My testimony, which started with my justification at age 5, would become filled with so many seasons of loneliness. Thirty years of sanctification later and His power at work in my life would shore up a deep friendship with my Savior.
This may come as a surprise since I come from a larger family, so how could I ever actually feel alone? While I could have walked away from all of the moves we did with a sense of sadness to not have a story that involved growing up in the same town, the same home, I didn't really care that I had a new bedroom every couple of years. I liked the adventure, but the lack of friendships was painful. I did get to see certain friends every year or so, but it felt more like a tease and sometimes I could only see our time together as a clock that was running out rather than trying to make the most of what we had.
As I mentioned, the good thing about all of this was that it sort of forced me to depend on a more Permanent Friend, Someone Who could be far more consistent in my life because He promised never to leave me alone. In that process, I remember feeling like He had taught me all I needed to know about friendship I guess, and it was time to move on to other aspects of His Person, like His holiness and His sovereignty. I think a part of me sealed up my understanding of His friendship for awhile so I could focus on what He was asking me to. After all the time that I have known Him, how could I think He was done with teaching me about His friendship??
I'll be the first to confess that I have expectations when it comes to friendships. I want the people I like to want to be my friend as much as I want to be theirs, and when there is a discrepancy in those facts, I get absolutely CRUSHED. I grieve something fierce from being so overwhelmed by that kind of hurt. It's ironic since I actually have been on the other side of this equation several times, and know very well the feeling of repulsion because someone is desperate to be my friend.
I expected to be married and that all of my adult friendships would be with my husband, with other wives and moms in the same season and even my peers, so it became a perennial blow with each passing year when that earthly hope failed. My desperation for human friendships became such an idol that I was willing to start sacrificing part of my God-given personality for crumbs of acceptance from others. I was willing to do friendship on their terms, no matter what it cost me. I started watching myself struggle with coveting the closeness others had, envious and feeling threatened if there were other interactions that put my own friendship at risk. Having to live out relationships as defined by the other person and what made them feel safe and comfortable made me think I was being loving and patient with them. Wasn't I just practicing Philippians 2:3 and looking out for their own interests? If that was truly my motivation, really if I was actually doing so out of a godly humility as the context dictates, then maybe I would not have spent so much time hurting over the loss of my dreams for what our friendship had the potential to become.
There He was. My Loyal Friend showing up in John 15 to teach me anew what my friendship with Him is supposed to look like so I could then extend it to others. The terms of friendship that God wants with His people looks like this:
1. Expressed in SACRIFICIAL LOVE (v.13): "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." Total surrender of his body, his life-breath, his spirit is his standard. If I am showing love to others, it can't be motivated by anything else than actual and true love for them, not because it is supposed to be an even exchange like those split heart BFF necklaces of a bygone-yet-back-again era. I confess to having plenty of stored up conditions to friendship with others. His love started this whole thing (1 John 4:19), and His unconditional love is what keeps our relationship alive, and THAT is what I want others to know about Jesus' friendship through how I show it.
2. Requiring TOTAL OBEDIENCE (v. 14): "You are my friends if you do what I command you." Boy, if ever there was a verse that 21st century America would contend with, this might be it. How dare His friendship be demanding in this kind of way! He is unapologetic and uncompromising in this contractual point. In our relationship with Him, He has AUTHORITY. He is to be obeyed, and what exactly are these commands that He expects us to follow? Well, loving others in the first place, and while this can often feel exceptionally difficult, I think the only reason it is is because of the sacrificial part in point 1. How do I know that? Because everything about His commands as we know them is defined as "NOT burdensome" (1 John 5:3, emphasis mine). That means that the only way I can do that, to love in the obedient way His friendship demands is by letting Him love them THROUGH me. I have to step aside. I have to die to myself and my expectations. (If you really want your mind blown on this point, see James 4:4-10)
3. Necessitating HONEST and OPEN COMMUNICATION (v. 15): "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." I breathe a sigh of relief when I read that, especially after reading the Power dynamic he just defined. He does not want to relate to me as Dictator, though we know that as Lord, He still is the Master of our lives. He wants to make sure that he doesn't hide things from us. He wants everything to be clear and wants us to talk to Him about everything, so He led by example. He revealed the exact nature of the Father and all of His goodness by showing up in he form of Jesus (Hebrews 1:3). It only makes sense that when it comes to our friendships with others, He would want us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), to confess our sins to Him and to each other (1 John 1:9, James 5:16). While He Himself never sinned and did not practice confession, He still met with His Father on the regular to pour our His heart to Him.
4. Keeping ever in mind WHO CHOSE WHO (v.16): "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you." He never wanted us to forget in all of it that it was Him who chose first. When I remember that He PICKED me, I don't care if anyone else does. The Greatest God Man Of All Time and Beyond PICKED ME for a purpose. He wanted me to know how valuable my relationship with the Generous Father would be too. So as I think about practicing this, I want people to feel a sense of belonging not to ME, but TO GOD. For there is nothing more sacred and precious.
I find myself so humbled and thankful, willing to sign on the dotted line of this contract for His continual friendship, not the way I think my friendship should look like with Him, or even with others, but HOW HE SAID IT SHOULD BE. There's something so freeing about doing it His way instead of my own.
Forgive me Lord, for trying to find life by abiding in other friendships, rather than from abiding in You, the ONLY source of life there is. You said it (John 10:10, 14:6), and I believe it. Thank you for staying in me and with me, and help me do the same in all ways, and in particular when I interact with those you have given me. Amen.
I'm totally supposed to be writing a book right now. And I mean, I am. But this morning, God gave me a word that He would have declared by these "hands" which you will shortly come to see is delightfully ironic. There is no playful metaphor, no witty anecdotes which I typically try and weave in for all our sake. So, just the facts this morning for the glory of our great God and Savior.
I read Luke 8 :26-39 this morning and was struck by how this man, due to his being possessed by demons, found his home surrounded by a place of death (v. 27). It wasn't that is was comfortable for him, but it was familiar. And if it wasn't among the tombs, the desert was where he wound up, a place of loneliness (v. 29). This man was plagued by loss of life, loss of community and loss of sober-mindedness. All the demons did was take from him, so when Jesus confronts the demons who had made him their host, they knew their time had run out. They were well-acquainted with what he was capable of and the authority he had (remember, they were angles once upon a time). Having made themselves quite at home in the man's body, they would have to surrender their practice of eliciting fear in the hearts of many with every shackle he broke. Notice also that they had one request, ultimately an appeal for mercy: they did not want to go back to the abyss. Does that not strike you as absolutely crazy? Even the demons did not want to be ejected and forced back to the place they had chosen long ago as their forever home!
Anyway, the man who was once naked and ashamed, was now clothed and sober! He had been made whole because the voices had stopped, the noise subsided and he was experiencing a freedom he had not ever known before. Not only was he enjoying the absence of these terrors, but the peace that accompanies the fullness of restoration that Christ offers! No longer was he driven to destitute places and forced to make them his home because his new place of refuge was at the feet of Jesus (v. 35).
Those feet. Mary would sit at them listening and being when the rest of the world told her she should working and doing. Mary Magdalene would find them so valuable that she was willing to sacrifice so many costly things from her reputation to her expensive perfume. It was the hem of his garment, near his feet, that the woman would touch in the confident and fulfilled expectation of healing. Though nailed to the cross, his feet would be that which crushed the serpent's head and will at the end be what all things are subjected underneath. They would have been the last thing that the disciples saw as he ascended to heaven, a final image for them to be His feet here on earth.
So, when the man's feet were following his full heart of love for Jesus and wanted to go with him, Jesus wanted him to return to the place he hadn't been for awhile, the place where everyone was afraid of him and where he was probably still pretty isolated (v. 39). This would not have been easy and on top of that, He couldn't just stay silent. Jesus asked him to declare the volume and the mass of what he God had done for him. Such a salvation was not a secret to be kept! And clearly this man's conversion was authentic for he went everywhere (the "whole city") telling of the goodness of God.
We have the privilege of not only sitting at the humble place at his feet, but of being his feet as we proclaim how He has taken us from shackles of death to the delight of sunshine. We are commanded by our King to serve him by testifying to His grace to clothe us in righteousness and to grant us the kind of peace that surpasses understanding that comes from a mind that is stayed on Him. What a privilege!