In the last article on this subject we learned that it was through the vehicle of friendship that God transforms us. Christ has made peace between God and man, ending the long standing war that our parents started in that beautiful garden all those years ago, and where there is peace, true peace, there is always friendship. But what is the effect of this spiritual friendship on our everyday, ordinary, mundane lives?
First thing to recognize is that we are not alone in this new found peace and friendship with God, there are others, many others in fact, and a true friend of God is our friend as well. We find ourselves on a journey through a now strange land. The familiar ways of our old life before Christ become unfamiliar when the Holy Spirit lights upon our soul. The path is narrow and often difficult as we are faced with temptation daily, hourly sometimes, to break fidelity with God and satisfy the desires of what still remains in us of the corruption inherited from our father Adam. Misunderstood by the general population, which lay still under the sway of hidden powers, first and nearest, within their own heart there is the sinful nature transmitted through the Fall, second without, in the World, Satan, an agent of pure evil is deceiving them and is out to destroy them and us who trust in Christ and serve the living God. Our new desire for holiness frees us from the tyranny of making our decisions according to the world’s idols of sex, money, power, and reputation. The Gospel re-orients us to God but in such a counter-cultural way that it sometimes stirs the ire of those who do not call God their Father and would rather not be reminded of His existence. This radical opposition to God, which lies on the human heart, coupled with the deceptive power of Satan, turns the world we live in into something akin to a war zone. Those who call on Christ are pilgrims, refugees traveling through this war torn land of hatred, manipulation, and prejudice on our way to a better land with better promises. We are searching for a city whose maker and foundation is God, where there is no pain, or sorrow, or tears, and where our Father has a Mansion with enough room for us all. Searching is not really a good way to describe it, because we know the Way and we are on it. It is just some times darker and more difficult than we expected. Which leads us to the point.
Since we are few, the way is narrow, we are all headed in the same direction, in fact to the same place, with the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same Father, and the same light for our feet, God has called us to journey together. In fact the Greek word for “the church”, “ekklesia”, means “the called out ones”, it is a plural word. The church is a group of people called out together to pursue a radical friendship with God primarily and then to turn and practice that same grace and forgiveness toward one another that they have experienced in the person of Jesus Christ. As we practice being spiritual friends we find the grace to live in the same spaces and places with the same people for long periods of time and still remain spiritual friends. The reason being is that as we pursue our friendship with God we find out all those annoying things that we still do on a daily basis to Him and yet still on a daily basis we are met with love and forgiveness. Having experienced such a very great, repeated extension of love, we then find that type of love welling up in ourselves, and the ability to forgive, love, and extend favor to those who continually annoy us comes freer than we ever thought possible. Grace experienced is grace extended, it can be no other way. Jesus ties our ability to forgive with our ability to be forgiven in the Lord’s Prayer. Why, because Jesus knows that our orientation to God comes out in real life. What we believe we do. Our heart and our feet are always connected. There is no sacred and secular divide, no heavenly love without earthly action. If we are truly a friend of God, one that is radically re-oriented to Him in the love and grace of Christ, then we are spiritual friends with all those who call on Him as Father and Lord. We will spend eternity with them. But we are especially called to live out that grace and love with real people, that live where we live, and who are pursuing God out of a pure heart.
What does the pursuit of spiritual friendship look like? Where should it begin? At the same place it began with God, communication. In the last article I urged you to be frank with God, if you doubted tell Him, if you were afraid, tell Him. God is big enough for your fears and your doubts. But he also knows you are made of flesh, that it is not good for you to be alone, and that you have a need to be known, understood, and trusted. It would be wrong to say that God needs these things, but obviously He desires these things. He spent thousands of years revealing Himself to us. He came in human flesh as Jesus Christ who is the express image of the person of God. He orchestrated and inspired the writing of the Scriptures. Why would He do all this? Because He wants us to know Him, understand Him, and trust Him. And you, being created in His image have these same desires, except in you it is right to classify them as needs.
I figured out that there was something wrong with my daughter Ruthie because by the time she was 18 months old, I knew from the experience of being the father of four other children, she should have been further along in her speech development. Sure enough, she is nearly deaf. I knew there was something wrong because she could not communicate. Countless childhood diseases are detected through lack of speech, yet a full grown man can be incapable of intimate friendship, unable to communicate to another human being what is going on inside his own heart, and we still consider him a spiritually healthy individual. The truth is a man that cannot tell you what’s going on inside of him is a man that is hiding from God. Before he can vocalize it to you he will have already vocalized it to God. A man that will not uncover his soul to a spiritual friend, who refuses to become vulnerable, is a man that is not developing a friendship with God. You cannot be honest with God and dishonest with men. You cannot be honest with men and dishonest with God. You cannot love some one you can’t see without loving those that you do see. Nor can you develop a healthy spiritual friendship with God and not develop healthy spiritual friendships with at least a few of His people.
If you think about it, vulnerability is the hallmark of the incarnation. Jesus, God in the flesh, was born into a violent world as a helpless babe. Every child under the age of two in the region was killed by King Herod in an attempt to murder Him. Jesus made himself very vulnerable, not just to hate, but also to love. John, the Apostle, refers to himself as one whom Jesus loved. He is pictured as laying his head on the chest of Jesus at the last supper. Jesus knew how to be a good spiritual friend. In fact, those who walked closely with Him in His earthly pilgrimage gave their life in His service, most to martyrdom. And if you’ll notice, some times that meant saying things to them that they didn’t like or want to hear. James and John are not sitting on his left and right. Peter He actually called Satan once. Jesus rebuked the Apostles as a group on more than one occasion. Brave, vulnerable communication can be required at times if we are to be good spiritual friends. Pay close attention and you will see that Jesus washed Judas’ feet, the son of perdition, just before His betrayal by that man. Being a good spiritual friend takes a great deal of faith, love, and hope. The reality is you may be betrayed. Never forget that it was through a betrayal that salvation came to the world. Faith and risk are not only necessary to our friendship with God but they are key components as we move into spiritual friendships in a broken and hostile world. Betrayal is a given, but God takes that which is meant for evil and turns it to good for our souls and for the souls of our friends
In the next article I will return again to examine another aspect of developing our spiritual friendship with God, so that we can further plow the way forward to understanding the best practices for developing spiritual friendship among God’s friends here on earth.