I’ve been looking forward to this week for awhile. Last couple weeks have been heavy. In a good way. And this week I want to talk about something that to me, feels lighter, but not less important. And that’s the idea of friendship.
To catch you up if you’ve missed the story so far: David – has this dramatic anointing, he’s killed Goliath in this incredible military victory. Which is all pretty positive. David is on top of the world. But as you’ll come to find out, David never stays on top of the world for long. David’s life in a lot of ways is an obstacle course of one thing after the next. – Lions, and Bears, and Giants, and homicidal Kings. Saul is going to try to kill David 6 times in just a few chapters. And what’s interesting is that right in the middle of that, we read about this friendship that for David is in a very literal sense a ‘saving grace’ for David.
Friendship defined poorly
Before we get to the text, challenge how we think about friendship because it’s so poorly defined in our culture.
Case and point here is facebook. You all know I hate facebook with the wrath of a thousand suns. I’m not ‘on’ facebook the way a lot of people are. I do have an account but I don’t ever get on there. I don’t think I’ve checked my facebook yet in 2019. The little notification icon, just stays at 99 all the time for me, I never click it. The problem is: I am the most casual user of facebook you can be, while other people are more ‘hardcore’ users. And sometimes this is awkward.
I’ll get a facebook message “Pastor David, I need help, my best friend committed suicide and now I think I may want to as well.” And then I respond 3 months later “Hey sorry, hope everything turned out alright.”
Me and Jordan have had this happen to us, where people will post something on facebook, not even TO us, just on their own wall and they expect that we’ve seen it. I’m a pastor, so I preach on Sundays and then just walk around the mall the rest of the week, aimlessly. Just walk around the mall and check facebook. Facebook is about to get especially interesting as we come into this next political season, so if you’re a facebook user, have a good time. Cut each other, stab each other, wound each other, bleed all over the place. I’m just glad I don’t have to look at it.
But I do think it’s starting to redefine what a ‘friend’ is. How do you know many friends do you have? Well there’s a number right there on facebook. That’s how many friends I have, I have 3400 friends.
I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but you’re aware that those people are not all your friends. They don’t all care about you. And you know what, you don’t care about all of them. You don’t care about all your facebook friends. You love them in the way we’re supposed to love everybody with the love of Christ, bla bla. You know what I mean.
I think facebook is starting to change the meaning on the word friend, where now, friend is this huge category of anybody we know. And again, they are not all your friends. They’re people you’re trying to impress, which is, in a very real way, the opposite of friendship. Friendship is where you’re free to be yourself.
Dings – car
I’ve never in my life owned a brand new car, until last year. When we got Grace, I knew that my wife Jordan needed an upgrade. She was driving a 17 year old civic with bald tires. And we didn’t want to put a baby in that car. So we went and we decided to get a brand new car for Jordan and Grace.
It had this immaculate paint job, shiny, sleek. Not a ding or a scratch anywhere.
Well one day, we went grocery shopping at Walmart. And we shop and we come out and there’s this ding on the side of the car and a scratch.
And you know what I was like? I was like “Oh thank God.” Having a car with a perfect paint job is so stressful. So when it finally got messed up, I was so relieved. Having a perfect paint job must be like having a perfect body. What a nightmare. You’re like ‘If I eat 7 Cheetos, this all goes away.’
Friendship is where it’s ok for you to have dings.
I think we need to define friendship better.
I’ve talked about Henri Nouwen before, he’s this author if you’ve never read anything of his I’ll say this. Henri Nouwen is able to tap into something in me where he can legitimately make me cry when I’m reading his books, and I don’t ever cry when I read. But Henri Nouwen is able to say things in just a particular way that breaks my heart, in a good way.
henri-nouwen He has this book ‘Life of the Beloved’ and look at what he says in it:
“The greatest gift my friendship can give you is the gift of your Belovedness. I can give that gift only insofar as I have claimed it for myself. Isn’t that what friendship is all about: giving each other the gift of our Belovedness?” – “Deep friendship is a calling forth of each other’s chosenness and a mutual affirmation of being precious in God’s eyes”
1 Samuel 17:55-18:5
Just – killed Goliath.
As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is that young man?” Abner replied, “As surely as you live, Your Majesty, I don’t know.” (1 Samuel 17:55)
I think that’s funny. “AS SURELY AS I LIVE!! I don’t know.”
The king said, “Find out whose son this young man is.” (1 Samuel 17:56)
As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head. (1 Samuel 17:57)
“Whose son are you, young man?” Saul asked him. David said, “I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem.” (1 Samuel 17:58)
After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. (1 Samuel 18:1)
What a beautiful picture of friendship – he loved him as himself.
From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family. (1 Samuel 18:2)
So do you see this is a big change in the life of David. Saul doesn’t let him return home but keeps him with
And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. (1 Samuel 18:3)
Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt. (1 Samuel 18:4)
Jonathan gives David literally the clothes off his back, but this is more than just clothes. When Jonathan gives David his robe and armor, it symbolizes Jonathan giving the throne to David. That he wants David to be the next King.
Whatever mission Saul sent him on, David was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the troops, and Saul’s officers as well. (1 Samuel 18:5)
Beautiful – safe space.
One thing that I think it really beautiful in the story of David is how David’s friendship with Jonathan ends up being this safe space for David, right in the middle of all these trails and tribulations, that there was this soul friend that helped David stay strong. I truly believe that Jonathan enables David to be as successful as he is.
And in a lot of ways, this seems like an unlikely friendship.
Jonathan is the Kings son – so he is the heir apparent to the throne. – So it would seem like he would have more reason than anyone to be suspicious of David.
“Here I am the next King, and my dad is giving all this attention and all these accolades to this punk.” – You’d think he’d be threatened by David. But he wasn’t. He wasn’t threatened by him and he wasn’t jealous of him.
I could say a lot about how it’s important to have friendships where you’re not threatened by each other.
But not only is Jonathan not threatened by David, Jonathan becomes David’s biggest advocate.
I think this is the ultimate example of friendship in the bible.
If we skip ahead to 2 Samuel, David is lamenting the death of his dear friend Jonathan. And there’s this dirge, which is like a funeral song from David and look at what he says:
I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women. (2 Samuel 1:26)
No I do not think that the text indicates that Jonathan and David had any kind of erotic relationship. Absolutely not. But this statement is incredible. David is saying ‘I’ve had wives a nd all that, but Jonathan, our friendship meant more to me than any wife.
Not only do I think friendship is misunderstood, I think it’s undervalued. Certainly in the world, but sometimes in the church as well.
C.S. Lewis – friendship ≠ necessary survival.
C.S. Lewis talks about how of all the different relationships we have, friendship is the one that’s not necessary for your survival. It makes sense that you’d need sexual love, and you’d need family, to propagate the species. And makes sense that you’d need kind of like ‘business associates’ in order to accomplish any task that’s bigger than yourself. Like built a pyramid or something. But friendship, eh. You can survive just fine without it. But to neglect friendship is a huge mistake.
Genesis: Adam – perfection – lonely
Think about this: There’s lot of things to extract from the creation story in Genesis, but think about this: Adam was living in perfection. And he was still lonely.
So to be lonely is not to be sinful. To be lonely is to be human, made in the image of God who has relationality within himself.
No matter how much you try and deny it, you were built for connection.
Stanley Hauerwas watching Friends
Stanley Hauerwas is this amazing theologian. Brilliant and hysterical. If your wacky uncle just so happened to be a brilliant theologian, that’s Stanley Hauerwas. He was named by Time magazine as Americas best theologian.
It’s funny that he tells the story of doing a class on friendship and being asked to watch the show ‘friends’. I love the mental picture of Stanley Hauerwas sitting at home on a Thursday night watching the back catalog of friends. That just makes my heart happy. Well predictably, he hated it, and he cursed about it, he curses about a lot of things. But he said ‘Who could possibility be friends with any of these people? These are the most shallow and superficial people I’ve seen in my entire life. I can’t believe anyone would be friends with these people.’ – That was his response.
But he goes on to say that one thing the show teaches us about popular culture is that people are desperate for true, authentic, vulnerable friendship.
Stanley Hauerwas says that friends are the people who make you feel more at ease with yourself. I love that definition.
I have always been good at making friends. I’m a pretty friendly guy. I mean, don’t you think? In all fairness, I’m pretty friendly.
So it’s been interesting that even this week I’ve started to honestly ask myself whether or not I’m a good friend.
And of course, being in ministry -there’s a huge amount of ‘community’ but it can be very lacking in this deeper thing of ‘friendship’. – I think one of the reasons is just because you’re always trying to take care of everybody, so you interactions over the course of a week – it’s just this revolving door of different people. So there’s a huge amount of community, but sometimes not a lot of friendship. – So you end up knowing lots of people, but not knowing anybody particularly well.
I’ve always been a very truthful person. Not in a sense that I don’t lie, but in a sense of be being truthful about myself. I try to be a vulnerable person. I try to do that when I’m preaching.
Sometimes I’ll hear someone preach and think to myself “I wonder what that guy is really like.” – Well for me, this is what I’m really like. In fact, I’d be happy to have coffee with you, but this is the truth, I’m more myself when I’m doing this than I will be when I’m having coffee with you. This is as much myself as I can possibly be. And I feel like when I preach, I make 90% of myself available to you. Anyone with Internet access has access to 90% of who I am. It’s public record.
Extremely guarded 10%
Here’s what’s interesting about that. That while I’m very open with the 90%, I’m extremely guarded with the 10%. With anybody.
And it’s not until recently that I’ve started to understand that that while that can make me a great casual friend, it can stop me from being a really good friend. This is what pastors can do, we can try to be friends with everybody, but then sometimes that makes it to where we’re not friends with anyone in particular.
And so if you want to know where I’m at personally with all this, it’s this: I’ve decided that I won’t sacrifice SOMEBODY on the altar of EVERYBODY. So that’s why for me, I’ve got these probably 5-10 friends that have access to me in ways that the rest of people don’t. Not because I don’t want to be a friend to everybody, but because it’s important for me not just to HAVE good friends, but to BE a good friend.
1. Utilize The Grover Principle
There’s a Sesame Street scene where Grover is jealous b/c his friends were getting letters in the mail and he wasn’t.
So he gets upset about this. Luckily people come up to grover and say “If you want to receive letters from people, you have to write letters to people. And if you write letters, they will probably write you back.”
And so Grover sits down with a pen and paper and starts his first letter, “Dear Mom, wish you were here.”
And Grover learns that when he writes letters to people that they write them back.
I realize that that’s a lesson for 5 year olds. But I really think that a lot of people stew in their own loneliness, and expect people to magically know that I want friendship. I wish it worked like that. Really I do. But it doesn’t.
It actually takes effort to build a real friendship. It even takes effort to maintain a friendship. Often times, it takes the courage to reach out to another person first. And as basic as that is, I think that’s why a lot of people miss out on meaningful friendships. Simply because they’re expecting it to happen automatically. It doesn’t.
2. Ask God to help you recognize existing friends.
And I don’t mean ‘recognizing’ like ‘Hey, hey there’s my friend Steve.’ – I mean recognizing them for who they really are to you.
This is what happens in this story with David and Jonathan, that there’s this moment where Jonathan recognizes that there’s something about David that he feels at home in.
John o’Donohue – Irish poet – wrote a book called Anam Cara – that’s a word in Celtic means ‘Soul Friend’. He says that people have these Anam Caras, these soul friends, but they don’t recognize them for who they are. That’s what humans do. We take people for granted.
And it’s not until someone is sick and dying or worse, already dead that we see them for the soul friend that they really are. And so I think for a lot of us who might feel like what we need is more friends, maybe, for some of you, you might just need to recognize those friends for who they really are. And nurture and care for those friendships instead of only looking for new ones.
“The greatest thing any person can do for another is to confirm the deepest thing in him, in her–to take the time and have the discernment to see what’s most deeply there, most fully that person, and then confirm it by recognizing and encouraging it.” (Martin Buber – Israeli philosopher, amazing thinker)
I love that idea of seeing what’s deepest and truest about them, and then recognizing that and encouraging that.
3. Have the courage to share how you feel.
Again, I hope I’m not being too basic here, but if you always keep you guard up, you’ll block getting hurt, but you’ll also block deep friendship.
I’m not exactly sure how long I’ve known my good friend Trish. But I’ll never forget that early in our relationship, I’d say “How you doing Trish?” And she would respond with “I’m doing ok, kind of a tough day at work, and my family’s going through a bit of a hard time right now.” And so I’m like “Oh! Oh, we’re really talking, ok!”
So it should surprise no one that within a very short time, I felt incredibly comfortable with Trish. And I could be open and honest with her just like she’s open and honest with me.
But if you’re thinking ‘I want deep friendship, but I also want to keep my defenses up and maintain this appearance of always being strong and right.’ – It doesn’t work like that.
Only when we open up are we able to meaningfully connect with other people.
George Elliot (poet, she’s a ‘she’) :
Oh, the comfort—
The inexpressible comfort of feeling
safe with a person,
Having neither to weigh
Nor measure words—but pouring them
All right out—just as they are—
Chaff and grain together—
Certain that a faithful hand will
Take and sift them—
Keep what is worth keeping—
and with the breath of kindness
Blow the rest away.
1 Samuel 20 (In fact, that’s your homework to read 1 Samuel 20, it’s the coolest story about friendship) – essentially what’s happening is that Saul’s murderous wrath has begun to burn against David. And Jonathan, Sauls son, essentially throws himself into the line of fire of his fathers wrath in order to save David. This is where they’re being reunited after David’s been in hiding essentially.
After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most. (1 Samuel 20:41)
Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’ ” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town. (1 Samuel 20:42)
There’s something so beautiful here about David and Jonathan coming together and just weeping.
These tough, rugged warriors. But their souls so exposed to each other that the very idea that one of them wasn’t safe. And when they see each other and they both learn they’re ok, and they just break down in tears.
Doesn’t mean that if you don’t cry on each other that you don’t have an authentic friendship. But that you let your heart, how you really feel, to be exposed to another person. That’s required to make a friendship really work.
I understand the tendency to self protect.
Love requires risk. When you love someone, of course there’s a chance they could hurt you.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. (C.S. Lewis)
Church life – influx/outflow
I’m exceptionally familiar with this in church life, because churches always have this influx of people and outflow of people. People are moving around. And so it’s particularly easy if a lot of your life happens at church, (like mine), that you have this tendency to self protect. Because there’s always this danger of them leaving you. And a lot of those variables are outside of your control.
It’s funny, I don’t know why this is, but it seems like the people who are most gung-ho, tend to be the people who leave the quickest.
“Your church is so awesome, I’ve been looking for it my whole life.” – 3 weeks later, where’d they go?”
“I never felt like anyone understood me before that sermon and now I love you more than anyone on earth.” – It’s like “Oh! You’re gonna leave aren’t you?”
But you sort of learn to insulate yourself.
And that doesn’t happen in just ministry. Some of us if we’ve been wounded or have felt abandoned, it can be unbelievably hard to let your guard down and let somebody in. But I want to persuade you that if you don’t let your guard down, real, deep, friendship is not possible.
4. Bless others without reservation.
I feel like so much of our relationships is built on NEED. And are you fulfilling MY needs. I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.
No matter what, I will bless you. How I treat you is not contingent on how you treat me. I will love you even if you don’t love me back. I’m not talking about some creepy fatal attraction thing “I will always love you.” And then you cook their pet rabbit. I’m talking about friendship where you’re content to be the blessing instead of always evaluating how people are treating you.
I don’t have time to balance everything, but I’m not saying you stay in abusive situations. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, forgiveness does not mean staying, forgiveness does not mean staying silent. I’m not saying that. I’m saying that to have true, authentic friendship, you need to be working to out-bless the other person.
Outbless – John Woods
I remember years ago, John Woods gave me this advise for marriage: Try to outserve your wife. Try to treat her better than she treats you. And then if you’re ever thinking ‘Hey, you don’t treat me as nice as I treat you!’ You just think ‘Cool! I’m doing it!’
Same is true in friendship. Try to out bless your friends. There’s a name for people who try to out-bless their friends: POPULAR Everyone wants to be around people that are always looking for ways to be a blessing.
Amazing – gift.
But think about how amazing that is: To be able to speak into the belovedness of another person, that’s a precious gift.
And to be able to communicate that with your words, I think is so important.
I know there’s different love languages and all that, but I personally think that if you’re unable to show your affection with your words, then somewhere something in you is clogged-up.
Jonathan Martin – blog
What about a friend for whom you would take a bullet, not out of some general Christian ethic or some sense of nobility, but because you genuinely cherish their life more than your own?
A friend for whom, if they were in an accident, you would run all the red lights until you got to them? It is far easier to insulate myself with many superficial relationships than to embrace the vulnerability required to have that kind of friendship.
But in that unselfish love, in that constant effective desire to do good to one another—risk melts away. And in place of all that guardedness and political image management, the only question that remains is: what will do you the most good in this particular moment? For you to be well, for you to be safe from harm as far as I can keep it from you, for you to thrive and be everything you are meant to become—in what way can I support you? In what way can I carry you? In what way can I lay my life down for you? It’s a love without contingencies, a love without constraints, it’s love without a back up plan. Not a crass “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”, not “I’ll serve your best interests if you serve mine”. But I’ll do good by you and for you—always. Whatever that means and whatever that requires.
It would seem that to have even one friendship like that would be enough to make a man unspeakably rich. I hope to be a great preacher, a great leader, a great writer. But to be a really good friend? That would really be something.
Which of course leads us directly to Jesus. Jesus is simultaneously the best friend you could ever have, and at the same time he shows you how to be a good friend to others.
As pass: God – universe – call you – friend.
What an amazing idea that the God of the entire universe would come and call you his friend. And so as they pass, just spend a minute meditating on that idea. God calls me his friend.
(Pass) / (Invitation) / (Pray)