The Smallest Stars
So far, we have discussed relating at a congregational level and at a small group level. I now want to share my heart on friendships, friendships that last forever. We are going to examine how we can establish selective, godly friendships such as those described in Proverbs, where it talks about a “friend who is closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).
When I have talked about these types of relationships, before, I inevitably have couples tell me that passage was describing their spouse. No. As charming as that may sound, that is not what that Proverb was describing. I hope you do indeed have a deep friendship with your spouse. Ideally you can, indeed refer to your spouse as your friend, as well as your lover. Certainly in a strong marriage I would expect that to happen. But that passage is referring to a much more significant friendship that transcends all other relationships.
Oh, I know most of the time we are taught that this is referring to Jesus, which is partially true. But the Messiah had not yet arrived when Solomon described a friendship that fascinated him. This is the type of friendship he could have witnessed between his father, David, and King Saul’s son, Jonathan. So for fun, let’s take a look at that story. We will discover how their friendship started, how it grew, and how it continued, even beyond their deaths.
If you look at I Samuel 18:1 it says
“Jonathan’s heart was knit to the heart of David; they became one in spirit, and Jonathan loved him as himself” (I Samuel 18:1)
That is the perfect image of a friendship I am referring to! When someone knits a sweater or a scarf, they use two needles, and as they knit, two pieces of yarn come together to become one solid fabric. That is interesting because Paul encouraged the Christians at Colossae to find out more and more how strong the bonds of Christian love are, so they would be “welded together by love.” Fascinating idea!
When you weld two pieces of metal together, they literally melt and become one piece along the seam. In fact, the seam becomes stronger and more durable than the original pieces of metal. Selah, (pause and consider that). When two lives come together with their mutual commitment to Christ as the cohesion, they can become one. They become inseparable. In fact, that is the ideal for a marriage.
I Samuel 16 is where you find the beginning of this relationship. This is where Jonathan meets David. You know the story. Goliath comes down and taunts the army of Israel, challenging them to a battle between him and whomever they might choose. Then this young, unknown David comes, defeats Goliath, won the day—, and also wins Jonathan’s admiration. Wow!
However, before that event, Jonathan himself, had quite a day. The Philistines were making raids on the Israelites. They were strong, and threatening, and the whole safety of Israel was at stake. Every able Israelite was out in the hills and valleys in defense)—even the King’s son, Jonathan.
“Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised Philistines. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by a few’” —I Samuel 14:6.
Isn’t that great! Jonathan says to his armor bearer, “Naturally the Lord is going to win the battle, whether by many or a few. Hey, just for fun, let’s see if He does it by a few—like two?”
Certain things standout about Jonathan right here. First, his spirit: he was bold for God, full of faith and courage. Those kinds of men are contagious. His armor barer said,“Do all that you have in mind.” “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul‟” (I Samuel 14:7). One translation says; “as is your mind, so is mine.
I like that! He is saying, Johnny; I am yours. You say the word and we will go-for-it! As verse thirteen says, “And they fell before Jonathan!” Because of this adventure he was everyone’s hero, and all Israel loved him; in fact, when a problem arose between Jonathan and His father Saul, the people rose and said, “Don’t touch a hair of Jonathan’s head.” He was a real hero!
Jonathan was a Man! The thing that has always bothered me about Goliath’s story, why did Jonathan allow him to come up those forty days and taunt Israel. After experiences like the ones he had, why would he let one man shake the cage of Israel so badly? We don’t know, but maybe Jonathan comes back after this tremendous rout of the enemy and sees his father the King slipping back into his old depressions, disobedience toward God and losing control of the people—and Jonathan might have said, “What’s the use? Nobody cares.”
But when he saw David–small unknown David–walk out of that valley with Goliath’s head in his hand—David, just a young shepherd boy, a little guy, younger than Jonathan himself—I can imagine that a man with a heart like Jonathan’s said, “Whoa! How about that? There’s my man! What a man!”
I don’t know about you, but I desperately need men around me who are Giant Killers. That is not my natural state, you know. As I explained in a previous post, for years I saw myself more like Bilbo Baggins. Like me, he didn’t like adventures and preferred to stay in his hobbit hole away from danger. It is said that he, “like most of his kind, were well off, well fed, and best pleased when sitting by his own fire with a pipe, a glass of good beer, and a meal to look forward to, and the last person anyone would expect to see set off on a hazardous journey.” That pretty much described me. But I don’t want to be like that. I want to be a Giant Killer! That is why I need to have brave and courageous around me.
The truth is, many times it seems that most of us have an innate tendency to back off sometimes. We need fearless, godly men around us to keep us moving in the right direction. The story of many Christians is that they start hot with God: “Take it all, Lord. You can have anything I have.” As a result, God blesses them and soon they have it made. Then they want to keep it made and protects themselves. They no longer gets out where they depend wholly on God. Frankly, I do not want that to happen to me.
Jim Elliot wrote to his brother and told him that he was praying for him to receive,
“A hallowed dare-devil spirit in lifting the biting sword of Truth. Consuming (him) with a passion that is called by the cultured citizens of Christendom ‘fanaticism,’ but known to God as the saintly madness that led His Son through bloody sweat and hot tears to agony on a rude Cross—and Glory!”
Now that is a radical! To his sister, Jim Elliot wrote:
“Don’t be disappointed at anything or over-elated, either. Live each day as if the Son of Man were at the door, and gear your thinking to the fleeting moment . . . Walk as if the next step would carry you across the threshold of Heaven. Pray! The saint who advances on his knees never retreats.”
Boy, that fires me up! We simply have to be out on the cutting edge, or there is enough sin out there, that if we yield to it, we will be zeros. Paul told the Corinthians, “If you think you’ve got it wired, watch out, or you might fall into the garbage can” (Or something close to that).
That is why a godly friend or two is utterly essential! Not an option or reasonable suggestion. It is an imperative must! There must be friends who are courageous enough to exhort and rebuke us, and loving enough to encourage us.
With all our emphasis on The Body, I think we have hardly even discovered the possibility of what a Spirit-breathed, committed friend can do in our lives. One brother shared with me his frustration. “I don‟t know whether my brothers in my small group are really committed to me or not. A month ago I shared with them three goals I wanted to reach: To establish a consistent daily quiet time, to stick to a diet that will take off fifteen pounds, and to adhere rigidly to a new budget that will discipline my wife and me not to overspend.”
He looked at me earnestly. “I can’t make it without these guys. But four weeks ago I told them about these goals, and not one of them has asked me how I am doing. Not one has checked up on me.”
My immediate response was, “Tell them! They are responsible for you! If they have committed their hearts to you, your failure is their failure. You are in this together!”
The next morning was their weekly breakfast together. My friend laid it on the table. “Do you guys love me or don‟t you? Do you care or not?” Ouch!
I saw him again a few days after that and asked how it went. He grinned, “Man, those guys were smitten. Almost every day since, somebody has called me—‟Hey, you sticking to your diet? You have your quiet time yet today? No impulse buying, Buddy . . .”
There was a sense of great confidence in his eyes that wasn’t there before we talked. “I’ll make it,” he told me. My response was that their need to be responsible for him was just as important as his need to keep accountable to them.
Another time, about 27 or 28 years ago, a very precious and dear friend asked me to be in agreement with him regarding a discipline he wanted to start. He wanted to begin waking up at 5:30 every morning for prayer. So we prayed, and it just happened to be when the Lord was beginning to teach me what I am sharing with you now that I was responsible for my friend.
So, every day for about a week or two, I called him at 5:30 to see if he was up. The first three days or so, he admitted that I got him out of bed but after that, he was up before I called. I would continue to call him occasionally just to keep him on his toes. Now realize that this was a commitment and sacrifice on my part. I wasn’t trying to start a new discipline of getting up that early. But I was committed to my friend!
In my mind, getting up to call him was a little thing, but it must have impacted him. A few years later, I heard him speaking to some people and overheard him say something that is still with me after all these years. He said, “So many times when we ask for prayer, or are attempting to establish a new discipline in our lives, it seems we are alone. Oh sure, they may pray for us, but usually not. But when I asked my friend to pray for me, he called to check up on me. That blessed me so much because I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew that he had to force himself out of bed to call me. That encouraged me. He was there with me! It also made me examine my responsibility to follow up on anyone who ask me for prayer.”
Hey, I will tell you now, don’t ask me to pray for you unless you are serious about it. I take it seriously. While I was editing this writing, a friend sent me a note (on Facebook), asking me to pray against his migraine. So I did. 30 minutes later we were chatting, and he told me the migraine was gone! (“Thank you Father”) Hey! I just realized that he had made his request via email, so evidently we don’t even have to be in direct contact for our prayers to work!
My rule is that if the two of us are going to ask our Father for something, we are both in it together. As I told you before, several years ago I created a rule that if you call me or email me to pray about something, I will pray right then on the phone with you. In fact, I had been doing that for so many years, it was simply automatic. I didn’t even think about it. That is until I needed prayer. When my wife was in surgery for cancer, I called one of my friends and the moment he heard my request, he immediately began to pray. Afterword I thanked him for doing that, but he said, “Of course I would. You taught me that many years ago.” (I did? As I said, it had become so second-nature for me, I did it without thinking. I just never realized anyone had picked up on it). But that is when I remembered that this brother was as close to me as anyone had ever been. For us, I was David, and he was Jonathan!
(Oh, that brings another side issue; we have to be careful because people are continually watching us—especially our kids. It is amazing how much my kids have picked up things from me—some good—some not so good).
So let’s get back to Jonathan and David. I want you to see how their friendship developed. Chapter 18 of I Samuel says, “Jonathan’s heart was knit to the heart of David, and Jonathan loved him as much as himself.” One translation renders it; “. . . Jonathan loved him as his own life.” It is interesting that I John says we are to love each other the same way.
Some people with evil intent picture a “Brokeback Mountain” thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Proverbs 18:24 says, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and is born, as is a brother, for adversity.” These describe a friendship that is stronger than blood.
It takes time to knit something; the process calls for skill, care, and patience, especially when you are dealing with something as delicate as a person’s life. So, if we are going to have friendships in which our hearts are knit together with others, we must carefully select people that God gives us who will join their hearts with ours.
There are all kinds of people I would love to have my heart knit together with, but knitting takes time. The point is to look for those people whom because of circumstances you are naturally thrown in with. God says to us by the very example of Jonathan and David, “Listen, become deep friends with someone, or with two, three, or four.”
To this day, years after first becoming deeply committed to each other, at a moments notice I could call Lyle, Jeff, Miles, Dave, and a few others and I know they would be there for me—and they know I would be there for them. We have so deeply committed our lives together that not even time or distance would take that away. In fact, we sometimes call simply for a “buddy-checks.” And more recently, I would add Anthony, Kathy, Serina, Jipu and a few others to that list of people I love and rely on—and they on me. We are, in essence, a safety net for each other.
Don’t isolate yourself! Become involved, deeply involved with others. Isolation will eat your spiritual life away until there is nothing left of you. In fact, right now, take a few minutes thanking God for the people in your life who have encouraged you; who have shared the intimacies of life with you; who have “strengthened your hand in God.”
Like a car, you have a “fuel tank,” and it is regularly being depleted by hardships, setbacks, and by certain people who drain the life from you. But there are also people who will fill your tank. They will breathe life into you. They remind you of how good God is. They call you to live up to the best you can be. Just being with them or talking to them on the phone, and you find your anxiety going down, and your hope and sense of trust and faith just go up.
Yes, give your appreciation to our Father for bringing this friend to you, but also take the time to thank them! They probably have no idea what a blessing they are to you. To them it is a “labor of love,” and they probably never considered how it affects you, it simply brings them joy because they are there for you. You are a gift to them, as well.
There is so much more we need to cover, so let’s talk about this some more next time.
With these Morning Messages, I take you on guided tours to, as Bunyan described, the Celestial City. At times we linger at corners familiar and unseen. And explore the depths of our faith along the way.
The trail is long, but there’s no hurry. Though we do need to stock up on supplies for the way, and that’s where I need your help. If you enjoy these messages, please consider becoming a contributing member of this tour group. It will be very much appreciated.