a rather obvious thought. But as intuitive as it may be, I suspect most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking carefully, planning thoughtfully, and investing deeply into our friendships. They just happen. Your college roommate becomes that life-long buddy. Your co-worker has a similar hobby and soon you are doing it together. A neighbor comes over every weekend to just shoot the breeze. You like the same sports team, sports cars, or craft beer. And low and behold, friendships happen.

But Proverbs says that “the righteous should choose his friends carefully...(Proverbs 12:26).” Choosing implies a sort of thoughtfulness and planning that I’m not sure we typically associate with friendship. In fact, maybe it even strikes us as wrong. Shouldn’t we just let it happen naturally? Isn’t that more authentic and real? Maybe. But in a world that is twisted, fallen, and corrupt (not to mention what our own sinful hearts bring to the table), maybe ‘naturally’ isn’t the best strategy for friendships after all.

Jesus chose His friends. In fact, He spent a whole night in prayer before doing so. Yes, they were disciples (students) as well. But they were also friends, and He refers to them as such. “You are My friends, if you do whatever I command you (John 15:14).” David had his “mighty men.” Paul had his valuable circle of friends. John had his friends. He wrote, “Our friends greet you. Greet the friends by name (3 John 1:14).” Yes, the best ships ARE friendships, at least the good ones.

On the other hand, bad friendships, as many will admit upon sober reflection, are often the first steps in a long series of mistakes and regrets. The Preacher wisely warns, “Make no friendship with an angry man (Prov. 22:24).” Our closest company should be a matter of careful concern. Not everyone is a good candidate for friendship. “My son, do not walk in the way with them, keep your foot from their path (Proverbs 1:15).” The Psalmist opens his book with “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful (Psalm 1:1).” Rehoboam is represented as a foolish king, owing in part to following the advice of “the young men who had grown up with him” (1 Kings 12:8), that is, his friends. Be careful in this matter of friendships. Choose well. As C.S. Lewis once put it, “the next best thing to being wise yourself is to live in a circle of those who are.”

So, as I mentioned, I’ve been thinking about friendships. It’s an area, frankly, that I think I need to work on. The following advice is as much to my own heart as to yours. Here are 12 thoughts on friendships for us to think about.

  1. Pray ABOUT your friendships. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom about who to bring into that close company of your friendship. Like any area of our Christian growth, it should be the object of our prayer. “Help me with my friendships, Lord” is a good place to start. By the way, praying about your friendships to the Lord is a great way to prevent making an idol of them.
  2. Pray FOR your friends, even those friends you haven’t befriended yet. You can pray for a future spouse you haven’t met yet, and you can pray for a friendship that hasn’t started yet. So much rides upon a good friendship, that it is never too soon to start praying for them. Prayer and friendship go hand in hand. “And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends (Job 42:10).”
  3. Be a friendly person. Be that person whose kindness, considerateness, joyfulness and humility makes for a good friend. Nobody really wants a grump for a friend. “A man who has friends must first be friendly (Prov 18:24).” If we find ourselves without friends, we should at least suspect that we have been partially to blame ourselves.
  4. Target some individuals for deeper friendships. Think about the circle of people the Lord has put around you. Who in that circle would be a good influence on you? Who seems to be a bit stronger in areas where you might be weak? In life, there are “friends” and then there are “FRIENDS.” Seek out the best companions for the deepest friendships. Thomas Brooks said “Let those be your choicest companions who make Christ their best companion.”
  5. Choose friends based on character not just what you have in common. It’s great if you share a passion, a hobby, or a career, but it is even better to look for someone with a good heart. Do they genuinely desire to live good lives? Are they honest, compassionate, hard working, generous, and humble? I’m not asking if they are perfect. They aren’t, and the more you get to know them, the more obvious it will be. You aren’t perfect, are you? I didn’t think so.
  6. Choose friends from different walks of life. Your friends don’t all have to be the same age or like the same things. They don’t all have to vote the same way, have the same hobbies, work in similar jobs, or have the same ethnic background or culture.
  7. Invest in friendship. Good friendships take some investment of time and attention. They don’t usually spring up overnight. Friendships must be cultivated. That generally will mean making time to get together with one another if at all possible. Your closest and most valuable friendships will usually involve being face to face. 1 Thes 3:10 “praying exceedingly that we may see your face.”
  8. If married, don’t forget to foster your greatest friendship with your spouse. “This is my beloved, this is my friend (Song of Solomon 5:16).” In fact, any close friendships with the opposite should generally have no place among married people. Men…make friends with men. Women, let your other friendships be with women.
  9. Choose friends who will love you enough to tell you when you are being stupid. Here is the real test of friendship. Friends who only ever tell you that “you did nothing wrong” and that the fault is never yours, are not the type of friends you really need. It’s great to have a fan club. But there is a difference between a fan and a friend. A friend will tell you your faults. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend (Prov 27:6).”
  10. Be content, if the Lord so disposes, with a few good, close friends. We live in days where the impression is that to have “lots of friends” is the same as being important, valuable and loved. But the fact is that the type of friendships we really need can be accomplished with a few really good, honest, trustworthy, faithful friends. George Washington wisely quipped “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”
  11. Don’t expect too much of your friends. Even the best friend will let you down sometimes. Maybe that has happened to you, and you have therefore given up on the idea of close friendships altogether. Don’t do that. As the hymn writer said “Friends may fail me, foes assail me, He my Savior, makes me whole.” Henry Ward Beecher said “Every man should keep a fair-sized cemetery in which to bury the faults of his friends.” If you want to be my friend, make that a super-size.
  12. Strive, most of all, to be a friend of God. Abraham was called “the friend of God (James 2:3).” Cultivate that friendship most of all. Dwight Moody said “A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. He is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is He Himself we have.”

By the way, the picture at the top of this post is of the Guinness Pie at O’Connor’s Restaurant, which I went to with my best friend Bonnie last week. Great friendships often begin and grow over fun food. Want to go?

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