When you make the choice to give your life to Christ, that includes your friendships. Most people assume this just pertains to sticking with the “good crowd” but there’s much more to it than that.
Unfortunately, when we don’t explore the more of it, we end up building friendships in a way that clashes with what God is doing in our lives. It’s not just our friendships that bear the brunt of this, but we do as well.
So what does the “more of it” look like?
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
– Psalm 127:1 ESV
Our friendships are houses built on the foundation of purpose.
If you’re serious about pursuing the purpose of God for your life, your friendships are an integral part of that. The typical nature of friendship is such that your friends are probably the people you spend the most time with and who have a significant level of influence in your life. So you can’t afford to invest in and maintain friendships with just anyone who appears to be available.
The pre-qualifier for friends goes beyond their being “good people” and hones in on purpose, which is God’s heart and mind for you and for them. The same way you need grace to live the life God has called you to, your friends equally need grace to walk beside you in that life. Grace is only released to people and situations that are aligned to the purpose of God.
Has God ordained you to journey together through a season of your life or even the rest of your lives? People tend to pick friends based on who is for them. But purpose means picking friends who are first for God before they are for you; which means they can stand for the purpose of God in your life even if it means disagreeing with you. They’re purpose-led not emotion-driven. And this will be tested over time.
Purpose also means establishing what role you are supposed to play in their life and them in yours. We tend to use the term friendship as a blanket role but we need to go deeper in our understanding of exactly what that entails. There are roles that are constant through the seasons and those that change per time and season. Again, there will only be grace to fulfill that which God requires in a given season, not what you’ve assigned yourself.
Friendship can be a covenant relationship.
As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul…Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.
– 1 Samuel 18:1,3 ESV
In this context, covenant is a spiritually binding agreement based on purpose made by two people with the oversight of God. As King Saul’s son, Jonathan would have been the rightful heir to the throne. But he discerned that God’s purpose was for David to take that position and in aligning with God’s heart and mind, he established a covenant with David. How many of us would be willing to do the same at such a cost?
Not every friendship can or should be a covenant relationship. Given that it is a knitting of souls in purpose, you have to be very sure that you’re willing to bind yourself to another person to that degree. If anything, it is wise to ensure you have the go-ahead of the Holy Spirit before you establish covenant with a friend. Because God will hold you accountable even for the foolish decisions made in haste.
Yet, just as the stakes of a covenant friendship are high, so are the rewards. Covenant extends a friendship beyond two people and encompasses their families, their callings, their generations after them. Inheritance and favour can be shared and multiplied at exponential levels within the context of covenant. Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, was greatly honoured by David when he became king because of the covenant established with his father even though Jonathan had died.
It takes a high degree of maturity and selflessness to enter covenant friendship. Many want the benefits but few want to pay the price for it. Don’t walk into it if you’re not willing to embrace it in its entirety.
Expectations matter. Greatly so.
If you don’t understand the role that a friend is supposed to play in your life in different seasons and circumstances, your expectations of them will be off. God is as intentional about leading you into a certain season as He is the people He chooses to position around you in that season (as well as those He doesn’t).
One of the most common errors I’ve witnessed in friendships among believers is the expectation to be hidden under the guise of covering. You’re drowning in the deep end of life and you call on your friend to help you or share your situation with them so they can commiserate with you. Your friend realizes you need to get out of the pit you’re in but they can’t get you out. They want to bring in a third person who can help you. But you’re insistent on swearing them to secrecy because you don’t want anyone else to see you in your vulnerability. So they’re forced to make a choice between keeping your secret and watching you drown in the process, or breaking your trust and finding a way to save you. Whatever choice they make, they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t by a decision they should never have been forced to make. A decision that fell on them because of your misguided expectation.
There’s a stark difference between hiding and covering someone. Hiding is what Adam and Eve did when God came looking for them after they’d eaten the fruit they weren’t supposed to. The only thing hiding does is further separate us from God and each other. It says of us that we don’t believe we can trust God or key people in our lives with our vulnerabilities and weaknesses. At its very core, is a prideful posture that would have us keep up our appearances with others rather than get the help we need from those who are equipped to offer it. It looks to self to diagnose how a situation should be handled rather than looking to God.
Covering is divinely led and is supposed to serve as a form of protection; it often involves fighting spiritual battles and sometimes taking spiritual hits on behalf of someone. When done right, it strengthens our relationship with God and others. It takes divine grace to offer spiritual cover. Yet not all spiritual cover is the same. There is that which only spiritual authority can provide.
This leads me to another common error I see whereby people expect their friends to play the role their spiritual authority is supposed to. This often comes from a lack of understanding of what spiritual authority is supposed to afford you, and in this case, the cover they’re supposed to give you.
There are things that God has not equipped your friends to help you with/through because they fall squarely under the mandate of the spiritual authority in your life. When you expect your friend to provide what your spiritual authority is supposed to, best case scenario is that both of you suffer under the weight of unmet expectation and unfair demand; the worst case scenario is that one or both of you end up in serious spiritual trouble that can have major ramifications.
Spiritual authority isn’t some fancy title church leaders give themselves. It comes with very real risks and responsibilities which is why it requires grace to function as it should.
It’s a great disservice to expect your friend to offer you something they have no capacity to even if they wanted to. If you’re ignorant of purpose in your friendship and the roles that come with it, that’s exactly what ends up happening whether you’re consciously aware of it or not.
Healthy friendships undergo pruning and transitions.
God will often use our friendships to reveal areas in our hearts and lives that need growth and change. If we don’t appreciate the weight of this, we can end up blaming our friends for literally and figuratively bringing up things in us that are far from pleasant, not knowing that they’re being used of God, whether they realize it or not.
I have it that a spouse and children are the tools God uses most to make us more Christ like because of the intimate relationships we have with them. Not too far behind on that list is our friends.
Conflict among friends is usually a sign that God is pointing to an area of growth in both parties. Offence is an opportunity for both the offender and the offended to grow in love. But as the offended, we usually assume it’s a one-sided street where the offended is supposed to accept their mistakes and do better. Yet, even our offence can be a tool in God’s hands for our good. However, we have to be willing to lay down our pride and allow Him to work in us and through us for that to happen.
It’s unrealistic to expect your friend and your friendship to remain the way they were at the beginning for the rest of your life. Friendship is not an amorphous entity. It takes the expression of those in it. As God is continually moulding and shaping you, the nature of your friendship will change over time.
A classic example is when one friend enters a season of marriage or parenting while the other is still in a different season. Often times, the latter will complain about what the former is no longer giving them (usually time and attention) rather than considering how they can help and support them in their new season. It says a lot about the selfishness in our hearts that we think of ourselves and our well being first, above and beyond that of someone we claim to love and cherish.
Such seasons of transition serve as reminders to look to God to temper our expectations and expressions of love for one another. If we yield to His leading, then the friendship and the friends in it can be transformed for the better with every change and every season.
Friendships are beautiful and fun.
All the weighty considerations I’ve shared don’t take away from the gift that is friendship; they serve to add to it in light of eternity. There is deep joy and satisfaction in knowing that the people you’re surrounded by are for God and for you and that you get to do life together.
God’s desire is for us to have friendships that lead to wholeness for all involved. This means that there will be times when things get tough and even messy, because we’re imperfect humans learning how to love each other well. But as we continually commit ourselves and our friendships to God, we can count on Him helping us build friendships that will bring us and those in our lives eternal value.