A righteous man [woman] is cautious in friendship
(Proverbs 12:26a NIV).
Every book I've picked up lately has dealt with friendship. Maybe God is wanting to teach me something.
I have been so blessed with many friendships over the years. Some have lasted for a season, and some have grown deeper and more precious as time has passed. Some friends still live close by, many have moved away.
But distance doesn't have to be the enemy of friendship. It takes effort to maintain, and even more to move forward. One particular relationship in my life has survived 30 years as her family has moved from state to state, and even to the other side of the world. Today, God has reconnected us face to face in this season, and I'm so grateful for her wise counsel, loving spirit, and deep friendship.
Friends intersect with our lives for many different reasons, but I believe the main reasons are so we can love and be loved because A friend loves at all times (Proverbs 17:17).
Some people make friends easily and others struggle with the whole "building relationships" thing.
Friends don't usually just fall into our laps. We have to seek them out - intentionally and cautiously.
So what characteristics should a person look for in a true friend?
We will be looking at three levels of friendship: Close, Casual, and Acquaintances. First, we will define and examine the most important level and why caution is of utmost importance.
A close friend is someone who has the same belief system, common purpose, and is willing to be transparent and honest.
She [he] is given the responsibility of holding us accountable in our spiritual walks and vice versa. We pray together and separately for each other.
Our conversations are more than just fashion and weather, children and marriage, Pinterest and the greatest and latest party themes or organic recipes. Our conversations center around the Word of God, and our relationship with Jesus.
We rejoice with each other in times of joy, and weep with one another in times of sorrow. Close friends give each other permission to peel back the layers of our hearts to the core of who we really are, cheering each other on to become all God has created us to be.
Close friends are our inner circle.
And they are usually few in number.
Jesus had a very carefully selected inner circle. The disciples. His intimate friends would carry on His message after He was gone. These men ate every meal with Him, traveled with Him, listened to Him teach, asked Him questions, watched how He lived. And 11 of the 12 grew to love Him deeply. For three years, the inner circle did life with the Messiah by their side!
There is joy on all levels of friendship, so why should we be cautious, especially with our inner circle?
In the Wonderstruck Bible study, Margaret Feinberg references 1 Corinthians 15:33.
Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character."
This is the best reason I can think of to be cautious with all of our relationships. It very easy to slip into bad habits that can damage our influence for Christ. Following those who are not spiritually like-minded can draw us into gossip, unhealthy (even toxic) relationships, producing unholy fruit instead of the fruits of the Spirit. (refer to Galatians 5:16-26)
Bad company corrupts good character.
Does this mean we never associate with non-believers or questionable believers? Certainly not. We will discuss other levels of friendship later where we are encouraged to befriend weaker believers and even non-believers.
Our close and intimate relationships, though, should be intentionally sought after from within the Body of Believers, our sisters [brothers] in Christ. Inner circle friends encourage and build up, break bread and fellowship in each others homes. They drive each other to the Word for answers to life's questions, challenge one another to go deeper with Jesus, becoming all God has purposed us to be. Our inner circle are those we allow inside and trust with our weaknesses and imperfections. (Wonderstruck, Margaret Feinberg, pg. 114)
As we look at the different levels of friendship, we will be asking the Spirit to examine each one. Summer is a great time for re-evaluating those we have influence over and those we allow to have influence over us. Let's begin by asking ourselves the following questions:
- Who is in my inner circle?
- Are they building me up in my walk with Christ or tearing me down?
- Am I reciprocating the characteristics of those I've cautiously selected to be my close and dearest friends?
Maybe it's time to close a door on a season of friendship, or put forth more effort to grow a weak friendship. Or, maybe God is calling us to pursue some new friendships - with caution.
Thank you so much for my inner circle. You have blessed me with some very precious relationships over the years. All have sharpened, encouraged, and built me up in my walk with You. Several have been brutally honest when I needed to hear their words of wisdom directing me back to where I needed to be. Bless each one with an extra measure of your grace and minister to them wherever they are today as only You can. Use me to be their friend and confidant. May I be sensitive to their needs and available when they call on me. Help me not to take these intimate friendships for granted, and to nourish my inner circle with prayer, time, effort, love and grace.
In Jesus' Name and for His sake, Amen.