This post builds a little on last week’s post, about what friendship is “really”. This new post seeks to examine the subject from a different angle.
Here’s the thing: as Christians, we are supposed to act in a way that is friendly and gracious to everyone. This means that we are supposed to be kind. We are supposed to be forgiving. We are supposed to share our time and resources with other people. However, it has recently struck home that this does not mean that we are actually to be friends with everyone. Rather we have to be hugely selective about the friendships we cultivate. This is absolutely essential. And it is not only about friendships. It is about everything we can possibly influence, like for instance the church we go to.
The Power of Association
As Christians, I’ve recently come to see that association is EVERYTHING. Seriously. This isn’t anything weird or complex. When I say “association”, I simply mean the people we spend time with, the people we hang around with. The people we choose to spend time with can either make or break our lives – no kidding. There could be times in our lives – there probably will be times in our lives – when this could be a matter of life and death – perhaps for our own selves, or perhaps for people close to us.
Bible teaching on this issue has to me seemed confusing in the past. On one hand, we are told to love everyone. We are told to be kind to everyone, to treat everyone with the same gentleness and unconditional love. On the other hand, the Bible also teaches that “the wise man chooses his friends carefully”: Proverbs 12v26 and “he who walks with wise men shall be wise” (but the companion of fools shall be destroyed.) Proverbs 13v20
The reason why this has been especially confusing for me is because growing up I was always able to equate “Christian community” with “great friendships”. That is, great, instant friendships, instant trust, being pretty much on the same wavelength with other people – not that there was that much variety back then – we were kids! As I write this, it occurs to me that that was probably because our parents filtered out many of the people we might otherwise have met, so that the resulting outcome was being able to safely instantly and confidently trust most people, especially in a Christian context. Even back then there were issues though (of course). There were disagreements, there were huge church schisms, there were people whom I felt able to see through so transparently, even as a kid, (sometimes my siblings and I had to group together to fend off some particularly dubious characters.)
Now though, I am learning that supposedly Christian community does not necessarily equate to great, instant friendships. I have encountered various unexciting behaviours countless times. I have already spoken endlessly about these things; it is not necessary for me to launch into this subject yet again. However the point is that I did not realise the need to truly evaluate people to make sure that they would be good friends for me; in each of these church situations I threw myself in one hundred percent. This went beyond being friendly, as we are to be to everyone, and it went as far as trying to build friendships with many people who were simply not supposed to be my friends. Oh, the amount of time and effort I wasted in one-sided endeavours!
However, many times it would not (after all) be one sided, and people would express interest back at me. Once again, I invested lots of time and effort into those friendships. However (and these are hard words to write), in many cases I have come to see that this also was misspent effort, because there were wiser choices of friends that could have been made on both sides. I was not the only one making the effort of course – these people also invested their time, their care, their commitment. However I am thinking that we were badly matched to start with.
Life and death
If I say that friendships or association can be a matter of life and death, then it might be easy to understand what I mean if you think for instance of kids who are caught up in violent gangs. However, when we are talking about polite, well-educated people working in good jobs, living in safe and pleasant parts of town, the point might not be so obvious. And yet, recent experience has driven this point home to me quite emphatically. If you surround yourself with people who are lukewarm in their pursuit of faith and Christ, then what you are simultaneously failing to do is to invest in friendships with people who do pursue Christ, who do cry out for Him, who do invest themselves into striving after everything of God. So when you actually need it, when you are pushed to the point of desperation, and you need all your friends to stand with you in prayer – guess what, you’ve only invested in lukewarm-ness, so only lukewarm-ness shows up – assuming, that is, that it actually does bother to turn up.
This is one of the biggest truisms I have encountered in the Christian life: If someone does not pray for themselves, then trust me, they will not pray for you – no matter how desperate the situation is, no matter how badly you need that prayer – even if someone’s life hangs in the balance. Oh very well, they might pray five minute prayers – or 5 second prayers, more likely. However, are they going to invest hours, to “seek the face of God” night and day? In a word, “no”! If your friends truly knew the power of prayer, then they would pray for themselves. YES THEY WOULD! The fact that they do not pray for themselves demonstrates one thing very clearly – that they have not come to the place of seeing the power of prayer. This is one of the biggest reasons to invest in the most solid, holy and prayerful Christians you can find as friends – and then to also be the kind of friend that they would like to invest time into. Say for instance, you do happen to know someone who is deeply into God and passionate about prayer – but you only know them from a distance, as a somewhat casual acquaintance. When your phone call or your text comes through, desperately requesting the investment of their prayer time, is it going to be treated with the same urgency as if it was from a best friend?
So what, am I suggesting that you should use prayerful people for the sake of getting their prayers when needed? I appreciate that it might sound like that. However, remember that it is a two way thing; it works both ways. If someone who was not grounded in true pursuit of Christ tried to latch onto me as a prayerful person (this has happened in the recent past – seriously) then I simply would not want to invest my time into that friendship.
Moreover I am writing this as a prayerful person writing to other prayerful people – hold out for friends who are truly striving for the same things as you! I am writing this to who I was 5 years ago – “Get out of those prayerless churches, Tosin!”
This is yet another reason why it is of course best to run away from romantic relationships with non-Christians. No matter how genuinely lovely or sweet-natured these people might be – or might appear to be – rest assured that they absolutely cannot and they will not pray for you. I’m thinking of atheists right now – I guess that people of other faiths who do believe in some understanding of God can pray. However, will they use the Bible? Will they stand on the authority of God’s word? Will they cry out by the power of the Holy Spirit? Of course not.
This following is very radical advice, written partly from exasperated frustration; you might need to consider your own personal strength and depth with God before taking it. From where I’m sitting now, I’m thinking that if you cannot find a truly prayerful church to attend, or deeply grounded friends to interact with, then stay at home. Or at least, this is what I would do now. I’m thinking now that all that time I invested previously in those attempts at friendship would have been put to better use praying for this elusive husband to show up or somehow investing in something that could feasibly bear true fruit. This is the opposite of what everyone advises, and I must also admit that while I consider myself strong, in the 2 years or so that I was not actively going to church (because I could not find a suitable church), I felt weak and lonely at the lack of sustained Christian interaction. Or maybe that just highlighted even more the Huggie-Wuggie void in my life. Either way, on reflection, perhaps this is not great advice to follow after all.
Having said all this though, we still need to be friendly and gracious and loving to all these people in these churches and outside them – everyone everywhere – and we do have to pray for them when they need it. My big point here is that we should be deliberate and watchful about the friendships that we systematically cultivate.
In fact, I’m thinking that we should each be as careful about choosing our friends as we are about choosing our spouse (or as careful as I am about choosing my spouse, which is very careful!) – not least because one of these friends could feasibly end up becoming that very same said spouse – ha ha!
Photo of young friends by Ikon on Pixabay