Friendship and Prayer
One of the aims of prayer is to grow in friendship with God. If this is the case, then let’s consider what constitutes a friendship, and then try to pray in accordance with that. One of the things about friends is that they want the same thing for each other. Not that they necessarily both want ice cream at the same time, but that the well-being of one person is tied to the well-being of the other.
This doesn’t just mean that God wants what we want, but that we want what God wants out of friendship for God. That is a basis for intercessory prayer. If God’s deepest longing is for the well-being of the world, then God wants the well-being of Bosnia, and we pray for that out of friendship with God. —
Roberta Bondi, “Learning to Pray: An Interview with Roberta Bondi,” The Christian Century 113, no. 10 (March 20–27, 1996): 327.
Friends in Peace and in War
Though Jim was just a little older than Phillip and often assumed the role of leader, they did everything together. They even went to high school and college together. After college they decided to join the Marines. By a unique series of circumstances they were sent to Germany together where they fought side by side in one of history’s ugliest wars.
One sweltering day during a fierce battle, amid heavy gunfire, bombing, and close-quarters combat, they were given the command to retreat.
As the men were running back, Jim noticed that Phillip had not returned with the others. Panic gripped his heart. Jim knew if Phillip was not back in another minute or two, then he wouldn’t make it.
Jim begged his commanding officer to let him go after his friend, but the officer forbade the request, saying it would be suicide. Risking his own life, Jim disobeyed and went after Phillip. His heart pounding, he ran into the gunfire, calling out for Phillip. A short time later, his platoon saw him hobbling across the field carrying a limp body in his arms.
Jim’s commanding officer upbraided him, shouting that it was a foolish waste of time and an outrageous risk “Your friend is dead’’ he added, “and there was nothing you could do.’
“No sir, you’re wrong,” Jim replied. “I got there just in time. Before he died, his last words were “I knew you would come.”
How Strangers Become Friends
There’s been a lot of talk about friendship because of Facebook and the internet. You can collect friends and “likes” and begin to feel pretty good about yourself, depending on how many you accumulate. Our foundation, the John & Vera Mae Perkins Foundation, has about 3,500 likes right now, and I suppose that’s pretty good. But I’m not sure that’s the kind of friendship that is strong enough to carry us through and across the hard lines that have isolated us from each other. I think you can actually have a lot of those kinds of friends and still be lonely, separated, and afraid.
Columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. tells of a conversation Marc Dunkelman had twenty years ago with his grandfather, a retired salesman. They talked about how to find the best restaurants in an unfamiliar city. Marc was excited about a new app that would make it easy for people to find the best places to eat and that would even show them which restaurants were nearby. But his grandfather was not as eager to embrace this new technology.
He said that whenever he went on a sales trip to a new place he would look for a “friendly looking stranger” and ask him to recommend a good place to eat. In the process this stranger would often become a new friend and someone that he would see when he returned to the city. “That’s how I got to understand the world—by talking to strangers,” the older man said. “With all these fancy technologies you’re talking about, how are people going to get to know one another? You ask me, I think it’s going to make everyone lonely.”
Friendships from a Biblical Perspective
Friend. We use that word too loosely. Too flippantly. We use it too generously. And most damaging of all, we give the title to people who haven’t earned it. I recognize that using the word earn makes some folks nervous. It implies a kind of quid pro quo. It can feel icky. So let me be clear. Yes, God has called us to love. A person doesn’t have to earn our love if we call ourselves believers. But I’m not talking about love; I’m talking about friendship. It’s different. Remember Jesus in John 15? “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:13–15 Don’t miss the point here. He says if somebody’s your friend, you give them your life.
Coworkers, clients, and anyone may get your life resources—your talents and your time. As a spiritual leader, coach, and teacher, I don’t even have to know you to offer and utilize my gifts for you. But in order for you to get me, for me to “make known to you” all the intimate things God has shared with me, you must be my friend. However, friends get your life. They get access to you in different ways and influence you in different degrees. In other words there is a difference between giving your life to someone and spending your life with someone.
How Would you Define Friendship?
Some years ago, a British newspaper invited readers to submit their best definitions of friendship and friends. Thousands of suggestions flooded in. Some of the best included: One who multiplies our joys, divides our griefs and whose honesty is inviolable. One who understands our silence. Friends are like good health: you don’t realize what a gift they are until you lose them. Prosperity begets friends; adversity proves them.
Friends do their knocking before they enter, instead of after they leave. C. S. Lewis was someone who deeply understood and appreciated friendship. He knew how vital it was, but also how it gets forged: ‘Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art . . . It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.’
…But Lewis’s most famous insight on the subject is even more relevant: ‘Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, “What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.”’
I Know the Way Out
I can’t help but recall here a scene from The West Wing. White House chief of staff Leo McGarry reaches out to his deputy, Josh Lyman, who is struggling with PTSD. Leo tells him a parable:
This guy’s walking down the street when he falls down a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey, you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription and throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts, “Father, I’m down in this hole. Can you help me out?”
The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole, and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey, Joe, it’s me! Can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”
James K.A. Smith, The Christian Century, “I’m a Philosopher. We Can’t Think Our Way Out Of This Mess”, February 25, 2021.
Mr. Sam Rayburn was Speaker of the United States House of Representatives longer than any other man in our history. There is a story about him that reveals the kind of man he really was.
The teenage daughter of a friend of his died suddenly one night. Early the next morning the man heard a knock on his door, and, when he opened it, there was Mr.Rayburn standing outside. The Speaker said, “J just came by to see what I could do to help.”
The Father replied in his deep grief, “I don’t think there is anything you can do, Mr. Speaker. We are making: all the arrangements.” ‘’Well,” Mr. Rayburn said, “have you had your coffee this morning?”
The man replied that they had not taken time for breakfast. So Mr. Rayburn said that he could at least make coffee for them. While he was working in the kitchen, the man came in and said, “Mr. Speaker, I thought you were supposed to be having breakfast at the White House this morning.”
“Well, I was,” Mr. Rayburn said, “but I called the President and told him I had a friend who was in trouble, and I couldn’t come.
More Alive With This Friend
In his book, The Enormous Exception, Earl Palmer tells about a pre-med undergrad at the University of California, Berkley, who became a Christian after a long journey through doubts and questions. A bout with the flu kept him out of classes for 10 days. During that critical absence from his organic chemistry class, a Christian classmate carefully collected all his missed lectures and assignments. The person took time from his own studies to help his friend catch up with the class.
Years later, the pre-med student, now a committed Christian, told Palmer, “You know that this just isn’t done, and I probably wouldn’t have done it, but he gave that help to me without any fanfare or complaints. I wanted to know what made this friend of mine act the way he did. I found myself asking him if I could go to church with him.” Palmer wrote, “I think the best tribute I ever heard concerning a Christian was the tribute spoken of this student. ‘I felt more alive when I was around this friend.’”
Race and Friendship
In a 2009 stand-up special, Chris Rock made a funny, and perhaps true, statement: “All my black friends have a bunch of white friends. And all my white friends have one black friend.”
It turns out, Rock’s joke has been corroborated (in part) by The Public Religion Research Institute, who in 2013 did a wide-ranging study of Americans to determine the ethnic diversity of Americans’ friendships.
According to the study, and using 100 as a representative number, the average black American has eighty-three black friends and 8 white friends.
Compare that with the average white American, who has 91 white friends and only 1 black friend. As racial conflict arises, it is not difficult to see why there is often such a significant disconnect between white and black views. Most white Americans simply do not have the opportunity to hear what their black brothers and sisters are experiencing. Most white Americans do not self-identify as racist, nor do their social groups.
Consequently (and paradoxically) it can be easy for white people to assume that the problem of racism is being overblown by black activist groups for the media. An expansion of friendships between white Americans and black Americans will help bridge this gap. It should be up to white people to expand their circles.
Stuart Strachan Jr., Source information from The Washington Post, “Three Quarters of Whites Don’t Have Any Non-White Friends”, August 25, 2014.
Should You Have A Best Friend (In Ministry)?
In this excerpt from Dr. John Townsend, the renowned psychologist and author, shares a story from his time in seminary, where one of his professors and mentor changes his mind regarding the importance of friendship and ministry:
I was in chapel one morning, and Dr. Hendricks was speaking. During his talk, he made the point, “When you graduate from here and go into your ministry or career, it’s a good idea that you not have a best friend.” I was a bit confused by that statement, as I had several close friends and I thought they made my life better. Dr. Hendricks said that we should put all our trust in God and that best friends could lead us astray and even get in the way of living a life of faith.
I remember thinking, Well, if Moses said it, it’s just true. I really did look up to him! A couple of years later, after I graduated, a seminary friend and I were talking and he said, “Did you hear about Dr. Hendricks’ chapel message a few weeks ago?” I said no, and he said, “It was really interesting. He said, ‘You may have heard me speak here a couple of years ago and say that it wasn’t a good idea to have a best friend. I was wrong.
You’d better have a best friend.’” Now I was really confused. It’s not often that one of your personal rock stars does a one-eighty in his teaching. As it happened, though, by this time I was in the habit of having coffee with Dr. Hendricks when I was in Dallas visiting friends.
So at our next meeting, I asked him, “Tell me about your recanting what you said in chapel about best friends.” And he told me the story. The seminary had a policy of helping graduates who had a major struggle after they left the school. This could involve burnout, a church split, a moral failure, or a serious depression. Pastors are under enormous pressure, 24/7.
And the way the seminary helped them was to have Dr. Hendricks meet with them to understand their situations and help them heal and rebuild their lives. He found out that during these times, the great majority of the struggling graduates had one thing in common: they had no close friends. They were without deep, safe confidants with whom they could say anything and receive support and acceptance.
So Dr. Hendricks went back to his Bible and researched the issue. And that was how he concluded that God designed us for deep and trusting relationships. Dr. Hendricks saw that best friends were necessary for a healthy life. Being the person of character that he was, he had no trouble saying, “I was wrong” in public. He was interested only in what was true and real.
An Unexpected Friendship
Sometimes moments of forgiveness and friendship come from unexpected places. In 2018, the comedian Pete Davidson appeared on the “Weekend Update” segment of Saturday Night Live (SNL). Davidson made a crude joke about a former Navy Seal turned Congressman-elect Dan Crenshaw.
Crenshaw had lost an eye in the line of duty, which became the butt of Davidson’s vulgar joke. The combination of mocking a person’s disability (especially a disability that came from serving his country in war) alongside a clear disapproval of Crenshaw’s political beliefs led to a burst of public outrage. While Davidson was making the joke, it became clear many found it in poor taste, and the vitriol aimed at the young comedian would ultimately lead him down a spiral of depression and self-loathing.
Davidson then took his anguish public, posting on the social media platform Instagram:
“I really don’t want to be on this earth anymore. I’m doing my best to stay here for you but I actually don’t know how much longer I can last. All I’ve ever tried to do was help people. Just remember I told you so.”
When Crenshaw heard about Davidson’s condition, he didn’t do what many do when embroiled in a public tiff: tell the offender the public scorn served him right, or make some other cutting comment at Davidson’s expense.
Instead, Crenshaw decided to extend an olive branch, befriending the comedian, and even offering words of life to a person who clearly felt lost amidst being stuck in the cross-hairs of the American public. Davidson recounts that Crenshaw reached out and comforted him: “God put you here for a reason. It’s your job to find that purpose. And you should live that way.”
Humor, it has often been said, is a coping mechanism to deal with the pain that life throws at us. But in the midst of the deep, unsettling pain of being publicly shamed, what Davidson needed was not a good joke, but forgiveness, and perhaps, even a friend who could share the good news of the gospel with him. In some ways it is ironic that a man trained to kill and destroy his enemies could be so moved by compassion that he reached out to someone who publicly mocked him and his deeply held political beliefs. But that is the beauty of the gospel, it enables us to look beyond our own reputation, our own pride, to care for others.
Stuart Strachan Jr. Source Material from Dino-Ray Ramos, “Texas Congressman-Elect Dan Crenshaw Reaches Out to SNL’s Pete Davidson After Troubling Instagram Post,” Deadline, December 18, 2018.
You are Who you Surround Yourself With
Context matters. According to the Terman Study, which followed one thousand study participants from childhood until their death, the people we surround ourselves with are who we become. We see those around us slacking off, we become less motivated. When we see people performing selfless acts, we become selfless. Who you surround yourself with, especially at an early age is likely to make a significant impact on the person you ultimately become.
Stuart R Strachan Jr.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Friendship. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!