As I thought and prayed about the first article for 2006, I was reminded of a message presented to our high school and college students concerning God’s desire for us to pick and choose friends from God’s perspective and not the world’s. I began to reflect on what a significant issue this is for so many men today. While women can generally make long lists of people they consider friends, most men do well to think of the two or three guys they consider “friends.” Truth be known, for most of us, these two or three guys are probably more like “acquaintances” than friends. In his book THE MAN IN THE MIRROR, Patrick Morley states “Most men have a friendship ‘deficit.’ Their balance sheets are empty when it comes to true friends. Most men don’t know how to go about developing a true friend, or how to be one.”
Stu Weber writes in his book FOUR PILLARS OF A MAN’S HEART, “Most of us are happy to step into the responsibilities of a king or a warrior. We might struggle with the ‘mentor’ pillar, but deep down that makes sense, too. Men are supposed to know how things work, and that, too, represents strength, power, and authority. But ‘this friend thing’? We seem to hold back, reluctant to take the plunge. That last foundation post of manhood seems a little questionable. Are we reluctant because of the Friend pillar is brushed with a touch of emotion? Is it because personal connection requires a measure of vulnerability? Why do we seem to resist and dislike getting in touch with our emotions – and perhaps even exposing them to others?”
In THE SAMSON SYNDROME, Mark Atteberry tells us we should choose friends that “understand and support our life’s goals.” He writes “As I have already pointed out, this is one of the most troubling aspects of Samson’s life. As far as we know, he had no close friends among his own people. He didn’t leave room in his life for anyone who could have acted as a mentor or spiritual advisor. Instead, he was almost constantly in the company of his enemy, the very people who stood to benefit if he got off track and lost sight of his purpose in life.”
All three of these authors, as well as many others, make it very clear that men have a real issue when it comes to friendship. Most men have to reflect back to their school days to identify a true friend; one that they shared their deepest concerns and ideas with as well as, at times, their deepest emotions. As we move through the life process, for some reason friendship, true friendship, gets pushed to a back burner for most men. God makes it very clear as to what His thoughts are regarding the issue of friendship. In Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12 it tells us “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” This scripture makes it very clear that friendship has value. There is a definite “return” on this friendship investment. Friends pick us up when we fall, literally and figuratively. Friends help you to meet your needs. Not just your physical needs but your emotional and spiritual needs as well. Friends come to your defense when there are times of difficulty and challenge. So what does it take to choose a friend and be a friend?
First we have to take a look at three friendship “filters” we must use to select friends and evaluate our effectiveness at being a friend:
- Wisdom versus Foolishness – Proverbs 13: 20 tells us “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” Are we selecting men for their wisdom or because they will approve of the foolishness in which we participate? Friendship should be fun and enjoyable but it must be based on the values of a Godly man, not a worldly man. We must seek out men who can hold us accountable and be willing to honestly tell us when we are “messing up.”
- Bad Character versus Good Character – 1 Corinthians 15: 33 says “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.” This scripture confirms what my father told me growing up; “If you lie down with dogs, you’re going to get fleas.” We have to consider a man’s character as we explore the kind of friend he will make.
- Darkness versus Light – Ephesians 5: 6-11 tells us “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” God wants us to have a positive impact on those around us and we can best do that by being “children of the light” and “having nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness.”
In addition to the friendship filters we have to consider five friendship factors. They are:
- A friend is willing to break away from the crowd. Proverbs 18: 24 states “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Lets face it guys, it’s easy to find a crowd of men that just want to “go with the flow.” It’s easy to be accepted by that crowd and they will welcome you with open arms. That is until you run out of what they want and they have used you up. God wants us to choose friends that don’t want to be one in a crowd and they are willing to stand up for what God wants out of us even when it won’t be easy or the popular thing to do.
- A friend is willing to be real. Proverbs 27: 5-6 tells us “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” None of us like to be scolded or told we are doing wrong but a true friend will “get real” with us and tell us when we are getting off of God’s plan. Satan will put plenty of men in our path that will tell us exactly what we want to hear and lead us to bad decisions and often tragic outcomes. A friend, as God defines friend, may “wound” our ego, but they have our best interest at heart. Seek out men who are willing to take the risk of being “real” with you even when it’s not easy to do.
- A friend is loyal. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17: 17) All of us have experienced “fair weather friends.” You know the ones, men who are glad to be your friend as long as things are going the way they think they should but let there be one hint of adversity and they are outta here. This scripture tells us that a friend hangs in there at all times and there will certainly be times that our spiritual brothers were “born for adversity.” This quite simply is because being God’s man is not an easy task and there are times that a true friend must call us on something we are thinking or doing that is displeasing to our Heavenly Father.
- A friend is a good listener/ counselor. “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” (Proverbs 20: 5) While many of us men are quite skilled at “compartmentalizing” the various aspects or purposes of our lives, who better than a “man of understanding” to help us put the sometimes complex pieces of life’s puzzle together. While many of us men may claim to be good “listeners”, in reality we are good “hearers.” Let me help you understand what I mean. Hearing is simply a physiological process where sound waves move through the ear canal and signal the brain that there is something going on. Listening, on the other hand, is an emotional process that requires focus and energy. It requires that we direct our attention to the person speaking and we shut out the various activity and distractions other than that person. If you are like me, you put great value on a friend who can truly listen. We have a term commonly used in today’s world referred to as “multi-tasking.” While it sounds like an efficient use of time, the harsh reality is that when it comes to listening, truly listening, we cannot do anything but listen. Try it and I think you will be amazed at the results!
- A friend is spiritually challenging. Proverbs 27: 17 tells us “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Men, in order for us to grow spiritually, we must interact with one another in settings that allow us to “sharpen” our spiritual skills. How many times have we seen a man come to Christ and then fall away because he is not learning and growing spiritually? We must develop relationships with men that will challenge us, stretch us and yes, at times, admonish us regarding our spiritual development and our daily walk with our Lord and Savior. Whether it’s a Sunday school class, a weekly Bible study, or some other gathering, we must look for opportunities to develop friendships that provide the spiritual challenge men need.
My hope and prayer is that you will use these three filters and five factors to take a focused look at your current “friendship” situation. While I will not even begin to pretend this will be easy, I can tell you that putting forth the effort to develop this type of friend will provide great rewards. One final note, Paul tells us of the ultimate friendship in 2 Timothy 4: 16-17. It states “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.” God demonstrates the kind of friendship He desires for us through His relationship with us. Scripture tells us time and time again that God will be with us in all situations. It is through that “friendship” with our Heavenly Father that we can demonstrate to the world that there is truth and reality in the promises made in God’s word.