Friends of God
by Dennis Pollock
Our world is filled with a vast array of peoples and cultures. Each culture is in some ways unique. The lifestyle of a peasant laborer in interior Brazil could hardly be more different than that of a New York stockbroker. And yet despite our huge and glaring differences there are certain features common to all humanity, which may be found in every nation, every tribe, and every people. One of those common features is friendship. Everywhere and in every culture people develop friendships. Somehow it is instinctive in the human heart to seek out like-minded individuals and enter into bonds of friendship.
Rarely do people consider the idea of becoming friends with God, however. Surely He is too big, too mysterious, too holy, too… well everything, for Him to condescend to becoming friends with flawed, issue-ridden, mistake-prone, sweaty, smelly, petty, not-so-attractive people such as we know we are. God is the Lord, He is the Almighty, He is the Judge of all the earth, He is the great King of the universe, the Ruler of heaven and earth… but our Friend? Surely not!
And yet friendship with God is one of the plain teachings of the Bible. We first see this made evident with the patriarch Abraham. Although it is amazing to believe, the Bible tells us that Abraham was not merely God's servant; he was His friend. In Jehoshaphat's prayer in 2 Chronicles, he declares, "Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever?" (2 Chronicles 20:7). Isaiah prophesies to Israel: "But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham My friend" (Isaiah 41:8). Israel was special; Israel was chosen; Israel enjoyed unique privileges because they were the descendants of one of God's close friends, the man named Abraham.
How incredible to think that a man can become a friend to the Almighty Creator of all things. To believe that the God who holds our breath in His hands and who owns all our ways has friends on the earth – men and women whom He enjoys spending time with, "hanging out" with. Lest we assume that this was a one-time thing, something that only held true with the father of the Jewish nation, we find the same concept clearly articulated by our Lord Jesus and applied to those who would be His followers. In the fifteenth chapter of John, Jesus is talking with His disciples, giving them some final teaching and instruction, knowing He will shortly be leaving them. He declares: "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends."
Our Lord is elevating His followers to the highest level. He is not dying for His slaves or His workers or His students or His soldiers or His subjects – He is dying for His friends. This goes to the heart of what Christianity is about. Some have erroneously supposed that the Christian life is about keeping certain rules. Be a good little girl or boy, avoid the big sins, go to church a lot, and God will allow you into heaven. But Jesus came to bring us into a dynamic, vibrant relationship with our Creator – a relationship that is far deeper and richer than the employee/boss or slave/master or soldier/commander concept that we sometimes envision. To understand this relationship let us consider what human friendship involves.
One of the key components of friendship is enjoyment. Many relationships are built around necessity. People often band together to accomplish projects, soldiers work together to defeat a common enemy, workers relate to one another because their job and the success of their company demand it. Sometimes fairly close bonds can form, and people can get to know each other pretty well in such cases, but this is not friendship. Friendship exists when people spend time with each other unnecessarily. They don't have to go to the ball game together or eat lunch together or play golf together or talk on the phone for an hour with each other. There is no strict necessity, but they do it anyway. They do it for the obvious reason that they enjoy it. They take pleasure in each other's company. Many co-workers spend 40 hours a week in each other's presence, but when they are off the clock they never consider seeing each other outside of work.
This is how some people view God. They are willing to spend time with Him on "official business." They will sing to Him every Sunday morning and they will endure a sermon from His word. And if their life hits a major crisis they will talk with Him, oftentimes at great length. But otherwise they are content to leave Him alone. He is busy with His business of running the universe and they are busy with their business of running their little world, so no need of bothering each other.
But this is not friendship. Friends enjoy each other, and they do not need a major crisis to bring them together. Another word very close to friendship is the word fellowship. The Scriptures declare, "and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). In another place we read, "God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:9). Fellowship requires two ingredients: communication and time together. This is true with human friendships and it is true with our divine Friend as well.
When it comes to prayer, people fall into three basic categories. First, many people never or rarely pray, except for extreme emergencies. Secondly, some people pray out of a sense of duty. They pray before meals and may even have a short period in the day where they spend some time in prayer. But they find no delight in it, and pray only as much as they feel is the absolute minimum "requirement." The third category includes those who are drawn naturally to prayer and actually find it pleasurable. They often sense the presence of the Holy Spirit in their prayer times, adding a sweetness to the experience that keeps them coming back for more. They talk with God the Father and Christ the Son the way friends talk to each other, and yet with a deep reverence and respect. They talk to God in set prayer times, but also as they drive their car, take the trash out, lie on their beds, walk through the aisles of Wal Mart, receive good news in the mail, receive bad news in the mail, get a promotion, get fired, enter a new chapter in their life, close an old chapter, or find themselves in a chapter that seems to go on forever. It's not as though they pray non-stop, 24/7. No earthly friends do that, and it would be a terrible, unnecessary, and impossible burden for us to attempt it with God. But God's friends are keenly aware that He is always with them, and throughout the day they find a way to stay in touch with Him.
Perhaps most amazing of all is that this friendship is not a one-way street. Not only do we find pleasure in relating to God; He enjoys His fellowship with us. He is our inheritance through Jesus Christ, and yet we are His as well. Zephaniah writes: "The LORD your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing" (Zephaniah 3:17). In Psalms it is written: "The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him" (Psalms 147:11). Another psalm says, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and He delights in his way" (Psalm 37:23). It is almost unbelievable and yet the Bible plainly declares that our God actually enjoys and takes pleasure in His relationship with us. As we pray and praise and sing to our God, He smiles. As Noah offered sacrifice to the Lord after the flood, the Bible tells us, "The LORD smelled a soothing aroma." In Revelation the prayers of God's people are described as going up to the Lord with a sweet-smelling incense. God's love for His friends is more than a cold, mechanical choice to do us good; it is warm, passionate, lively, energetic, and gushing with feelings.
Faith and Friendship
Imagine trying to maintain a close relationship with someone who was constantly calling you a liar. In no time at all the friendship would break down altogether. Similarly God expects His friends to believe Him. James writes: "And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. And he was called the friend of God" (James 2:23). Believing God starts with our believing His word, the Bible. God's friends have always had a special love for the holy Scriptures. From the apostles to the present day, the men and women who have had a close intimacy with the Almighty have been individuals with worn out, marked up, constantly read Bibles. These individuals read the Scriptures, believed what they read, and acted and lived upon those words. To call yourself a friend of God and have little use for the love letter He has written you is a contradiction. God's friends love His word!
And He reveals to them secrets from those words. Jesus says, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). Masters tell their slaves what to do, but they never tell them why. Nor do they share with them intimate secrets about their lives or details about their future plans. A slave needs only to know his day's assignment.
God's friends are unique. They hear things from their divine Friend about Him, and about His future plans as they read the Scriptures and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, their personal Tutor. When God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, He said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing…?" (Genesis 18:17). No, He did not hide it, and told His friend everything. And although Abraham's pleading for the entire city of Sodom was not granted, he was able to bring about mercy for his nephew Lot and his family. In Genesis we read: "And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow" (Genesis 19:29). It pays to have one of God's friends praying for you!
Cost of Friendship
There is a cost to being a friend of God. Some people like to say that Jesus was a friend of sinners. Actually this is not true. Our Lord was friendly to sinners, He loved sinners, and He ate at their houses and endured the scandal that this brought on Him. But when it came to friendship, the men and women that He would continually "hang out" with, the ones He found such pleasure in, those He shared His intimate secrets with, this was a different matter. Jesus stated, "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you" (John 15:14). Those willing to forsake all and follow Him were the only ones allowed to be His true friends.
So it is today. In spiritual terms you only have two choices: you can be a friend of the world or you can be Jesus' friend. To be friends of this world – to delight in the ungodly music, the heavy emphasis upon sex, the irreverent style, the preoccupation with fashion, the blatant disregard for the commands and values of the Bible – to be a friend of all this is to make yourself an enemy of God. To be a friend of Jesus is to first of all believe Him. To believe Him when He tells you that you must be born again, to believe Him when He tells you to forgive your enemies, to care for the poor, to keep yourself sexually pure. And secondly, to be His friend means allowing His words and values to shape the course of your life, to affect your choices, your habits, and your daily routines. Then and only then can you say, "I am a friend of God."
God doesn't spoil His friends. Sometimes He allows them to go through some very painful times and experiences. But His eye is always on them, and He delights to show Himself strong in their lives when they call upon Him. And the future He is planning for them is beyond anything we could imagine.
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