THE WICKET GATE
Chapter 13.....Friends and Friendship
"A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly; and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." Proverbs, chapter 18, verse 24.
The witness must be made, but he must not find his intimate friends amongst those who do not share his heart's devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. When I was in Australia I was entertained by a gentleman who asked me if I had visited any of the Australian prisons. I said I had not. Said he : " I have spent time in every one of them ". He told me his story of being sent out from England where he had been a burden on his father's heart, of living by his wits and gambling when he reached Australia, of trouble with the police, and of imprisonment. Until one evening he heard some people singing in what proved to be a prayer meeting. He was strangely obliged to go in and before the service was over he was truly born again, his heart changed and flooded with new desires after Christ. The first step he knew he had to take, was to go to the gambling den and declare to his old associates that he had finished. They literally rose up against him with oaths, blasphemy and cursing but subsequently one of the bitterest of them was gloriously saved. This perhaps is an extreme case but the principle is true for every new disciple.We must, therefore, think about this business of friends for it is important and much depends on it
Up to the time of our conversion friendships have been largely determined by accident. We have been drawn out to stronger feelings towards certain people in the circles in which we move and so relations have developed. In every friendship the respective " strengths " of personality counts. The stronger dominates the not-so-strong. Sometimes one exercises a remarkable fascination upon another so that there is a considerable yielding on the one side in answer to the domination on the other. But the new disciple will now consider friendships from a new angle. Jesus is his Saviour and has really become his friend. He is not a Christian because he has embraced new principles but because he has received new life from Jesus and Jesus is real to him. Every day he lives he will realise increasingly that this is a true friendship, a friendship by which all other friendships must be determined. It seems obvious and simple but in its outworking it can be difficult. A lady I know was gloriously saved at an Advent Testimony meeting and her daughter with her. Bridge parties and tennis parties on Sundays were obviously finished. She was compelled to write to her friends and tell them what had happened. Many of them she had regarded as affable people, but they all shunned her as the plague. It left her lonely for a time but the Lord soon filled her heart with new friends. The emigrant will feel a strange pain in the heart as the shores of England fade from sight and friends are left behind perhaps for ever, but unknown friends are waiting on the other side who, as they come to know will fill up the wounds in the heart. It is so with the believer. The supreme Friend who sticks closer than a brother is Jesus. As we talk with Him daily and His Spirit leads us into fellowship He will become precious, very precious, and intimately personal. We shall find that His friendship will determine all others. Read the Gospel of St. John with special reference to our Lord's teaching upon friendship. Believe what He says and ask Him that He will make His own blessed friendship a personal experience.
On your part since two cannot walk together unless they be agreed, you will enter into all His revealed purpose, willingly giving yourself to Him. On His part He will share with you the secrets He shares with the Father; and as thus you share the Divine intimacy it will be inevitable that every human association will be coloured by it and indeed determined by it. You may be sure that as this friendship is fostered, the one-time friends who have no interest in Jesus will fall away; the circumstances will be entirely changed. There is a strong magnetism in human life. The sensual man goes into a strange city and soon finds the harlot, the spiritual man enters the same city and is quickly among the Lord's people. When the friendship of Jesus is cultivated, its magnetic power will never fail. You will find as you make friends with His friends that His friends will also be reaching out to you. I need hardly add that this is all important in the matter of courting and marriage.
MAINTAINING A FRIENDSHIP
Dr. Johnson declared that a man should keep his friendships in constant repair. He was quite right, because as one gets older one's friends pass on and life can become very lonely. While our most intimate friendships should be of our own generation yet a really balanced life requires at least an understanding friendliness with every generation. The secret is when young to cultivatea gracious intimacy in generations ahead of you.
Although outlook is bound to be distinctive, yet in Christ, youth and age can meet. The young disciple will be wise to have a place for an occasional visit to an older Christian and a kindly word as opportunity affords. This is probably the secret of a growing capacity throughout life to make new friends while retaining old ones. Our most intimate friendships will be all the richer as we cultivate a friendly spirit with all. The value and worth of a friendship is what you put into it. There is something in human personality which, when it is perverted reveals itself in pride and self-importance, but at heart it is a God-given sense of our essential significance. If it is perverted, as I have indicated, it is pitiful and offensive but if I remember this fact concerning my friends it will be the secret of maintaining my friendships. Never pursue a friendship, therefore, in which you do not entertain the highest consideration for your friend. However intimate the friendship let it be touched with a genuine esteem and reverence for them. There are certain values in us all that emerge under the gracious esteem of our friends. You must remember that and make it your business to let your friend be assured of your highest consideration. No friendship is vital which lacks esteem and genuine appreciation.
The tendency in us all is to judge one another by limited considerations, but certainly for the Christian finding friendships in line with friendship with Christ, there must be a spacious appreciation of gifts and grace. We must at once be able to appreciate gifts that we do not possess and even more the gifts like our own possessed perhaps by our friend in greater measure. Then, of course, friendship demands service. Our Lord washed the disciples' feet because He was their friend. Ministry is the key to happiness. Happy is the home in which each seeks to minister to all. Happy the courtship in which each is seeking to serve the other. True service often requires a measure of real humility and that is good for us. But it no less discovers to those we serve their pride and self-satisfaction and so our ministry of service becomes enriching and ennobling. We ourselves are kept in the spirit of humility and so grow in grace, and our friends will be drawn heavenward to nobler aspirations. Things contemptible can never survive the dynamic power of a true humility that seeks to serve. Make the least demands upon your friends that you can, hold back nothing in yourself wherein you can serve them and you are laying down the rules of a life that will repay you both in this world and in the next.
All this means that the Spirit of Christ will dominate your whole relationship. Grace, gentleness, kindness and winsomeness which may not naturally be yours, will flourish, as your Heavenly Friend endues you with His Spirit for friendship. That will be significant and important because in every friendship sooner or later there will be need of adjustments, of forgiveness, of sympathy and goodwill. We may have to be frank about a matter. Remembering that " faithful are the wounds of a friend " we shall not suppose that we have been ordained to correct our friends and to put them right, but we shall understand that " friendly wounds are faithful." A misunderstanding is a crisis in a friendship. If we are endued with the Spirit of our Friend in heaven we shall be able to say the true word in the loving and humble spirit. We shall be frank and fearless and yet we shall be overflowing with love, and hearts will be knit together more firmly. Once we see that friendship is a holy association in which characters are to be moulded and developed we shall watch them jealously. What a great contribution to life has been made by anybody who has enriched the life of another with a golden friendship.
MARRING A FRIENDSHIP
Friendships can be marred and wrecked. What was intended by God to be enriching may easily be devastating, leaving scars behind that are never effaced, or their pain forgotten. Every friendship requires understanding. As intimacy increases so defects are laid bare and things not suspected at first are brought to light. Dispositions and tendencies that are not observed by the casual acquaintance soon show themselves to friends. As this happens we shall do well to remember that we ourselves are not perfect and that an essential part of a friendship is patience, forbearance and forgiveness. If we have been careful to select our friends in the Lord's will, then be sure the Lord would have us be kind and pitiful. Patience will ennoble our friend and enrich our own characters. Many a friendship has been broken off at the first misunderstanding, which, had there been patience, would have brought great blessing in its continuance. Wherever two Christians develop a friendship in the Lord designed for their mutual uplift Satan will seek to separate, and we must not be ignorant of his devices. Every friendship requires reciprocity. If we desire to be a true friend we must be ready to listen as well as to talk, as ready to share the burdens of the other as to place our burdens on him or her.
We all have differing points of view because we are all imperfect. Biases have been created by upbringing and circumstance. Our friends who come to conclusions different from our own may be wrong, but nevertheless their thoughts and ideas may provide that measure of adjustment that we need. Friendship therefore requires that we listen and endeavour to understand even when we are compelled to differ. However strong our own position may be, we derive great blessing from the consideration of sincere convictions held by our friends. Failure to give and take will mar a friendship, separating those who, had they had patience, would have been a great help to each other on the pathway. Jealousy always lurks on the heels of every friendship. We tend to be possessive. The danger arises whenever we allow a human friendship to he more to us than our friendship with the Lord. That means we are willing to strain our obedience to the Lord in the interest of our friend. Let us ever remember that no human friendship can satisfy the deeps of the human heart. There is in us that which God alone can satisfy. That is the best friendship, which realises this limitation.
We find in the secret place with our Lord that which no human friendship can supply. If we recognise this our friendship will never be ruined by jealousy and possessiveness. Friends should always be candid with one another. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." But the greater your candour the greater your love. It is so easy as the novelty of a friendship wears off for us to become candid and critical and to lack love. If friends really trust each other and there is genuine love in their relationship then in perfect candour they can help one another. This is one of the great advantages of a friendship. Candour on the one side, simplicity and humility on the other, will mean that friends can mutually correct and help one another. But if we speak candidly and yet not lovingly; or, if when our friends speak to us we suspect their motives, then one of the great possibilities of friendship has been frustrated. These are simple considerations perhaps, but who does not look back on his life and see what rich and fruitful friendships have perished because of these things. The new disciple should resolve to keep his or her friendships within the Lord's approval, to cultivate the friendships He approves, to be patient and understanding so that old friendships are preserved to be full of joy in the Lord so that all along the pilgrim path new friendships may be made and cultivated. As the years increase life will be richer and more fruitful as we give our best to our friends and they give of their best to us.
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