Dr. Ed Hurley
What is a friend? Is a friend someone who always agrees with me and always takes my side, a yes man, someone who seconds whatever motion I happen to make? Not necessarily… in fact, a friend is someone who may disagree with me if he or she sees me doing something or saying something he or she knows might hurt me.
A friend is someone who wants the very best for your life. A friend is someone who is willing to give some of himself or herself to help you move toward your best. A friend is someone who gives you space when you need it, and can let you make your own decisions, even make your own mistakes. A friend welcomes you, cares for you, but does not try to manipulate or control you. A friend is someone who doesn’t run away when you make a mess of everything and yet, nevertheless, in spite of any mess, any problem, any flaw, still accepts you as a friend, no matter what! My friend, Paul Watermulder, who is a pastor out in the San Francisco – Burlingame area says this about friendship:
“What is a friend? I will tell you. It is a person with whom you dare to be yourself. Your soul can be naked with him. He or she seems to ask of you to put nothing on, only to be what you are. He or she does not want you to be better or worse. When you are with a friend, you feel as a prisoner who has been declared innocent. You do not have to be on guard, you can say what you think as long as it is genuinely you. A friend understands those contradictions in your nature that lead others to misjudge you. With a friend you breathe freely. You can avow your little vanities and envies and hates and vicious remarks, your meanness and absurdities, and, in opening them up, they are lost, dissolved in the white ocean of loyalty. He or she understands. You do not have to be careful. You can abuse, neglect, tolerate. Best of all, you can keep still. It does not matter. A friend likes you and is the fire that purges to the bone. A friend understands.”
There is GOOD NEWS! God wants to be our Friend. He created us for companionship. He created us to live in community with other people. He does not want us to be left all alone. Remember the first Man, the first Woman, Adam and Eve—God created them for each other, to be in relationship with each other and with Him. You see, God is love! You have heard that, and maybe it has sort of just rolled off your back as a silly little saying decorating the wall of your Grandmother’s kitchen. But it is a deep truth of the universe. God is love! God created us to love and to be loved—those first two people, and all the people he has caused to be born and live, ever. Including YOU! God is love, and God loves you! God is not some cosmic policeman, some angry judge, some mean teacher, some thoughtless coach, trying to catch us up in sinful disobedience, and when we fail, snap the mouse trap and say, “Gotcha!” Sin means, “missing the mark or the target.” The arrow goes astray. God’s target for us is to live in loving relationship with Him. Jesus said, “I came that you may have life in abundance.” God wants us to experience a real life, a full life, an abundant life with Him. Right where you are, God wants to be with you. Sin is thus missing that target of a loving relationship with God. Sin is going our own way. This separation from God is what sin is. There was a father who had a son who demanded his inheritance from his father, and the father gave it to him. The boy took it and went off to a distant country, where he wasted it all and got wasted. He made a mess of his life. He broke relationship with his father. He separated himself from his father. But that is not the end of the story. The father did not let his boy go and remain separated forever from him. God went out to him and welcomed him home. Probably the best known verse in all the Bible is this, John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Everybody knows that verse, at least from seeing it hoisted on a sign behind the goal posts at a football game. But there is an important verse that follows, John 3:17. This describes God’s intention in sending Jesus. “Indeed God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” God loves us. God wants the best for you. There is nothing you have ever done that can make God love you any more. And there is nothing you have ever done that can make God love you any less. God loves you!
God wants to be our friend. But even God cannot have a friendship alone. Friendship is a two-way street. It takes two, with both persons giving and receiving affection and esteem. It is up to us to OPEN THE DOOR TO GOD’S FRIENDSHIP. I was a church kid. I grew up in a home with two parents. They were not so hot as a loving couple, and they later got divorced. But they were good parents, and every Sunday they took my sister and me to Church. Yes, I grew up going to church. But I was very lonely, very awkward, and very needy as a kid. And I really did not know God as my Friend. I even, and you will laugh at this, remember in youth group at church one night hearing two men who had been in prison, gotten caught up in some tough things: lots of drugs, drinking, and other things. I remember they described that it got so bad with the drugs that they spent a week in a big trash dumpster, and did not come to until a load of trash was dumped in on top of them. Then they discovered what a friend they had in Jesus, and Jesus turned their lives around. I remember thinking, “Gee, I wish I had a dramatic story like that to tell.” But I don’t. And really, I am glad I don’t! Yet I do have a story of how God turned my life around and changed me from just being a church kid to being a friend of Jesus. Jesus showed me he really is my friend. God met me in Jesus when I was this gangly, awkward and lonely 7th grader. A group of kids in my town who called themselves, “Teens for Christ,” came to our Church and told us their story of how they had discovered God loves them and God was their friend. And they invited us to ask God to come in and establish a friendship relationship with us.
A wonderful man by the name of Henri Nouwen wrote about how friendship with God changed his life. He wrote, “Intellectually, I knew that no human friendship could fulfill the deepest longing of my heart. I knew that only God could give me what I desired. I knew that I had been set on a road where nobody could walk with me but Jesus.”
I discovered a special friendship with Jesus that night in the youth group. That was 48 years ago. There are many chapters and many stories over the years that I do not have time to tell you about right now. Many times I have messed up. Many times God would have been justified in rejecting me, turning his back on me, locking me out of his presence. But God did not do this. I have this to tell you, friendship with God has made all the difference in my life. And it has been a friendship that has grown and grown. One evening in particular. I was out at a church group meeting at a conference center along the Chesapeake Bay. After the evening program, I went out along the Bay and looked across it. There were houses lining the distant shore. Some had their lights turned on. Some were dark. I heard a Voice within—I believe it was the Voice of God, saying, “Ed I want you to go and help turn some of those lights on.” Friendship with God has made all the difference in my life.
Henri Nouwen writes a bit more about this special friendship. He writes, “Very old places of pain that had been hidden to me were opened up, and fearful experiences from my early years were brought to consciousness. The interruption of friendship forced me to enter the basement of my soul and look directly at what was hidden there, to choose, in the face of it all, not death but life.” (Henri Nouwen, A Journey Through Anguish To Freedom, p.xvii.)
Friendship becomes more and more possible when you accept yourself as deeply loved by God. THE MOST REWARDING CHOICE IS LIVING IN FRIENDSHIP WITH GOD. It is the only choice that is worthy of us. It is totally satisfying. We are children of God, loved and created by God. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, loved and redeemed by Him. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, who loves and sustains us.
A friend is Someone who wants
the very best for your life.
That Someone is Jesus Christ.
What a Friend we have in Jesus.
Dr. Ed. Hurley is senior pastor at South Highland Presbyterian Church.