My earliest memories of Sunday morning around our house included a better-than-usual breakfast, watching the Gospel Singing Jubilee on TV, patent leather shoes with frilly lace socks (which I hated), and napping on the pew during the sermon. My soft-hearted Sunday School teacher always laid out a napkin in front of each of us. On it, she placed either two Nilla wafers or two of those flower-shaped butter cookies that fit just right on the end of your pinky. Next to the napkin, she gently sat a Dixie cup filled with juice or Kool-Aid. I liked the red Kool-Aid best of all – except when I spilled it on my dress.
Did you grow up in a similar way? If you did, you and I developed a healthy respect for God at a very early age. It didn’t take long for us to realize God’s power when we learned about creation, or His majesty when David described Him as the King of glory, or His love when we heard Jesus died in our place. God rightfully held the highest place of honor and esteem in our lives.
As I grew older, every once in a while, I’d hear a friend or two talk about their friendship with God. I didn’t understand what that meant. My relationship with Him meant that I just tried my best to not make a mistake. Then, maybe, just maybe, if I did more good things than bad, He’d one day punch my ticket for heaven. My friends talked about God as though He was their friend. But, in my mind, friendship watered down His majesty. How could a lowly human become friends with such a mighty King?
Whatever those friends had experienced, I missed it somewhere along the way. That “it” intrigued me to no end, but it took a good 50 years and a better understanding of friendship for me to learn how to become friends with Jesus.
As my understanding grew, I began to notice how Jesus modeled healthy friendships. His level of intimacy with the people in His life resembled circles rippling from a dropped pebble in a pond. His outermost circle seemed to include everyone He met because He truly loved them all, whether they loved Him back or not.
Inside the next circle were the ones who were merely interested in relaying facts. The Samaritan woman began her friendship with Jesus this way. Jesus already knew the facts of her life, but He also shared some of His facts with her: “Whoever drinks from the water I give him will never get thirsty again. In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.” (John 4:14) Even though Jesus desired a deeper dialogue, the woman was initially content to simply talk about politics and religion.
The next ripple in His friendship pond represented those who engaged in sharing ideas. Amazement brought Nicodemus (John 3) to Jesus at night. This Pharisee was supposed to be “in the know”, yet he didn’t know what he didn’t know. He went to Jesus looking for answers. Jesus gladly filled him in on how to enter the kingdom of God. This new way was initiated through a relationship rather than vainly attempting to do more good things than bad.
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus might be included in the next closest circle of friends, one where true feelings are expressed. We know Jesus’ love for Lazarus had already been expressed since Martha and Mary sent a message to Jesus saying, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (John 11:3) But after Lazarus’ death, the two sisters poured out heartbreak and blame onto their friend who was also grieving. Jesus offered them individual reassurance of His love and power. Good friends take turns in sharing their raw feelings and in sympathetically accepting the brunt of negative emotions.
Then, finally, we come to Jesus’ inner circle. The disciples fell into this group because they did life with Him on a daily basis. Jesus and the twelve shared intimate details of their lives. However, when push came to shove in Gethsemane, Jesus took only three friends with Him into the garden – Peter, James, and John. He needed to know that His dearest friends were close. Perhaps, their purpose in being nearby was to give Him a clearer picture of the ones He came to save and thus, provided Him with a stronger resolve. Friends in this tight-knit circle, not only do life with us, but they also stay close in troubling times and remind us of our purpose.
The friends in my inner circles didn’t get there overnight. I’m blessed to have a husband of 41 years who has become my very best friend, but I needed some girlfriends to talk over girl things in girl ways. Thankfully, God sent a friend who, for several years, has seemed happy to meet me for lunch most every Tuesday. We sharpen each other, but rarely rub each other the wrong way. Over time, she’s learned all my faults and loves me anyway – just like Jesus.
I also have a small army of friends that continue to bless me in ways I surely don’t deserve – just like Jesus. Each of them brings a different gift to my friendship table. Each gift has given me insight into how to become better friends with Jesus. When we become friends with Jesus, He teaches us how to become better friends with others.
On my table of friendship, you will find the gifts I’ve been given: communication, hugs, time, feedback, transparency, listening, laughter, tears, and service. The more I get to know my friends, the more I realize how valuable these gifts are in my relationship with Jesus. I can now picture Jesus clearly in my mind with smiling eyes and a wide grin. I can feel Him drawing near. We talk, laugh, sing, and serve together. I’ve been known to fuss with Him, but He lets me pour out my heart as any good friend would. Then, through the Spirit, He tells me what I need to hear. Two-way conversations are the best.
Becoming dear friends with Jesus allows each of us the privilege of walking into the throne room of the majestic King of kings. With Jesus at my side, I no longer fear God as a stern dictator. He becomes my Abba Father who loves me with an everlasting love. He stops everything the second we walk in and never makes me feel like I’m imposing. Stepping down from His majestic throne with arms wide open, He runs to wrap me up in His Fatherly love and softly whispers, “Welcome, Friend. Any friend of Jesus is a friend of mine.”
He will gladly do the same for you.
I still listen to music on Sunday mornings while I’m getting ready for church. However, I no longer nap during the sermon, and I surely don’t EVER wear frilly lace socks! Although, I do eat a wafer and drink some red juice in honor of my friend Jesus. In my mind, He stands right in front of me when I sing and sits close to me when I pray. Rarely, do I miss an opportunity to thank Him for my husband and friends who taught me how to become better friends with Him.
“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.”Jesus, John 15:15